Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Chris Huhne: an unfair society; ruled by a scary computer

It is a good rule of thumb that if the complete opposite of a statement is complete garbage, the statement is not worth saying. So I’m somewhat disappointed by Chris Huhne’s campaign slogan: “a fairer society; people in charge”.

I mean, think about it. On the one hand, Nick Clegg is hardly arguing for a less fair society, and while that may be what the Conservatives and Labour have delivered, they would undoubtedly say that that was not their intention, or even that it was not true.

But it's the other hand (or rather, clause) that really irritates me. People in charge? As opposed to what? Dogs? An all powerful computer? A terrifying fatalism that allows us to abrogate all sense of responsibility?

I don’t mean to make this a partisan blog, so please don’t consider this to be the beginning of a series of anti-Huhne broadsides. But I do get annoyed when politicians state the bleeding obvious as though it was a vision for the future. If Nick Clegg says anything as pointless and vacuous I will happily jump on it.

Instead of “People in charge”, might I suggest to Chris two possible alternatives, either of which would have more meaning but which offer a very different solution to the problems we face. Both would appeal to liberals (I think) because they are significant shifts away from the current Statist, centralised status quo. Yet the solutions they offer are derived from very different strands of liberalism.

Chris Huhne: a fairer society; where people are free – indicating a society where government no longer provides monopoly services, but instead ensures that everybody has the resources necessary to provide themselves with the basic essentials of sustenance, shelter, medical care, education and welfare; and where there is far less legislation and regulation of people’s lives.

Chris Huhne: a fairer society, managed by the people – indicating a society where government monopoly services are controlled by tiers of government closer (and so more responsive) to citizens or by directly elected boards; and where the regulations and legislation that shape our lives are instigated and voted upon through more grass-roots mechanisms (e.g. citizen’s juries; plebiscites; mandatory petitions).

My regular reader will know which I prefer, but I hope that I have fairly presented the two sides. By choosing one (or offering an alternative – comments welcome) Chris would be doing that thing so rare among the political classes these days – telling us where he stands. I hope and trust that over the coming weeks he’ll do just that.

In the meantime, I expect and fear that this is the not last time such vacuous soundbites will be attached to a campaign.


Alix said...

Hear hear all round. This is my favourite moan of the moment.

Down With Meaningless Slogans! say I.

Joe Otten said...

Not sure here what the difference is between "people in charge" and "managed by the people" - I suppose it is the definite article.

Negating the definite article we would get "managed by some people" which seems to be what management always is. Perhaps it is not the opposite but the original which is garbage. The consumer and voter after all do not "manage" the services they command.

Hmm. "people in command". Has a nice ring - a society for officers perhaps.

Now I'm talking garbage. You see what this sort of topic does to people?

James Graham said...

Isn't the opposite of Clegg's "Liberal Future" a "Liberal Past" or an "Illiberal Future"?

Come to think of it, haven't I heard the phrase "Liberal Future" used somewhere before?

Anonymous said...

James Graham, do you think perhaps of Jo Grimond's book, or a short-lived think tank, or both? In any case I think that "Liberal Future" sounds kind of catchy.

Anonymous said...

Tom Papworth, interesting, Charlotte Gore made very similar observations previously.

Peter Mc said...

Maybe it's a holding position for when he realises people have ballsed it up, and it's time to give wombats a go. Or mongeese.

I didn't want to get into this, but you've lit the fuse. Analyse almost any political speech these days, actually read the damn things and it seems a series of meaningless tropes which could have been generated by an AI.

Neither Huhne nor Clegg have so far spoken or written in the kind of earthy, simple, direct, honest English which I believe would go a long way to getting people interested in us as a party.

James, don't forget the Liberal present: another bloody orange tie.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Huhne's slogan is pretty silly, yes, I think it was a mistake. But looking closer at what he's written, I find a lot more in it than what Clegg's written. Clegg's opening speech when he declared for the leadership struck me in particular as an exercise in vacuousness, very much style over substance. In fact Clegg seems to me to be going very much for the easy line - a little bit of free-market praise here, to please the right-wing press which is backing him, a little bit of traditional liberalism here to please Liberals. What I don't see is anything REALLY challenging.

In many ways, it's what the candidates have chosen to leave out rather than what they've said which is the telling point. I'm going for Huhne because from the start he's been concerned with environmental issues and the unfairness and inequality in our society. Clegg, however, has only mentioned them later, as if they're an afterthought.

Tom Papworth said...

Joe: the difference is in "managed by" rather than "in charge". It was a bit of a struggle to find a term; I wasn't actually suggesting that the phrases themselves should form the slogans; rather positing the difference between a more responsive government monopoly or free choice in a market.

James: I agree, but having heard a Conservative shadow minister last night proudly say that he was not a liberal I think an illiberal future is perfectly possible and indeed desired by some.

Peter: I agree that both need to present their vision in a more accessible way.

Matthew: An interesting point about what they've left out. Hopefully more will become clear as the competition hots up.

Anonymous said...

It seems an illiberal future is desired by some in the party.
Its certainly desired by many outside the party who want strong government dictating to us.

And we should ban 'fairness' from the liberal lexicon - its meaningless and used to justify all sorts of authoritarianism.

Charlotte Gore said...

Um, yes, the opposite of a Liberal Future is a Conservative Future as far as I'm concerned.

Interesting comments from Chris supporters here, I notice.

Why do they believe Chris is sincere about the environment and 'unfairness' in society but Nick isn't?

At least Nick has had the courage to publish the texts of his two key speeches on his website. I can't find anything about Huhne's platform direct from the horse's mouth. So why is Nick getting slammed by Mark Huntbach for vacuous style over substance? I don't get it.

People are starting to get vicious and it has to stop.