Wednesday, 15 September 2010

How should we define "the people"?

I have to admit that I probably don't know as much as I should about the way that politics works in the USA. It would appear that there, even more so than here, everything revolves around the big two parties, but that unlike in the UK there are opportunities for factions and parties within parties to gatecrash the show by taking part in primaries and publicly seeking nomination for positions of influence within the two party system.

My attention today was drawn to a BBC News item headed "Tea Party surges in US primaries". When I clicked the link I noticed that the article carried the slightly longer title "Tea Party surges in US Republican primaries".

The Tea Party, it would appear, is a fringe group on the conservative wing of the already conservative Republican Party and has won several Senate nominations including in Delaware, where the successful candidate Christine O'Donnell was endorsed by Sarah Palin. In her victory speech Ms. O'Donnell warned her opponents: "Don't ever underestimate the power of we, the people".

I found myself wondering just what it was about the Tea Party that qualified it to presume to speak for "the people". My guess was that, as an organ of the conservative right, its agenda would have something to do with small government, minimal intervention and lower taxes. But not wishing to jump automatically to conclusions, I decided to investigate. Sure enough, it would appear that the Tea Party is driven by a desire for "limited government" and "opposes high government spending". It is also opposed to President Barack Obama's healthcare proposals, his economic stimulus ideas and other aspects of his political agenda.

In spite of the fact that my dislike of political manipulation, control freakery and unnecessary interference in people's lives was what led me to join and work for the ICG, I have to admit that I nonetheless instinctively baulk at conservative "small government" rhetoric. The reason for this, I believe, is that the conservative dislike of government intervention at both local and national levels has less to do with a desire to allow communities to flourish organically and more to do with creating an environment in which everybody strives for Number One and in which, as the heroine of the cult once infamously put it, "there is no such thing as society".

In the world of big party politics this outlook represents one side of a dichotomy which conspires with the other side to try to strike the communitarian ideals heralded by the likes of the ICG out of the discussion and into the wilderness. Whilst conservatives (and I use the term generically rather than as a party label) preach the gospel of Every Man For Himself, their so-called "socialist" critics hold that society should by organised (by them), regulated by The Party as the only agency that has the wit and sophistication to recognise where the interests of that society truly lie, and that any attempt by that society to self-manage should be viewed with the utmost suspicion and crumpled ruthlessly underfoot by the full weight of the bureaucratic machine under its control.

In my view it is essential that ICG members recognise this two-headed ideological assault upon our community ideal for what it is, and do not make the mistake of adopting one twin as an ally in the struggle against the other. Temporary alliances are one thing entirely, but the wider object of the exercise is to use any situation to the community's ultimate advantage, not to succumb to the allure of ideologies which are fundamentally at odds with our own outlook.

It was a government of the right in the USA that wreaked havoc in the Middle East, supported meekly and without challenge by a government supposedly of the left in the UK. A good many of those protesters who marched against the illegal Iraq war shuffled out without conscience or embarrassment a few years later to implore voters to back those who had taken us into it.

The strength of our cause lies in the fact that we are different to, and better than, the whole stinking lot of them.

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