United, more or less

http://www.nickbarlow.com/blog/?p=5002

moreunitedThere’s a new movement in British politics. As the name Nice (And Moderately Famous) People In Favour Of Good Things was considered too long, they instead chose More United as their title.

It’s an odd beast, talking about politics and policies in the same way that a nascent political party might, but then going out of its way to deny any claims that it might be a political party. In their own words:

MoreUnited.uk is doing something completely different in British politics.

We’re a tech-driven political startup created to give a voice to the millions of open, tolerant people in Britain who feel the political system doesn’t speak for them anymore.

Our aim is to enable people like you to participate in and change politics in a way that has never been possible before.

We’ll do this by using the power of the Internet to transform the way politics is funded, making it easier for moderate, progressive MPs to get elected and creating a new centre of political gravity in the UK.

Effectively, it’s an American PAC, yet operating in a system that doesn’t really have any provision for bodies like that. Anyway, it’s been up and running for a couple of days, so various people’s scepticism about it has already been aired – see Caron Lindsay or Andrew Hickey, for example.

There are definitely reasons to be wary of More United: its policy statements tend to the generic ‘progressive’ aim of ‘we want more nice things, and fewer bad things’, the way it’s going to work in practice seems vague, and there’s a bit too much ‘we’re doing it on the internet because everything done on the internet is better‘ including support for online voting for my liking.

And yet.

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

Even before Brexit, the British political system was a mess. The main parties of left and right, both previously catch-all parties that sought to unite wide coalitions of ideology were collapsing under the weight of that task, while the centre of politics remained atomised, its main party crippled in the public opinion by its time in government. On top of, the UK was feeling the same stresses as every other 21st century nation-state, rendered increasingly powerless in the face of global forces that make the actions of a single country seem insignificant. ‘Take Control’ was a winning slogan for the Vote Leave campaign because so many people out there feel they have no control, and that there’s no way the political system as it is now can give them that control.

More United is a response to that feeling of powerlessness. It’s an attempt to give it a voice that isn’t coming from the extremes of the system and to channel it towards some form of moderation and centrism. Anti-politics (or anti-system politics) can take many forms, and they don’t all have to be revolutionary. Maybe there needs to be a movement for the people who ask ‘why can’t you all just get along?’ Whether this movement will be as unsuccessful as so many others that have come up over the past few decades – seriously, underpant gnomes of the left, your action plan needs to read more than ‘Step 1: Build a movement. Step 2: ????? Step 3: Utopia!’ – is something we can’t tell yet.

There is something in the response to More United that does concern me, and I think it’s connected to the current idea that we’re headed into an era of ‘post-truth’ politics, where people aren’t concerned with what’s actually true but rather with what they want to be true. I think there’s another spirit connected to that, which is a rejection of compromise in politics that eventually leads to the conclusion if you can’t get 100% of what you want, then you should just burn everything down and walk away.

Sadly, it’s a reaction I’ve seen amongst Liberal Democrats in recent weeks and months, when the prospect of how we might approach things like a split in the Labour Party or an organisation like More United is discussed. I see far too many arguments where a person’s line appears that unless someone is willing to accept all Liberal Democrat policy, we should refuse to even consider working with them. It feels as though all Labour members and MPs (even those elected in 2010 and after) should have to perform a mea maxima culpa to absolve themselves of the sins of Iraq and ID cards, while at the same time no Lib Dem should be held accountable for anything the Government did between 2010 and 2015 that wasn’t same-sex marriage, the Pupil Premium or raising tax allowances.

As I’ve argued before, professing equidistance from left and right and compromising with neither of them is a great way for liberals to pile up a piously pure stack of votes, but it does little for winning seats or any actual power. We can sit around and wait for everyone to agree with us like we’ve done for most of the last century (a strategy of, at best, occasional and partial success) or we can get out there and try and find common ground we can build on. If we’re so convinced that that liberal arguments are correct, then why fear working with others when we should be able to persuade them to our way of thinking? Sure, it can be fun to sit around in a small group indulging in the narcissism of small differences, but maybe we’d be better off engaging with those we seek to dismiss and trying to persuade them to work with us and perhaps even getting them to agree with us? If we’re so convinced that they might be wrong on something, why not try and persuade them of that, instead of declaring them beyond the pale?

Let’s be prepared to reach out and play a role in building the common ground, instead of standing on the sidelines and complaining that we weren’t included when someone else builds it without us. The old ways of doing politics are dying all around us, and we need to have the courage to try and shape the new.