More or Less Important

There hasn’t been much politics here for a while. By “here” I mean this domain, of course—here here, it’s been everywhere. A bloke can’t open his letterbox without a dozen flyers fluttering out proclaiming that ONLY THE CONSERVATIVES CAN BEAT LABOUR IN THIS CONSTITUENCY, or featuring tasteful cartoons of swarthy Mediterraneans dashing to the Brussels finishing line with begging bowls outstretched and Blair and Howard racing to fill them up, while shivering pensioners clutch their Council Tax bills. (Wot, no Germans kicking puppies?)

As it turned out, only Labour beat the Conservatives in this constituency, and the national result was much as the polls predicted: around 50 seats lost, leaving a majority of around 70. It’s hard not to conclude that everyone made up their minds long ago.

I made up my mind long ago that I’d take a break from political commentary here, and pretty much have for the past eighteen months. Once the basic points had been made about the doubtful legality of the war, going on about it wasn’t going to help much. The most significant question then wasn’t whether Saddam’s regime deserved to go (of course it did), or whether Iraqi WMD were poised to attack the West (which seemed unlikely), but whether Bush & co. actually wanted a colony in Iraq, with all of the problems that go with it.

There was never much doubt that John Howard would take Australia along for the ride. As for Blair’s position, a number of reasons made sense of it, if not sense. Not wanting to leave America isolated was reasonable, but given how divided the US had been since the 2000 election and 9/11, going in either direction was going to leave half of it isolated. The moral case against Saddam’s regime was clear enough, but the legal status of an attack on it wasn’t. And, of course, there were the Weapons of Mass Destruction, or the capacity to manufacture Weapons of Mass Destruction, or the capacity to launch blueprints of Weapons of Mass Destruction against Britain within 45 minutes if the wind was right. For a brief moment in March 2003 I was almost prepared to believe that Blair knew something we didn’t. But no, he knew about the same as the rest of us.

After the war, it all became irrelevant in practical terms: Saddam was gone, and good riddance; Iraq was hardly safe, but at least had a chance of something better; and Western troops weren’t going to be leaving in a hurry, whoever governed the place. Now Iraq’s chances don’t look as good, but there was no chance of America or Britain getting out any time soon, whichever side won on Thursday night.

So, as Michael Howard reminded the nation at every opportunity, the question instead was one of trust. How could we trust Blair, after he took us to war under false pretences? Vote for the party you can trust to take you to war!

Or vote for the party you can trust to split the vote, and hand government to Howard! Thanks, Lib Dems, but no thanks—not under first past the post. (And what’s with the local income tax proposal? Councils in wealthy areas would be able to keep their rates low and still rake in the cash, while those in poorer areas would have to jack them up to provide comparable services—which, over time, would drive away the wealthier residents, and leave the poor stuck with higher taxes and less to show for it.)

No, with only one X to allocate on the day itself, there was none of the luxury for the voter of the Australian preferential system, or for the parties themselves of compulsory voting. Maybe the obvious injustice of a party winning government with votes from 36% of 61% of the electorate will inspire electoral reform in Britain at last. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.


More interesting than the campaign rhetoric were a couple of websites that emerged during it, Political Survey 2005 and Who Should You Vote For? Like the long-established Political Compass, they promised to place you on the political map and show you your bedfellows.

I’ve filled in the Political Compass survey a few times over the years, every time getting a similar result in the bottom-left quadrant. The addition of the authoritarian/libertarian social axis to the left/right economic axis is useful, but didn’t tell me much that Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia hadn’t.

Neither did Who Should You Vote For, probably because its questions were based on party policy statements—always a reliable indicator of real policy outcomes. Political Survey 2005, though, promised to show “not only where your views lie, but how they compare to the views of the rest of the British population”, based on actual poll data. That’s more interesting than being told you’re closer to Gandhi than to Hitler, Stalin, or Thatcher. When are you likely to bump into any of them?

So I did their test, and found that on the “first and much more important axis”, ranging from rehabilitation/internationalist to hanging/flogging/Eurosceptic, I’m further left than 95% of the population. Even half of all Guardian readers are more string-’em-up and boot-’em-out than ol’ bleeding heart here. On the “second and less important” axis, from socialist/anti-war to free-market/pro-war, I’m to the right of most of the population, presumably because I don’t see much point in re-nationalising everything at great expense to the taxpayer now that it’s all been flogged off. On that axis, I should be reading the Times or even the Telegraph.

All of which shows how skewed the standard assumptions about left and right are. On an American test, I’m economically left, on a British test I’m economically right, and on an Australian test I’d be somewhere in between. Whichever way, economics is a weak indicator of my political views. The tests were right, though, in other respects. It’s always annoyed me to be lumped in with Stalin and his ilk by the lazier critics of the left; totalitarianism of any stripe is about as far from my own political philosophy as you can get. Yet again and again you hear suggestions that anyone with left-liberal views wants a return to the Warsaw Pact and forced holidays in Siberia. I was as happy as anyone to see the Berlin Wall collapse; I didn’t even think of myself as an old-school socialist back in my old school days:

Left and Right

(Uni days, to be exact; that’s from 1987. And what perfect timing, now that the old bastard has carked it.)

Over the past year I’ve been following the first blogging steps, followed by the blogospheric ascendancy, of one of my oldest friends—a friend I met the same year I drew that cartoon. Scott’s politics have drifted to the right in his thirties, as he’d be the first to admit; he makes fun of his student self in his own posts. It’s been a bit of a surprise to see him turn into such a political animal, but perhaps shouldn’t have been, given his love of P.J. O’Rourke’s wise-cracking republicanism. But then, I like reading P.J. (I’ve read most of his stuff), and according to the web psephologists I make Gandhi look like Goebbels. Neither of us are as easily categorised as the standard left-right axis would have it, which is why I agree with Scott’s posts as often as not. Maybe half as often as not. On the second and less important axis.

Which brings me back to why I haven’t been writing about politics here. One of Scott’s recent posts captured the politics-blogging paradox, and reminded me why I’ve sidestepped it for a while:

Despite appearances to the contrary, politics has never been that high on my list of interests. I grant that it’s been higher in the last year than it has ordinarily been, but just because I blog on politics doesn’t mean that it’s my main interest in life. (I just have little desire to blog about music, philosophy, cricket, literature, etc.)

I was never obsessed with politics in its party-driven, party-line sense either, although plenty of other aspects do intrigue me, obviously. But just because I haven’t been blogging on politics in the last year doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I’ve just had more desire to blog about music, literature, and life.

10 May 2005 · Politics

Here comes another one:

Added by Rory on 12 May 2005.