Thursday, 14 March 2013

Politics tarnishes the soul

Last night it took me a good few hours to get to sleep and I ended up musing over the various compromises you have to make in politics and the effect it has on you.

I'm not talking about compromises with others on things like policy - that's part and parcel of the whole shebang - but the compromises you make with yourself over your fundamental beliefs.

Take secret courts: two years ago I would never have imagined that I'd ever be able to be a member of a party that supported the kind of assault on civil liberties that the coalition's proposals for secret courts represent. But now it looks like Lib Dem MPs will vote for them and yet I'll wind up staying in the party.

The reason for this is that, while I hate what's happening, I still feel more at home in the Lib Dems than I would in any other party and because I still believe that staying in the Lib Dems is the best way to try and achieve the kind of just, fair and free society which I believe in.

If I stay in and fight I probably won't get somewhere on this issue but in time I might well get to be in a position where I can change things for the better - or be in a position where I can help other people change things. But if I leave I'll lose that chance.

So, quite pragmatically, I've compromised the purity of my principles in exchange for the prospect of being able to change things some day - e.g. for the prospect of some kind of power. Because, let's be honest, that's what politics is about: Power.

You pursue power as a tool you need to change the world and you do so because you truly believe in your vision of the country and the world. But, on the way, far too many politicians, people who started out with the best of intentions, end up compromising what they believe in so often that their principles, their good intentions, get lost and all they have left is the pursuit of power for its own sake.

I never could understand that before, I really couldn't. How could people be so stupid? How could they sell out everything they believed in? How could they become so obsessed with winning whilst forgetting why they wanted to win?

But now I can understand. Because, in effect, that's what I find myself doing. I started off with deeply held convictions and as time has gone on I've had to make tiny compromises: such as staying in the Lib Dems despite many of our MPs breaking their promises on tuition fees. And I've always justified them by thinking, well, it's silly to leave just over this - whereas if I stay then I can keep on fighting the good fight for change from within.

And then I've had to compromise again. And again. Despite the NHS reforms, despite the welfare reforms, despite the gutting of legal aid, despite the bedroom tax and despite secret courts, I've stayed.

What's more, I'm still going to stay. I'm a stubborn bugger and the only way I'm leaving my party is when they carry me out the door.

And sometimes I can convince myself that the bad stuff's not so bad, and that the good things we're doing outweigh the good - but I find it really hard to do so. And every time our parliamentarians take another step away from our principles I find it all that much harder. Hopefully by 2015 I'll have found some very good reasons to believe in what we're doing as otherwise I'll have a tough job convincing anyone to vote for us if I'm not convinced myself.

So, there we go. More compromises. Slowly, slowly, compromising on things I never thought I would. Oh, I still have my beliefs, but the purity of belief I once had has been tarnished, step by step along the way.

Of course, the most successful politicians are the ones who manage to walk that fine line of compromise between principles and the ruthless pursuit of power. And, who knows, someday I might even be one of them.

But I know that even if I do I'll feel soiled by doing so. The more I'm involved with politics the slightly dirtier my soul feels and the less clean my conscience is.

Maybe in the end it'll all be worth it and I'll be in a position where I can do the kind of good that'll clear my conscience. That's what I hope anyway because as it is, while I've never done anything politically that goes directly against my principles, I find myself tacitly giving support to things I don't agree with. And each time I do so it adds another sin, another moral debt, that I have to believe that I'll one day be able to pay off. Which makes it really easy to see how some politicians end up abandoning principles altogether - it's a hell of a lot easier than trying to keep them.

Of course, I don't want to be overly dramatic or self indulgent. I still enjoy politics and fighting for a better world after all. And I trust in my friends to keep me honest. And I'm still certain that the Lib Dems fundamentally represent what I believe in.

It's just harder than it used to be, that's all.

And my soul feels that bit more tarnished.

But that's politics I guess.

I just wish there was a better way.


  1. That's a very honest post.

    Yes, it is all compromise is politics, a bit like life.

    Even Thatcher didn't get everything her own way (although she did get a lot, and she derided her opponents here and in Europe).

    Labour compromised in the 90s because, perhaps in the beginning they knew that if they couldn't get elected, then they couldn't stop the evil of the Conservative's policies. After a while though, you have to wonder that Blair wasn't more motivated by becoming an historic figure than doing good. So he got his congressional medal.

    I've put down the Liberals for remaining in coalition with a party that has done all the terrible things that you list above, and I often think that Nick Clegg has lost the plot and that he will have destroyed the Liberals by the time the next election comes along.

    I think the Liberals missed a big chance to show what they were made of when the Tories had their series of piss poor leaders, and Blair got more and more right wing. Unfortunately, or at least it seems so to me, Charlie Kennedy wasn't up to the job.

    Liberal policies are good policies, by and large. They are decent policies. They are about fairness and decency. If I didn't believe that Scotland should be its own country, I'd be a Liberal (as I've said before to Andrew Page).

    I respect your intention to remain a part of the Liberals. I certainly don't see you fitting in the Labour Party and any notion that you would be happy in the Tories is risible.

    I think you'll have a party reduced to small numbers; perhaps like the Liberals were in the 1960s. You will have to rebuild the trust that has ebbed away, thanks, I think, to Nick Clegg and his cabinet colleagues' agreement to allow the Tories to set the agenda. I'm aware of the good things that the Liberals have brought, and the fact that they may have softened some of the terrible policies of the hard right.

    But that's not what will be remembered. People will remember that you had a once in a lifetime chance to change the voting system, but Nick let them off; they will remember tuition fees, bedroom tax, welfare reform, secret courts. They may well have more to remember by the time Osborne and Alexander have finished with them.

    I hope you will win in the end. I hope that the Liberals will one day regain their place in English political life. Perhaps with two right wing parties on the go, there will be a need for something more moderate. Who knows what could fill that gap.

  2. Does anyone seriously believe any good done makes the slightest impact against all that's been lost?
    The alarming rise in hunger, homelessness, deaths, suicides, all of which increase daily. People are beyond choosing to heat or eat, they're going cold as well as hungry. As are their children. They're selling belongings & essentials to feed their children for fucks sake!
    This is a scandal of epic proportions. Make no mistake about that. People are being degraded, dehumanised, persecuted & bullied by this Coalition & LibDems have as much blood on their hands as the Tories.
    As a pensioner I've lived under many Govt's, but none, I repeat none so cruel as this one. In fact cruel is an under-statement, they're positively evil.
    I feel your pain George, I really do & I've said many times that I admire & respect how morally grounded you are & how hard you fight for good causes.
    You're a decent guy with a big heart & you fought against every vicious & unjust policy so don't carry the sins of LibDem Ministers or let their wrongs stain your soul. Those burdens are for them to wake up to & acknowledge.
    I know that's easier said than done. I'm mother & I feel guilty by association sometimes. I feel guilty now, (not that I'm your mum, lol)but having read your piece today I'm hoping my comment on your previous article about conference didn't add to your torment.
    That was not my intent then or now. What I write is with best intentions as warning because good people DO feel tainted by association to others committing atrocities. And they ARE atrocities against innocent citizens & their families.
    Danny Alexander had the gall to say that wealthy people were paying just as much as poor people to get deficit down! LIAR! His pants are beyond fire, they're an inferno.They find it SO easy to lie now it's frightening.
    You will do whatever you must George but please don't delude yourself that anyone in the Coalition Govt has done a scrap of good for those in need of it. They've taken far. far more than they've given & they've colluded in destroying lives. The list is long & so sad it makes me want to cry.
    This Govt's crimes against humanity, the deaths & suicides of disabled people have caused me to shed so many tears & be seriously afraid for the future.


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