With Labour accepting the coalition's austerity agenda, is there even an ideological dimension to politics anymore?
By Jamie Harrop
The last few weeks saw 'senior Labour advisor' Luke Bozier switch his allegiance from Labour to the Tories. It has also seen Ed Balls making what was described in the media as a U-turn, with the announcement Labour cannot promise to reverse any coalition spending cuts. For a young person like me taking his first steps into exploring the political world, choosing a political party to support in this climate is particularly difficult.
In terribly convoluted fashion I would describe my political persuasion as a centrist, Blue Labour, Blairite with leanings towards the current Conservative party. In an ever-narrowing political spectrum it is proving increasingly problematic to choose a party to wholeheartedly support.
Luke Bozier's reasons for deciding to defect to the Tories seem to have been just as much about political ideology as they are about political competence. In Bozier's various interviews and articles what stands out is not so much a shift in his creed, opinions or outlook but a preference to the way the Conservative party operate the business of government. In an interview with The Independent he describes Labour's "vacuum of policy and vision".
As we enter 2012 I find myself asking whether this year is just as much the age of austerity as it is the age of the death of political ideology. Do the three major parties now operate in an establishment-agreed middle ground? Do Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems no longer represent distinctive social groups or even a distinct set of coherent principles? In modern Britain the major parties now cross-dress so much they appear to simultaneously all vie for the affections and support of a broadly liberal, centrist British middle class. Is it even possible to choose a party based on philosophy and principles in this environment?
Just under 40% of people didn't vote in the last UK general election. One of the reasons for this high number surely has to be the widely held belief that no matter who you vote for the policies will be largely the same. This idea that all politicians and all parties are alike has become almost axiomatic in the British public's consciousness. If this is the case and this belief is correct then Bozier's decision to defect to the Tories was surely not so much a callous Machiavellian decision to drift with power, but a reflection of the few choices available to modern British politicos.
The idea of shared ideology has changed the very nature of politics in Britain and changed the nature of who to vote for. No longer must the voter decide whose ideas he or she agrees with, instead it is simply a question of who is more competent. It isn't a question of ideas and ideologies anymore, it's a question of personalities and proficiency.
But there are still differences. Politics has not become some Platonic 'pick your favourite philosopher-king' choice yet. The website Political Compass maps out where on the political spectrum the parties lie and, while they are getting closer and closer, there still are differences. I will still find it tough to choose between the three major parties and perhaps I will have to choose simply on who operates the best at a singular point in time, just as Luke Bozier seems to have to done. Ed Balls' reputed U-turn was in fact a continuation of policy which had previously been wrongly interpreted. The choice still is whether you think the Coalition cuts are 'too far too fast' or not. We are in a recession with a huge budget deficit - the choice was never cuts or no cuts. It's these differences we must hold on to and encourage. Politics should be about diversity, it should be about disagreement, it should be about choosing sides.
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