320 Daddy, what’s politics?

Most people, when they hear the word “Politics” think of the daily argy-bargy that goes on in the House of Commons. Of course, there’s more to the House of Commons than the debates in the Chamber; for example the courteous and useful work done in the numerous Committees.
And then there’s more to Parliament than the Commons; the element of sanity in legislation is largely provided by the House of Lords through its work on putting right the things the Commons has got wrong. It’s a civilised place with much less of the party-political warfare that goes on in the “other place”.
And then there’s more to Government than Parliament; in fact nowadays Government policy is mostly decided by Ministers and then approved (or very occasionally not) by Parliament.
And Westminster itself is not the whole story. I won’t venture into the ways things are done in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which would be a very long story; but a lot of the things that you and I care most about are decided by County Councils, District Councils, Borough Councils and perhaps also Parish Councils.
It’s also worth pointing out that in many ways private companies and corporations decide the course of our lives rather more than governments do.
But all of this is not necessarily politics, it’s government; not the same thing at all. In principle, and sometimes in practice, politics is the art of deciding what to do and why, whereas government is the business of putting the decisions into practice. Sometimes, of course, the tail wags the dog; for example, as I write this, policy on crime and punishment (the dog) is being wagged by the governmental problem of not having enough prisons (the tail).
So now I can come to the point. The question of how well or how badly the NHS is being run is a matter of government. The question of whether to have a National Health Service at all is politics. The question of how well or badly the roads and railways are maintained is government; the balance between public and private transport is politics.
In other words, politics is the art and science of deciding how individuals within a society can be enabled to live safe, healthy and satisfying lives and how, collectively, we can all get along with each other within that society. So any view or opinion or principle that makes a difference to how we approach the world we live in is a political one. People’s thoughts on these subjects produce a set of principles and ideals; and different groupings of these principles and ideals form the philosophies of the different political parties.
Of course things don’t work quite like that. In particular, people’s opinions about these underlying ideas change pretty slowly, if at all, and if the political parties’ philosophies stayed linked to particular sets of ideas for an equally long time, then we would end up with the same party in Government and more or less the same political balance in Parliament for a very long time. So in practice parties adapt their views to the mood of the time. Thus it is, that in recent years there has been so little difference of policy between our two largest parties that elections are won and lost not on the strength of a party’s politics but according to their current efficiency in government. In other words, the country is seen not as a society but as a business. There are, of course, parties that remain based on politics, but they are smaller and less successful. People who don’t vote at elections are often heard to complain that “they’re all the same”. They aren’t of course, but the ones that get elected do seem pretty much standardised to fit the job description and business requirements.
I am a member of one of those other parties. I have been a party supporter for over 40 years. I was attracted to the party by its policies even though its electoral prospects were, at the time, unpromising. It isn’t inertia that has kept me with the same party for so long; it’s politics. As I said above, people’s underlying beliefs and principles change quite slowly, and mine are broadly the same as they were 40 years ago. Some political discussion in the School Library when I was in Sixth Form pointed me in the direction of a party whose aims fitted in quite well with my own ideas. They still fit today, so I am still a member. These ideas will become apparent on various other pages.


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