Or, 'Change You Can't Believe In'.
G'day. This is the first in an occasional series of commentary pieces that I will be submitting in the run-up to our federal election. Merely one other perspective, but one which I hope you will find interesting and informative and good for discussion.
So, as first cab off the rank I thought I'd take the UK Conservative Party in National Election mode for a drive and see how its policies compare with those we are likely to see from the Coalition in the run-up to our federal election, as they attempt to engage in message management and providing the electorate with certain expectations of the direction they would take in government.
I will attempt to divine the common threads that make up the cloth that the world-wide conservative movement's clothes are cut from, as I do believe they have a concerted and co-ordinated campaign to each move in the same direction. Not that I am saying that there is anything wrong with that, as I am sure that there is a similar attempt being made by all the social democrats in parliaments around the world to coordinate their policy objectives and actions. All I am seeking to do here is make observations about the consanguineous actions of the conservative political forces.
First, let's start with the heading of the UK Conservative Election Manifesto:
'Invitation to Join the Government'.
Fine. I can see how this tantalising offer would make the thought bubbles pop up above the heads of all the legends in their own lunchtimes out in the electorate who are constantly invigorated by the thought that they could do it better than the government, no matter what the area of policy. In much the same way as the Liberal Party here likes to appeal to the 'Aspirational' in all of us. This is a superficially but powerfully appealing idea. You know, you too are good enough to rule the UK/Australia with us, and we'll let you (or we'll let you believe we are letting you join in running the country with us, but, really, you won't be – we, and our mates out there in your community will).
I class Tony Abbott's policy of Local Hospital Boards, run by doctors, nurses and 'worthy' members of the local community in this group, as I am sure that in practice you would find that the Board members would be sourced from those members of the community with sympathies to Coalition policy. That is, the sentiment sounds fine as a generality, but in specific practice I think you would find that it would result in the entrenchment of atomised units sympathetic to Conservative/Liberal ideals and remote from centralised coordinated control, able to virtually go their own way as far as the day-to-day running of these systems is concerned. I've cause to reflect also upon the Conservative diaspora's predilection for allowing 'Faith-Based Initiatives' to be involved closely in running services.
I admit, it's the above-mentioned sort of sentiment that appeals to the vanity of 'individuals', which, when used properly, motivates all of us to achieve and aim as high as possible in our lives, but, directed inappropriately, can lead to bullying and authoritarian behaviour, as some of us believe we know what is best for the rest of us. Thus we may well see those sorts of people manoeuvring into the positions in the community that are created by these policies. Considering the primacy of the individual in conservative philosophy the genesis of such policies is obvious. As it says in the Outline of Principles of The International Democratic Union, the umbrella body of all the centre right political parties in the world, (whose Chairman of the Board just happens to be one, John Winston Howard), they are: 'dedicated to a society of individuals working together in partnership for the common good.' Also, don't forget that corporations are also considered 'individuals', especially in the context of conservative policy, most obviously in America, where they enjoy some extraordinary rights.
Thus I imagine that the 'individual', 'individual choice', and 'empowerment of individuals' will be mantras that will issue forth from the lips of Coalition MPs in our own election campaign as well.
Also, when you read the following core principle of the IDU: '...that political democracy and private property are inseparable components of individual liberty and that the socially-oriented market economy provides the best means of creating the wealth and material prosperity to meet the legitimate aspirations of individuals (my emphasis), and of tackling social evils such as unemployment and inflation', you can see where Tony Abbott was coming from last week when he attacked the 'social evil of unemployment' by advocating the market-based solution of transporting the 'dole-bludging' ne'er-do-wells to the mines of WA. As the IDU is supportive of 'believing that this is the most effective and beneficial way of providing (for) individual initiative and enterprise, responsible economic development, (and) employment opportunities', what else would he think was the solution for 'the social evil of unemployment'?
Thus, when we look at the attitudes of the Conservatives in the UK with respect to devolving control of Schools, the Police Force, and the Health system to local individuals, communities or boards – hey, why have a government at all?...except for Defence and National Security policy-making and a National Spy/Federal Police force to monitor the citizenry. Why not just let all the fine, upstanding 'individuals' in our communities run everything instead? Surely they'd do a better job than 'big, bad, bureaucratized, centralised government' (except in the above-mentioned instances)?
You can be sure when you hear lines like that you are hearing conservative parties the world over singing from the same song sheet. A song sheet provided by the IDU, who believe in 'A society of individuals working together for the common good'.
Now, what you have to ask yourself is, 'How valid a concept in practice can that be?' I think it would lead, if allowed to go to its ultimate conclusion, to a laissez faire-like, barely-controlled, semi-anarchic chaos, similar to that which we have just experienced as a prelude to the Global Financial Crisis/Chaos.
I'd really like to hear your opinions about this, and especially from those conservative-leaning commentators here, as to how they think that social atomisation policies CAN work for the Common Weal? That is, other than by mouthing motherhood statements back to me like, 'Individual success is good for the Nation'. Obviously. However, what I'm more interested in teasing out is the reason why you think that atomising society like the Conservative parties of the world want to do is a superior ethos to having a paternalistic-style government which runs and decides policy in all the areas of our lives that are important to us, for the good of us all.
It seems to me that the IDU way lacks that essential ingredient of 'empathy' that Jeremy Rifkin was referring to this week – as in striving for individual supremacy does not enable us to develop much in the way of empathy for 'the other'. Isn't that what should be the basis for our successful interactions, and the jumping-off point for successful governments in the 21st century?
Somehow, I can only see such devolutionary policies as the Conservatives in the UK are advocating leading to a 'Survival of the Fittest' society, where the biggest boats, metaphorically-speaking, take up most of the space at the marina, as opposed to the social democratic principle, which seeks to see all boats rise equally, and no boat to get too big. In order to achieve this, the guiding hand of government needs to be in the picture.
What do you think?