Wednesday 28 November 2007

Hustings angst

I was perched up in the gallery for the hustings, the first one I've actually managed to go to, and was excited by the sheer competence of the speeches. But in the end, as someone said in the pub afterwards, Chris talked about the same issues in the usual language, but Nick talked about new issues in an inspiring way - and, heavens, we badly need that.

It is true that there could have been more in the way of potential solutions, but at least Nick was framing the questions in exciting new ways.

Then there were the questions and answers, and I have been worrying ever since why I found these so dull. Am I wrong to be involved politics at all, if I feel that way? It isn't that the question of poverty and inequality is unimportant -I just don't believe the old Fabian mantras any more.

Again, it isn't that redistribution isn't important - of course it is. It is the technocratic terms in which the answers are trotted out, tweaking the tax and welfare systems as if people were rats in a laboratory. We have spent broadly 20 per cent of national income on welfare and defined broadly 30 per cent as poor now for two centuries (amazing that 20 per cent was spent before the New Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, but it was - just distributed by parishes), and through a century of brutality and a century of the welfare state - Beveridge's giants are still with us. Something else is needed.

And if we don't face this head on and come up with a non-technocratic alternative, then the only alternative on offer is going to be Wisconsin-style brutality. So we had better get on with some radical re-thinking.

How is this relevant to the leadership issue? I don't think I can bear to go through another general election feeling that our manifesto was almost as irrelevant as our opponents'. I may be alone in this frustration with the way we cling to the old Fabian technocracy, but - speaking entirely personally - I desperately want us to choose a leader who will think, who will face up to the real questions and lead us into developing Liberal alternatives.

Listening to them both at Friends Meeting House, so articulate and polished, I felt Clegg was more likely to fulfil that role. It isn't certain - it's difficult being Lib Dem leader, especially a thoughtful one - but he gives me a reason for hope. Which is a relief, because I've already voted for him!


Tristan said...

Given 30% have been considered poor for two centuries doesn't that strike you as odd?

The poorest today are richer than most were 200 years ago, yet they're still considered poor...

I do agree that we need to get beyond this technocracy and look for real liberal answers.

Anonymous said...

My next door neighbour claims disability benefit - she went to the bank today to discover they didn't put in the payment. When she tried to get through to DW&P she came up against the 2 day strike. So now she's got 4 days to get through till monday when she may be able to chase the payment (with a pay as you go electricity meter about to run out). She is a council tenant living in a previously owned council flat bought by its previous tenant and sub let to a social landord and now sub sub let back to the council for an extortionate above market rent. None of this is serving or supporting the needs of my neighbour, the taxpayer or society generally. You are right we need some new thinking!