Something I’ve been a little curious about – I keep seeing people who want politicians to ‘work together’ more, be more ‘bipartisan’. I don’t quite understand what these people want, here, or what they seem to view politics as.
I suppose there’s a wish to ‘get things done’, and a sense that it’d happen better if sides put aside differences to compromise more. I have a few issues with this.
To speak of ‘getting things done’: well, what things, specifically? Y’know, politics being the question of what society should be – not merely a technocratic mechanism needing a supposedly ideology-free spanner twist. If both sides start softly-softly negotiation from the jump, then, hell, what even is the point in voting for one side over another? Why have parties, or elections? If I’m going to vote for an electoral representative then I want them to fight for my position as far as possible. I want them to be adversarial, to try to win. In the theory of electoral politics, it is the very difference between parties – to the extent it exists – that makes voting for one over another a meaningful democratic choice.
At the moment, two of my big gripes with British electoral politics are that: both major sides at best dismiss the left and what we stand for, quite openly; and that they already agree on far too much! This isn’t unique to the UK.
Of course, negotiation and compromise will happen in parliament – but those things aren’t the Good in themselves. They aren’t and shouldn’t be the goal. ‘Bipartisan’ doesn’t mean ‘better’. The goal is to promote your politics, and compromise is just one tactical tool in that.
And it’s important to beware the bad-faith actor, who keeps on asking you to take another step their way while backing off themselves. Do you really think the Tories or Republicans or your national equivalent are willing to work with their supposed counterparts, if only one more compromise? They’re more than willing to denounce the chumps opposite as dog-eating socialist nazi wokeists to a rabid media at any point, so how much is gained by playing their game? Negotiation has its place, but don’t kick things off with a low-ball offer to people who hate your guts!
The call for politicians to work together better under-estimates how much they’re already all in a club we aren’t. Even if you’re not a leftist like me, it should be obvious that they’re private-school toffs, landlords, and finance freaks failing upwards, whose disagreements are ramped into hysteria by a hysterical media despite being limited to the cultural sphere and some select economic details.
To be clear, those cultural questions can matter and in large part shouldn’t be questions – still, I don’t want terfs and lukewarm trans-advocates to compromise more, I want trans liberation, for example. The problem isn’t the unseemly noise of the argument, it’s the substantive issues of something that shouldn’t be a debate club for cis legislators in the first place.
But my other point there is that there is no disagreement on fundamental socio-economic questions. Neo-liberal capitalism is so entrenched within the Overton window that those calling for more agreement don’t notice that both sides are already near-totally in lockstep on the biggest questions. The disagreement there is on economics is on merely amounts and technicalities, nothing structural – ‘how much can we tax the energy companies?’, not ‘this energy market is clearly bullshit, let’s nationalise natural monopolies instead of debating how much to let oligopolies cream off the top.’
Sure, which technicality-lever gets pulled will make some difference to some people’s lives. That’s certainly not an argument for even more compromise just for the sake of it. If the few differences do matter, well, imagine if there were bigger differences! Structural ones! What if it wasn’t always about the lesser evil, damn it?
So, yeah. I don’t want politicians to work together, actually. I want choice.