Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Different visions of progressive politics - the central issue?

It's now an annual occurrence. You can mark it in your diary with unerring accuracy.

Immediately after every election Labour declares an open-door policy towards disaffected LibDems to fight against the right-wing policies of tory ideology, by forming a 'progressive alliance' against conservatism.

Compass director Neal Lawson supports this tactic as he makes the case that for Labour the choice is now one between progressive tribalism, or progressive pluralism. He argues LibDems must work with Labour to prevent Conservatives from dictating the terms of government. And to this end the Compass think-tank recently opened up it's membership to other parties.

So either Labour must accept the claims of other parties to progressivism and work together on this basis, which he says will pave the way for a future coalition between Labour and LibDems, or the future will not be progressive.

It's a stark choice, but it is not a choice for the LibDems.

Lawson's approach has clear appeal to people with traditionally centre-left backgrounds. Using his attendance at a Fabian 'progressive fightback' conference Vince Cable warned that conservatives would be the beneficiaries of a return to a more polarised and tribal political discourse.

But George Eaton notes in the New Statesman how Nick Clegg dismissed the idea of any electoral pact between LibDems and Labour as he is determined that his party will stand their ground 'in the liberal centre of British politics.'

LibDem activist Alex Marsh explains that although Nick Clegg has identified himself as a radical and a 'centre progressive', Labour's choice between tribalism and pluralism has been an on-going and unresolved theme since the days when Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair were leaders of their respective parties.

That was when, lest we forget, their secret agreement to tacitly support the practice of tactical voting in exchange for commitments on specific policy pledges resulted in their dramatic election success of 1997. For a moment it was patently obvious to all and sundry that the drubbing given to Major's tired and divided tories indicated a real will for a 'progressive' change in British political life.

That moment lasted only as long as it started to dawn on Blair that the size of his majority meant he could willfully disregard any policy commitments made to factions he was no longer purely dependant upon. Blair correctly - and cynically - calculated that he could occupy Downing Street as long as he could continue throwing crumbs of comfort in their direction.

Labour got into power, LibDems got a few extra seats and the public credited Labour for stealing a few headline-grabbing LibDem policies (such as independence for the Bank of England).

The somewhat overlooked consequence of that period was the way the language of this debate was effectively appropriated by the jubilant Labour spin-doctors with their presentation of 'progressive vs conservative' as an axiomatic divide. Such a view remains common, but it is by far the dominant view anywhere except on the left: so much does Labour style itself as holding values encompassed by progressivism that Blairite 'progressive values' have almost completely replaced the 'Labour values' so enthusiastically advocated by his predecessor and mentor, Neil Kinnock (such as in his conference address at Brighton in 1985 when he publicly denounced Derek Hatton).

So a 'progressive alliance' can be either an electoral strategy to win public support, or it can be a way to work together and advance a set of desirable policies.

If it is the former it leads to tactical votes or electoral pacts and the implicit deception of the public built into the blind assumption that specific progressive policies will be enacted since there are no formal arrangements, but where it is the latter it can lead to coalitions promising at least some concessions will be made to help the disadvantaged in society. A gamble or a guarantee.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is a clear advocate of the former, but LibDem leader Nick Clegg supports the latter.

Compass member and Labour voter Ed Paton-Williams provides an interesting insight into the thoughts of the 'progressive' left. Ed cites the defensiveness of LibDem hostility towards cooperation with Labour:
"it makes [LibDems] feel uncomfortable about their alliance with the Tories. Like considering the prospect of a progressive coalition makes them think about what could have been."
He adds his own scepticism about the commitment of LibDems to the progressive cause, stating,
"it’s difficult to comment on the extent to which Clegg, Cable and Alexander are following their hearts when it comes to the cuts. It’s certainly not a big leap from some of the Orange Book’s proposals."
Yet in the whole period since the general election from the point when the coalition discussions were being undertaken and it became clear Brown would not step aside, the leadership campaign and throughout Miliband-the-younger's time in the job, Labour has shown precious little inclination to accept any responsibility for the massive failings it oversaw (for example exclusively blaming bankers for the financial crisis, the massive assault on civil liberties under the guise of defending rights, even denying earlier support for  unpopular foreign military adventures), and even less intention to offer any alternative except a return to that system which collapsed under them (as indicated by retaining and promoting the same individuals - Miliband, Balls, Cooper etc - who were architects of it).

All of this simply allows the argument to be forwarded that the Cameron-Clegg coalition is actually a more progressive alliance than anything involving the current Labour leadership, and therefore that this wasn't just the only realistic choice, rather in fact that it was the best choice on offer at the time.

Meanwhile Simon Kovar provides a heavyweight riposte writing in The Liberal magazine. He examines criticisms from the left that the so-called 'Orange Book' tendency is anti-progressive, noting that
"Progressivism has proved a slippery political concept. In historical terms, it has no anchorage in any one political tradition."
Simon highlights "the nourishment of individuality, a critique of political and economic privilege and monopoly, and the fostering of [active] citizenship" starting with a commitment to education as the basic tenets of liberalism exhibited in the Orange Book essays, which all self-describing progressives would automatically subscribe to under any normal circumstances.

Jonny Thakkar adds some intellectual firepower to this perspective in The Point magazine.

He states that "Leftists are already more conservative than they like to admit," - at least as far as the pace of change is concerned!

Certainly this is the basis of Labour's opposition to the coalition strategy for cutting the deficit and the opposition to voting reform in the AV referendum - which many left-wing figures believe would undermine their tribal voting bloc.

Furthermore, when we compare the basic issues of progressive politics we can see how it pans out in practice.

After 1997, the tactical votes which gave Blair an overwhelming parliamentary majority allowed him to deny his private pledge to put in place a constitutional convention for electoral reform, whereas the Cameron-Clegg coalition ensured the public a real choice in the ill-fated referendum on AV. Although neither case actually brought about change at least now a process of elimination has begun rather than simply maintaining the status quo as by right.

On the fundamental topic of fairness in fiscal policy a similar contrast is apparent. Under the Balls-Miliband axis Brown's Labour moved to abolish the 10p tax band as a way to show favour to the middle-classes, while the Clegg-Cable axis convinced Cameron to raise personal allowances as a way to incentivise employment and assist lower-income sections of society.

And even where Labour could boast depoliticising monetary policy in the national interest by giving the responsibility for setting interest rates to the MPC, their success was fatally undermined by a tendency towards controlling technocratic micro-management.

This produced a dangerous political bias among the appointed members of the committee which encouraged excessive private and public debt levels by keeping interest rates too low for too long and led to the unaccountable tri-partite regulatory system for banking which created a boom in speculation and allowed Treasury finances to grow overly-dependent on taxes from the city and equity trading (including house prices) as the means for funding for a range of politically-desirable, if overly-complex and inefficient, minority interest initiatives (such as tax credits).

So we can see the different interpretations of what a progressive alliance can be: it can be about political control, or it can be about the purposes political control is used for.

If you're prepared to ask yourself which is the more progressive then it is clear Labour has much work to do to regain any credibility on progressivism.

And this is what makes Labour's expressions of openness to cooperation in the interests of progressive politics not just dubious, but almost offensive. Labour in government sent a wrecking ball through any vestiges of credibility the current leadership pretends to maintain.

So the issue returns to the question of 'tribal or plural?'

Speaking in the self-proclaiming voicepiece of progressivism, Progress magazine, Labour's Douglas Alexander tentatively agrees with Vince Cable that progressives should fix their sights on ideological opponents, although the shadow foreign secretary appears more than happy to encourage party tribalism at the same time.

Alexander uses the example of SNP success in Scotland to highlight the fact that nobody has a monopoly on ideas and makes an indirect but nonetheless powerful attack on the current 'traditional' Labour leadership. But  perhaps he is viewing the political scenery from the distorted perspective of a Scottish dynamic and coming up with a paradoxic conclusion: he argues that a return to the centre-ground of British politics is the best way to advance Labour's electoral fortunes and thereby the progressive cause.

His denial of any Conservative claim to being progressive will come as a surprise to many grassroots supporters - people such as Adam Collyer, who promotes the view that the Conservative Party is built on progressive values (though the repeal of the Corn Laws may be gradually fading into complete obscurity).

It is also irksome for LibDems such as Nick Thornsby, who argues his party are the only consistent defender of progressive values.

All this reminds me of a profound pre-election comment from the defunct Letters From a Tory, who asked:
"Why is everyone so obsessed with being seen as progressive? Surely the whole point of politics is to be progressive and make long-lasting, fundamental and effective changes when faced with new challenges in government?"
Which means this argument is really about finding a deeper understanding of what politics is, and implies some real attempts to redefine the nature of contemporary political debate are happening before our eyes.

So, right-wingers are satisfied Cameron has detoxified their brand by using the coalition to move to the centre, and at the same time those on the left are upset LibDems have also moved towards the centre, suggesting this has made Nick Clegg 'toxic'.

I cannot disagree strongly enough with these two opposing extremes.

Left and right may define themselves as relative antitheses of each other, but centrism (if that's what we want to call liberal progressivism) cannot allow itself to be positioned as equidistant between each pole - these different visions of progressivism are the central issue over which the political battle is to be fought and centrism must be the synthesis of the two or it is nothing.

The most strident and rigorous Marxists, such as Ed Miliband's father, certainly understood that. It's a shame he doesn't.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The story of the LibDem identity crisis

In the search for reasons to explain the LibDem humbling at the polls in last weeks elections a 'long-brewing' identity crisis has been forced to the surface, according to James Langdale.

For years, he says, the party has benefitted from attracting a wide variety of support, "many of whom have had vastly differing ideas of what the party is about and for."

For some it was a protest party (think Iraq and tuition fees) and for others it was a single-issue party (civil liberties and constitutional reform). Then there are the 'respectable centrists' who can be swayed with inducements.

So when it came to the crunch and a real decision had to be made - in this case for Nick Clegg to take the party into coalition - it was almost inevitable that much of the half-hearted next-best support would evaporate when faced with the reality of a programme for government.

Even before the general election there were plenty of people willing to express their wishes for a return to two-party politics with a split in LibDem support.

First there was the libertarian wave who abhorred any restraint on personal freedom, even if state impositions were to be used to the lighten economic restrictions of the less fortunate and vulnerable members of society and this could increase the overall sum total of freedom. Then a deep-rooted class identity attempted to cleave open differences between activists and the leadership. Both focussed their attacks on the LibDems, but only had limited success in peeling off support.

Neil Stockley addressed these points at the turn of the year in an excellent and detailed post. He points to various vague descriptions of the LibDems as the 'nicest' party, with 'decent' people, but whose policies 'don't really add up'. Despite a boost to the party's credentials by taking on the responsibility of power "the public is finding it ever harder to get a handle on [the party]."

All in all the LibDem identity is somewhat fuzzy, he suggests, and somewhat presciently states that this in itself presents real risks for the party's future election hopes. Nick Clegg faces an uphill challenge in creating a distinctive narrative to tell the LibDem story which the public can engage with.

So just prior to last Thursday, what do we find?

The redoubtable LibDem Voice publishes confirmation of exactly the split personality which goes to the heart of the matter. According to an internal poll of members own description of their political identity there seems to be little agreement on who they are, other than being 'liberal' (and even that isn't unanimous).

Quite clearly the party leadership needs to pin their colours to the mast more uneqivocally - but in ways and on subjects which can become rallying points around which to unify.

Nick Clegg has been successful on many different issues, from the Gurkhas to the day-to-day practise of coalition, but it is difficult to see a single thread running through all of it. And until he is able to start knitting  together all these ideas into a semblence of ideology all the effort which has gone into reaching this point will unravel in accusations of a stitch-up.

When he was first elected leader I was optimistic that the party membership would finally be able to overcome their old SDP/Liberal party differences, but although the divide between social/modern liberal and economic/classical liberal factions is not so riven it hasn't yet transformed into a clearly defined liberal and democratic identity for the LibDem party: the LibDem story has yet to be fully told.

In some ways the split personality of the LibDems is less of a problem than might be imagined, provided it can be embraced as the source of the creative and imaginitive dynamic (though this isn't the natural default position of the majority of politically conscious voters and commentators).

Because the traditional criticism of democracy from classical Greece through to the modern revolutionary period was always that divergent trends mitigated against unity and therefore that in-fighting descended into rampant disorder, it was argued that the democratic impulse should be suppressed. However the development of an effective system of checks and balances to restrain excessive influences has been achieved through the integration of greater representative diversity at official level.

This means the modern political system can be largely self-moderating and requires less top-down intervention to institute needed reforms, making it much more stable as a result, and thereby stimulates the renewed desire for expression.

We may still have a monarch, but the constitutional underpinning of the crown prevents rule according to whim both by any ambitious royalist or jumped-up parliamentarian. Regular elections provide a legitimate mandate for decision-making, and prevent mob-rule at the same time.

The simple existence of such institutional counterweights increases the social discourse to enable more accurate, relevant and timely analysis.

And it in is this form of liberal, open democracy which Nick Clegg should reaffirm his faith - because Liberal Democrats are neither one thing nor the other, not left-wing or right-wing, but something altogether completely different...

The LibDem approach to politics is a point of distinction.

Elsewhere Bruce Anderson makes some interesting points about rediscovering conviction in order to renew one's political fortunes, although he cannot see beyond his own biased Europhobia to expose his own 'respectable centrism' by describing Clegg's supporters with the unbridled zeal of a convert as "a strange coalition of political obsessives" - like he thinks there's something wrong in being aware of the world around you!

Nevertheless I find it difficult to disagree with his rejection of rejectionism - as he says, to survive as a serious political force, you need to work out what you believe in: "negatives are not enough." And in the aftermath of such black and white election results thoughts must turn to survival.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Should ideology be a dirty word?

Inspiration can come from any quarter, and this antipodean post makes for an interesting starting point for a subject I've been thinking about for some time.

The author, Tessa Keane, uses a visit to a Melbourne theatre production of the political satire Not Quite Out Of The Woods to make the case that Australian national politics has become blander and less relevant to the public because politicians are becoming less ideological, and therefore that more ideology is required.

Tessa is obvious disillusioned at a situation in which
"a Bible thumping, hypocritical, snide, arrogant, former Minister for Health under John Howard (when public dental had a seven year wait list) and who doesn’t believe in climate change, [could] possibly be considered a potential leader in this county."
For her, however, the choice between this Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott (a "neo-conservative megalomaniac"), and Labour's 'mild-mannered, middle-of-the-road' Julia Gillard (who has failed to take advantage of her 'unique' position as the first female leader of the country to create any 'real, meaningful and much needed' political change) is a choice to be envied only in the undesirability of its' options.

This isn't just because the resultant government policies are less than ideal, but because the process of government has been reduced to a sporting spectacle where the attendant sideshows of regular scandal combine with an entertaining soap-opera of personal ambitions and intrigues that the content of debate no longer serves to enlighten the issues. Finally, members of the public are unable to reconcile themselves to the inevitable and ensuing compromises, and confidence in the system of government is diminished.

On the face of it this seems like a strange argument to make - two power-hungry leaders representing two different approaches with clear policy alternatives engaging in white-hot competition to sit in the box seat is a perfect reflection of political contrast, yet when this contrast begins to be interpreted as 'radical mania' vs 'incompetence' something is seriously wrong.

Tessa states, "Once upon a time political parties represented an ideology which you could stand behind, knowing their decisions would be in line with that ideology." Extending this line of reasoning, you would make your choice and you could automatically satisfy yourself that this was all the involvement you need make until the next time your opinion was sought in a ballot.

Yes, that is certainly the mythology parties in a two-party system would have you believe, but reality has a way of creeping up on fixed preconceptions and upsetting that apple-cart.

What is, after all, ideology? Is it a set of outcomes which one should always strive towards? Or is it a set of principles which should be dogmatically adhered to?

The former mind-set creates the impulse for spin-doctors and other paid or unpaid acolytes to selectively present favorable results and retrospectively define the nature of the ideology, while the latter leads to endless divisive reinterpretion and cavilling on the way forward as if they can't read which way is up on their roadmap.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to ideology per se, but it really does depend on what we mean by it.

For some different ideologies are equally valid and political questions are a matter of choice, but for me this political choice is a matter of which party represents the most coherent set of ideas - and that ain't quite so simple. For them power is legitimated by adherence to principle and the simple fact that they can, while for me mandates come and go according to the office-holders ability to remain effective and relevant. For them all political opponents retain ownership of a disliked ideological foundation. I refuse to accept this: the only set of beliefs which can sustain definition as ideology is that single set which consistently creates lasting solutions to conflicts and resolves outstanding problems. In the battle of ideas there are some which prove themself time and again, yet no party has a monopoly on any idea.

At first this leads to a confusing paradox where different approaches can be taken in different situations and as circumstances change (for example in acknowledging the existence of local, national or global communities we also acknowledge a different emphasis on their types of interrelationships, and this can be seen in how institutions are structured, what duties they are supposed to perform and the ways in which democratic accountability makes its effects felt). At other times political cross-dressing can see the opposition criticise the government for enacting a plan it came up with, yet it is society's fluid nature which requires constant adjustment by government. There really is no 'one size fits all' solution.

But laws set in stone always come tumbling down as exceptional cases are made: at a very basic level Obama's 'assassination' of Osama demonstrated the wheedling of America's 'moral' majority and even their equivocation on basic support for the 'Thou shalt not kill' of their primary creed.

All this means we must look again at what we mean by 'ideology'.

Good ideas are often praised for the principles they're based on, even if that was the last of any reason they were picked. And especially if nobody can quite explain the link in rational terms then ideology suddenly strides forward as partisans attempt to draw theoretical lessons.

All ideas have their own logic, but not all are sound. Just try to follow the logic of any idea back to its origins or to its ultimate conclusion and see where it takes you. How often do we see people justifying the unjustifiable on the grounds that it follows the principles of their doctrine? Sometimes irrespective of the outcome, sometimes irrespective of any deliberate or systematic reasoning, ideology comes with a health warning for how it is used to force our hand.

A good example is provided by the Dutch, who took neutrality to such extremes in 1940 that it was lost when the flawed concept of absolute impartiality collapsed in the face of an uncompromising foe, one whose atrocities we should remember so many on all sides were happy to turn a blind eye to while it favored them to do so.

And now current British Labourites argue LibDems betrayed their principles by forming a coalition with Cameron's Conservatives and this has forced their unwilling support for unwanted policies (such as for the referendum on the Alternative Vote - is half a loaf better than none?). LibDem supporters respond that coalition is a good way over overcoming disagreement even if, or maybe because, it enables temporary compromises to be reached. Meanwhile Conservative grassroots are frustrated for the time being, but console themselves that they can use power to their advantage.

The juxtaposition between these two situations provides an interesting contrast.

In the latter there are several forms of analysis at play. One which is based on fixing outcomes, another on fixing processes and the last which is based on fixing who holds the reins of power. The outcomes-based argument states that the ends justify the means, the process-based argument states that the ends are determined by the means while the power-argument posits all that matters is having sufficient means.

Each perspective can be applied to any situation, and through the inter-relating discourse a correct approach emerges.

So, as regards my Dutch example, they failed on all levels as far as the outcome in 1940 was concerned because they refused themselves any diplomatic or military means to defend themselves, nor were any deliberate moves towards a northern 'anschluss' made. The horrors of earlier wars they hoped to avoid were revisited (in some places far worse), and they proved themselves in many cases both susceptible and complicit in committing them.

On each level assumptions of neutrality developed into irrelevant orthodoxy and dogma as the ideological connections between ideas and actions were lost. The outcome was unwanted, the process was painful and at no point did they have sufficient means to prevent outside forces overwhelming them. The purely ideological policy was, and is, unsustainable - it is nothing more than thin air; Swiss neutrality was and is conceived on a far more practical basis.
In a separate piece from US academia Daniel Klein argues we should like to know where speakers stand, rather than "fall into simplistic ideals of neutrality and objectivity."

For him, as a classical liberal, 'ideology' is not a dirty word, and his complaint isn't that colleagues aren't ideological, but that they subscribe to what are in his opinion less-enlightened varieties of ideology. He says it is far better to be open and honest about what your ideology is because it is impossible to prevent ideological commitment from informing judgement and concepts of 'truth' implicitly depend on interpretation and qualification.

In this he is being slightly disingenuous - it's not that he opposes neutrality and objectivity, but that the process by which it can be found is by openness and honesty, and that a level playing field between the different ways of thinking will achieve this result (and consequently the desired impartial agreement which should satisfy all equally).

In other words he believes openness and honesty are ideological concepts themselves and that it is only through these that a correct 'enlightened' ideology will present itself - because such ideas suggest a specific way of doing things. The ideological concepts (such as openness and honesty) are those which take precedence and their acknowledgement indicates the development of subordinate concepts (such as neutrality and objectivity) which cannot hold together alone: all ideas may have their own logic, but not all ideas are equal.

Returning to British politics, the major criticism by the opposition is two-fold. Firstly that the junior coalition partner betrayed their ideology, and secondly not that they disagree with the government on points of ideology, but that it is motivated by ideology at all!

I'm not alone in finding this wholly incoherent. If Labour thought all ideology is bad, or that their ideology was, then surely they should applaud any perceived LibDem betrayal. Yet the main consequence of the opposition's anti-ideology claim is that they have now denied themselves a distinctive and coherent basis for any respectabile policy alternative. Something far more worrying.

Yet this two-faced opposition exposes a political reality - we desperately want to see our politicians have some rational method behind their grand plans but we just don't like the way any of the ideologies on offer seem to us: ideology was turned into a dirty word, but by those people who see how their previous adherence to an ideology collapse with its failure.

From a historical perspective this may suggest the end of an age of ideology, and the time when political programmes could be summed up in single words and simple slogans (ie Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite; Blut und Boden; Working for a Better Wherever) is no longer, but I prefer to argue it shows the battle between ideas is being won and that all the primary concepts mentioned throughout (competence, coherence, soundness, validity, relevance, legitimacy, accountability, openness, honesty etc) are reasserting themselves over the subsidiary concepts (such as neutrality and objectivity).

These primary concepts are the more tangible building blocks of the one, true, good ideology which modern political voices should be grasping more forcefully.

Political parties which turn themselves into consumer brands are simply following this trend. They quietly distance themselves from the former hot ideological topics which used to put fire into the bellies of their hardcore as they try to attract the next generation who've grown up seeing the weaknesses of their former doctrinaire approach: when Tony Blair had his Clause IV moment he signalled the end of Labour's contribution to the privatisation/nationalisation debate even though it has since required clarification by the take-over of struggling banks at the height of the credit crunch, similarly Cameron's decontamination plan bubbles under as 'the nasty party' tag continues to haunt them.

But don't confuse this with some sort of a march to the middle - blander the better. No, it is the gradual establishment of higher standards through a dynamic self-moderating system of public and private discourse as the wrong-headed idealists simply implode under the ruthless logic of events. It is the development of greater precedent in the public mind and more modern political case-law showing that and how the broad brushstroke and the sweeping political gesture is, under most normal conditions, bad politics. It is political debate.

No ideology can survive on a bookshelf or in a museum, untouchable behind a glass screen; ideology depends on passing the reality test. Ideology must be put into action.

Yet such an ideology of 'realism', or 'pragmatism', seems to be the description of choice by those who wish to castigate the lack of principle which they see motivating politicians in this 'post-ideological age'.

Let's be clear here, there is a world of difference between pragmatism and expediency even if opponents deliberately choose to blur it for their own partisan ends. As such Libertarianism is a natural reactionary product of bi-partisan stitch-ups which stem back to the corrupt practices of Tammany Hall and pork barrels, but the possible emergence of an effective third partisan force in any political sphere is something any pluralist should support.

Lack of consistency is not the same thing as lack of coherence, and it is on such paper-thin distinctions that relief and infuriation are inspired in equal measure. So we must ask how is it possible to define an ideological stance in a way which stands out except by reverse-engineering it in the way libertarians have?

Firstly, the out-moded axiomatic left-right spectrum must be consigned to the wastebin of history.

At the point when 'left' and 'right' became the accepted standard (thanks, France!) political positioning became a purely relative matter divorced from all reality and individuals took on a negative political identity defined by who and what they're against rather than anything more positive or tangible. If you didn't tend to the polar extremes then you would eventually be swept asunder by the waves of reactionary fervour as a wishy-washy, potentially corrupt, self-centred centrist who wouldn't make up their mind.

Thus to be a 'centrist' became the the term of derision to dirty the beliefs of ideological non-extremists (as well as the non-ideological extremists) just as 'ideological' became the jealous insult of those who'd seen their own suffer the ignomony and humiliation of complete defeat.

It is exactly this 'definition by opposition' which marks you out as a follower rather than a leader, and it suits so many of the vested power bases to encourage this attitude in a democracy. In some ways the democratisation of definitions made it inevitable that the cut-and-paste variety of ideology would supercede and debase any agreed understanding of it, but language goes in cycles just as societies do, so it's possible that the rejection of it as political motivation by certain trends of thought may indeed be that they're conceding defeat in the ideological stakes and we may in fact be one step nearer a return to the truer reunderstanding of what we should've known all along!

Enough with the political science and speculation, political parties are the groupings of multiple people and personalities reflecting and embodying mulitple and divergent traditions and trends, so are probably the worst at representing any single ideology. Instead, the best we can hope for is that their members are better at standing up for what they believe in to provide the real examples we hope our politics will produce.

Just as ideology must breathe to survive, so politics must be able to breathe ideology to live. Neither exists in a vacuum however and each must only be judged according to their results. It's no good just saying why all the time, or just how or what, you've also got to be able to say how to and what for to be worth a vote.

And that's why it's not just no good, but decidedly bad when the mythology of self-satisfied occasional choosing at election time begins to be seen as enough - when our political consciousness falls asleep it allows our primal animal instincts to take over and it changes the political landscape from the enlightened concrete jungle of civilisation and takes us back to the dark heart of the wild woods.