An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

In defence of political cynicism

with 2 comments

I have a confession to make. I am one of those people who sit at the back of conference fringe events. I roll my eyes when one of my fellow comrades gets too earnest about the ‘good society’. I am a political cynic.

Cynicism is under-rated. In fact, I would go so far as to say that (as well as being kind of fun) it is a valid political stance, not least because these days the majority of voters are highly cynical about the ability of the political system to deliver. When the average working family has to devote some measure of calculation to the task of getting the best for their family, is it unreasonable to suggest they might respect a politician who seeks to connect with them over that cynicism, rather than over lofty* pamphlets straight outta Stoke Newington?

Which is really just a way of binding three sensible things you should read into one coherent whole. First, Dan Hodges highlights the flipside of political cynicism and the institutional dangers of ideological puritanism:

The Labour party has been seized by a form of progressive McCarthyism. Beneath every bed lie Tory traitors. Within every closet lurk Blairite counter-revolutionaries. In every basement there are secret cabals yearning for a return for the lost leader, David Miliband.

Second, thinking of cynicism reminded me of this essay by Leszek Kolakowski (originally brought to my attention by Hopi Sen) which synthesises cynicism about the three great political movements of the twentieth century into a programme of conservative liberal socialism which sounds pretty sensible to me, which is, as he says, why it would never work.

And finally the Blairite cynic-in-chief John Rentoul has an incisive example of applied cynicism from a teacher assessing the crucial differences between the Labour academy programme and the Government’s new model. Turns out that on the ground, the key issues at stake  for the new academy programme are not about ideological concerns of the role of the state, but the rather more prosaic concerns about who’s going to pay for the admin.

One more point from the back room – frankly, a political operation needs to be cynical otherwise it’ll get wiped off the map by those prepared to get their hands dirty. As a programme, political cynicism clearly has some way to go (it has no grandee academic sponsor, nor even a colour), but as well as sticking up for localism I hope to spend a bit of time on this blog sticking up for the cynics.

And in my next post I’ll explore a bit more (and probably in a much more po-faced way) the deep strain of moderate pragmatism in Labour local government, and the challenges and opportunities that holds for the Party as whole. I bet you can hardly wait.

*In what cliché demands I call a Freudian slip, when I first typed this sentence I wrote ‘lefty’.

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Written by samelliot

June 1, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Cynicism

2 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » Cynicism is such a brutal word. It’s also not a straightforward one to define, as was pointed out to […]

  2. […] well as political cynicism, maybe what politicians and the media need more of is a bit of pragmatic irreverence – for […]


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