A happy new year to everyone!!
I’ve had some time off over the holidays, which I’ve spent with my family and friends. This is time well spent and I don’t regret a minute of it. However, the world doesn’t stop when I do, and news continues regardless. In the UK we’ve seen the murder of Jo Yeates and the subsequent media witch-hunt. This is a true pickle, with the Police and news media both displaying their glaring faults for all critical eyes to see. We’ve also seen the aftermath of the pre-Christmas transport chaos ignored. It made fantastic news TV to see those poor people stranded in airports up until Christmas Day itself, but then all coverage of the story stopped, despite many people having to wait until the 28th December for their airline to “catch up”. So a big hand goes out to all those who spent Christmas away from their families at airport hotels, waiting for the flight to take them home.
With the end of year feel and reflective mood that comes with it, many people will be doing a retrospective on how political parties and causes fared in the year 2010. In the UK and Germany we are seeing the challenges of coalition government. The politics of compromise laid bare. In both cases the minority partner Liberals seem to be copping the flack rather than the dominant conservative Leaders. However, both the Lib Dems in the UK and the FDP in Germany have reneged on key campaign promises once reaching office.
My major thought coming off the back of a very nice Christmas season is that the battle of pragmatism vs. idealism is alive and well, but many people don’t understand it.
My major concern is that pragmatism is being used as an excuse to force an unpopular idealism upon the country. This is no truer than when talking about tuition fees for higher education in the UK. In reality the average University leaver more than pays back the cost of their additional education in increased tax receipts. However, under the banner of budget deficit pragmatism the Conservative government has decided to impose massive economic penalties on those who go to university. This should wound economic mobility in the UK, potentially enforcing a massive gulf between the “haves” in the south east and the “have-nots” in the north. Conservative idealism seeking to marginalize the heartlands of their chief opponents being enforced upon the population in the name of economic pragmatism is a low blow, and one which Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems will pay for at the next General Election. The UK needs University graduates, any investment into this area is positive for the country, because it’s investment into the future competitiveness of the country.
I am a genuine pragmatist. I believe that there are some roles the government is better suited to than the private sector, and vice versa. It’s very easy to become bogged down in the failings of that past. The NHS is a prime example. Of course the NHS is one of the biggest money traps in government, and therefore one of the biggest candidates for structural change in the name of economic pragmatism. However, every system of private healthcare in the western world has been proven to cost more per head than the NHS, so you have to believe that any changes proposed by a Conservative government would have more to do with political idealism than economic pragmatism. The economic argument for the NHS wins every time unless you are stupid enough to believe the fake pragmatism argument. That’s not to say that the NHS can’t be run more efficiently. Doctors should be in charge of spending decisions rather than managers in my opinion.
Watching the news these days you will see any number of political decisions, unpopular decisions, justified on the basis that it’s the pragmatic decision to make. I suggest that in the vast majority of these situations this is purely an excuse for imposing an idealistic policy. The Conservatives want to retain economic power within their home counties heartlands. Labour wants to grow the economic importance of its northern and urban heartlands and the public sector economy in general.
When it comes to politics, the idealism will win out against the pragmatism every time. But the pragmatism will always be used as the excuse for the dirtiest deeds. Be sure to question everything. The UK’s economy is not in the dire straits often presented by the Tories. Not being a part of the Eurozone has been positive, and there has been no suggestion of increasing the risk factor on UK debt for about a year now, yet George Osborne still talks up the precarious nature of the economy. This is purely political, and has nothing to do with pragmatism in my opinion.