Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A manifesto for progressive politics

This site was - and is - about Brexit, but it has become clear it is about more than that: it's about values, and about unity. Here, then, is a little more on that...

A progressive manifesto in five principles

  1. We should want the best for everyone, refusing to divide people or groups into “us” and “them”.
  2. We should empower people to express their individuality and live the lives they choose, freeing them from conformity, disadvantage and oppression.
  3. Whether as individuals or collectively, we do not own our planet, its living things and its resources, but rather we are its custodians.
  4. Wealth cannot be generated solely by an individual but only within a society, and therefore it does not automatically belong to the individual.
  5. We should have a pragmatic approach to politics, seeking compromise between different views and continually looking for ways to do what works best.

The first principle, of unity and inclusion, and the second, of individuality, together form the core of Liberalism. The third principle is that of environmentalism, and is the key idea of Green politics. The fourth principle defines the Left, and is opposed to the suggestion of the Right that people should be able to keep more of the money “they” earn: it is not automatically “their” money to begin with. Finally, the fifth principle could be attributed to Liberalism or Centrism - although as with all these principles, other traditions may also lay claim to it. Together, I suggest these five principles establish what could (slightly tongue-in-cheek) be called Green Liberal-Left Pragmatism, or progressive politics.

I have put the principle of inclusiveness first because it feels the most personal to me, and is perhaps the most radical. Many politicians espouse such an ideal without following it through to its fullest extent, and continue with the language and policies of division and scapegoating. The principle means, for instance, never condemning people but only what they say or do; and never opposing whole groups such that everyone seen to belong to that group is then demonised. It means no more workers against bosses, no more “hard working families” against the “idle” or “scroungers” (even when these terms are only implied rather than stated explicitly), no more “British” against “foreigners”, and so on. We can be united by all wanting the best for everyone.

That unity does not mean sameness, however, and that is why I have put the principle of individuality next. We can want the best for everyone even when we differ from them or disagree with them. Moreover, equality of opportunity is not enough unless it is genuine equality of opportunity, which may mean overcoming historical or institutionalised disadvantage. Scrutinising outcomes is one way to uncover disadvantages that may not be readily apparent; so it is not satisfactory to say that everyone has the same chance to, for example, become an MP when the role was always, and still remains, dominated by white men. So these first two principles, which may sound like they are merely warm words, actually have considerable bite and would mean substantial changes.

We are also all united by the planet we share. The principle of environmentalism is that of stewardship, conservation and sustainability, rather than exploitation; and although not phrased that way here it could even be extended beyond our planet, because in the future people may seek to exploit the resources to be found elsewhere. The emphasis is on planet Earth, though, because that is where we are having the greatest impact, causing the greatest harm, and putting our own future at risk; and climate change is the biggest threat we currently face.

Turning now to money, it is tempting to think that when someone earns a wage it is “their” money. However, an example will clarify this. Consider medical care. A doctor or nurse performs a valuable service and is, rightly, paid for their work - but they could not provide that service without people to treat. Moreover, the buildings, equipment and medicines are all made by others. Their training was also provided by others, and not only that: the skills and knowledge passed on to them was developed by many generations of other people. Arguments such as these counter the claims made on the Right that people have an unqualified right to the money they earn (or inherit, or receive from investments) and that there is a moral case against taxes. How much money someone receives is decided collectively. There may, however, be a pragmatic case against high taxes, and that takes us to the final principle.

Too often ideology overpowers practical considerations. We may wish things were not as they are, and that we had a different starting point, but it is important to accept the reality. For instance, there is another issue to do with money: we often hear about the “markets” reacting unfavourably, and although it is frustrating, we need to take account of stock markets and currency fluctuations when making political decisions because they affect people’s lives - but we could also perhaps find ways to change that situation for the future. Accepting the reality of how things are does not mean giving up, or abandoning what we believe in, but we must be pragmatic rather than dogmatic.

Lastly, and still on the subject of pragmatism, there are many different ways these - or other - principles could be implemented, and we should be guided by what works best in practice. This often cannot be known in advance, so we must learn from experience; and we should always remember too that no one person, political party or ideology has all the best ideas or the right to ignore other views. Working together and making compromises is both necessary and desirable.