I am finding it harder and harder to write on politics as we approach the election.
This is because, believe it or not, I really want the Labour party to win the next General Election. You’d think a fierce hunger for a change of government would make it easier to write, but for me it’s the opposite.
The only thing required of a loyal party supporter during a General Election is to re-enforce the messages offered by their own party and to decry the stupidity, ignorance and boneheadedness of our opponents.
Any doubt, any internal questioning, any sympathy for the motives of political enemies becomes self-defeating. No point debating our own strategy or emphasis now, because the only value lies in punching the other lot in the face and not punching ourselves.
Journalists don’t face this problem, because they, rightly, avoid clear loyalties and have their own defined purpose. Either they are reporting, or they are employed to explain what politicians are doing. They have a reason, beyond securing votes, for what they do.
True, there are many columnists who come to politics with a partisan political agenda. These tend to resolve the problem of writing loyally about politics by either cheering louder for their own side and decrying opponents more full-throatedly, or by explaining why the political party they support is taking a particular approach, and why, even if that is flawed, the party is still worthy of support. The same is perhaps true of the new generation of political writers who came up through party-aligned websites.
Rather unfortunately for me, I have both clear loyalties and no real reason to write other than because I want to. No-one’s asking me to write about politics. I do it because I enjoy it. It’s entirely self-indulgent. There’s no need for me to ‘explain’ why X is doing Y, because doing so without any standing is to detract from the cause.
That leaves cheering my party on, which I can’t really do because while I really want a change of government, I really don’t believe the way politics talks about itself, regardless of party. As elections get closer, the more I feel politics lies about itself and the less I feel able to amplify my own party’s signal.
That’s because if we change government in May, lots of things won’t change. Many things will be changed by events and people we have no control over. Some changes will happen that we do not expect, and we don’t know exactly what we’ll do about them, or what the right choice will be. If John Major had been re-elected in 1997, I expect we’d still have Amazon, and high-speed rail, and terror attacks by radical Islamic extremists. After all, France elected Chirac in 1995, and has all those things.
Despite all that unknowability, I do really want a change of government.
First, some specific things will change precisely because we change government, and even if they might appear small, these are incredibly important to very many people. I’m sometimes accused of believing in a politics of small differences. But small differences are a matter of perspective. If we build a few thousand more houses, or integrate health and social care in a better way, or have smarter immigration and welfare policies, those will be significant improvements for tens of thousands of people.
Second, in the next parliament many things could happen that I think, by and large, over the scheme of things, I would much rather have Labour politicians responding to than Conservative ones. In four years time, someone will come to the Minister for local government with a memo about social care budget distributions, and I would much rather that person be Labour than Conservative, even though I don’t know the choice they’ll face, who the minister will be, or the decision they’ll make. That’s a political leap of faith.
So I do really want change, It’s just not the change I’m supposed to want.
Between elections, there’s no tension between being a rabid loyalist and someone who doesn’t really think everything will be massively improved by a change of government. Some things will be, and that’s more than enough.
The closer we get to an election though, the more I find it uncomfortable to write about politics, because electoral politics requires a pretence of certainty.
Our leaders have to state that everything they will do will be correct and worthwhile, even if that is literally an impossible thing for them to know.
They have to believe that they will deliver huge change, because how else do they make supporting them appear worthwhile? A politician dropping the stance that they’re always right and hugely significant is a politician inviting a punch in the face from someone less scrupulous.
Understanding their predicament, those of us who support political parties have to pretend their pretence is reasonable, because telling them to drop that protective stance is foolish and counterproductive. Doubt the certainty of your own side or your own leaders, and you are undermining both them and the changes you do desire.
So if you’re writing purely for your own pleasure in politics, the closer to an election campaign you get, the more your choice becomes polarised to cheerleading, punching opponents or silence.
Others are better cheerleaders. I don’t see much value in punching, and silence is, after all, golden. So posting might be light, while I try to figure out a way to write about politics in a way that is both loyal and interesting. All suggestions welcome.