Educate Your Opponents!
Britain has for all of my .lifetime suffered from "tribal politics". There are a significant number of people who vote for a particular party in any election. If they are really unhappy they may not vote, but normally they vote and they vote for their party. Elections are won and lost in the middle ground, but if you cannot galvanise your core vote you automatically lose. So politicians learn to encourage their core vote and to attract the middle or floating vote. In 2005 Labour was thought likely to lose the General Election because so many Labour supporters were unhappy about rampant immigration and the second Iraq War. The Conservatives decided to galvanise their core vote by stressing themselves as "the nasty party" as opposed to Labour's alleged incompetent liberalism. The Conservatives galvanised Labour's core vote, rescuing Labour.
Not surprisingly there are myths about the other side. The Left sees the Tories as willing lapdogs of the rich exploiting capitalists. There is some evidence to support this view. The Right see the Labour Party as the protectors of featherbedding work practices, the feckless, and the incompetent. There is some evidence to support this view.
This hub is not about the detail supporting and surrounding the views of both sides - I would need a book for that!
Michael Heseltine was a self made millionaire who founded the hugely successful Haymarket Press, publisher of many magazines. When he was Environment Secretary he visited Liverpool and was utterly shocked by the state of housing in Liverpool and the economic catastrophe of a once proud and prosperous port. He made the Department reconsider its approach to Liverpool and really tried hard to work with the local authority to regenerate Liverpool.
Thirty years later Ian Duncan Smith, who had already been leader of the Conservative Party in opposition had a similar experience. He was appalled by the state of housing in and the economic catastrophe of a once proud and prosperous city. He set up the Centre For Social Justice to examine what could be done about this national problem.
Both of these men were competent experienced politicians who in their 50s discovered poverty and deprivation in their own country. How could such intelligent people have been so blind? All credit to them that they wanted to do something about it, but how could they have been so ignorant?
There are large parts of the country where one party has been in control for generations. The mining villages and the industrial areas were the heartlands of Labour, and the agricultural areas and the wealthy areas were the heartlands of the Conservatives. Given the need to stroke the "core" supporters, who tend to be in the heartlands, politicians tend to spend a lot of time in their heartlands. Or they spent time in the battleground seats that swung back and forth deciding elections and choosing the next government. There really was very little point going into the other party's heartlands except as a stunt.
So it is that these intelligent and perceptive men really did not know what their opponents knew.
It was not a dialogue of the deaf so much as simply not looking at the same landscapes.
Boot On The Other Foot?
Are the Conservatives uniquely stupid uncaring and ignorant? Is it conceivable that the Labour politicians have their blind spots, too?
Most Labour MPs are former teachers, lawyers, jourrnalists or trade unionists, with a sprinking of former charity workers. They are elected from the heartland or in the marginals. Very few have significant managerial experience. Virtually none have the experience of running a significant business in the private sector, of meeting a payroll each week, of fighting for contracts and trying to make sales. Exporting is simply a foreign territory to them. Yet when the political pendulum swings these folk become Ministers for Trade, Finance, Exports, Agriculture, Education and Training and the like.
Is it possible that by simply not understanding the problems of the wealth generating economy these Ministers make decisions that are less than perfect? Their civil servants, who are supposed to guide them, frequently know not much either. The bland lead the blind.
"What Is To Be Done?"
There are socialists who go into commerce and industry and are very successful. Apart from the demands of the business in which they work and the social pressure not to support the socialists, another problem arises. Age 35 or 40, they are already earning more than a Member of Parliament. Why give up a secure job where you see your family every night to undertake a career that is precarious, not particularly well paid, and where there is little upside? These comrades may give to the party, but they get on with their careers. They may emerge as unpaid advisors to their local MP or the national party or even as advisors to Ministers, but they do not themselves become MPs.
The answer has to be for MPs and would be MPs to be given opportunities to see how the other side operate. The Centre For Social Justice has begun running opportunities for politicians to visit charities, and to meet the people who are helping and being helped over a two day or 5 day period. There is a "twinning" exercise where MPs from safe seats visit a safe seat of the other party and are shown round by the MP.
We still need opportunity for the socialists to visit big businesses and multinationals to understand what their issues are. Often they are dimensions and miles and decades away from what the socialists think the problems are.