Vince Cable: Instinct vs Intellect

There’s something to the Take That song I heard on the radio just last night, which goes “They say nothing / Deny everything / And make counter-accusations”, referring to “Kings and Queens and Presidents / Ministers of Governments”. Perhaps from Take That it’s just a catchy line – I doubt Robbie Williams has had a serious political thought since he was sixteen.

But the whole song, entitled “Kidz” seems almost custom-built for a video of the recent violence between police and students in London, as a result of the Conservative-Lap Dog coalition attempt to finally demolish whatever vestiges of equity remain in the education system. Everything fits if you just add in Vince Cable-and-assorted-others who got nailed in the Telegraph sting to fit the lines quoted above.

Cable has come out to condemn the Telegraph for demonstrating that the Lib-Dems are inveterate liars, saying one thing in public and another thing in private. His rationale is that the poor showing of the MPs who fell victim to the sting threatens the constituency-MP link. One wonders what state he thinks that link is in when MPs habitually lie to their constituents. Just a thought.

It is some indication of the stage I’ve reached that part of me wants Vince Cable’s head on a plate. Literally.

There is something righteous and eminently admirable about someone who takes up his position honestly and defends it rationally. This cannot be said about the Lib-Dems who have been exposed by this little sting. The worst of them were prepared to court privilege and position by saying nothing in public whilst expressing misgivings in private that would endear them to those facing the business end of this government.

So kill them all. What would we miss, exactly?

Of course the majority of me is governed by intellect and not instinct. I value human life. I also appreciate that these people aren’t entirely responsible for their actions – they are fallible individuals placed in a system which is organised from the top down, with the Prime Minister and his coterie wielding immense patronage, and to that extent it is the anti-democratic system which is fault.

There’s also the part of me which doesn’t want to simply disregard the bourgeois-democratic system as so many turkeys turning up to vote for Christmas and sees instead that these people were elected, however flawed the system. If people cared enough, they could vote for someone else, whatever inertia is lent to such change by other elements of the political system.

What pains me the most is the faux self-righteousness evinced (geddit?) by Cable in his attack on journalists who actually did their job for a change and showed up the penchant of certain MPs to act completely different in government and in private. It is reminiscent of the position taken by some MPs when their expenses came under intense scrutiny and I can’t help but feel that it results from a sense of entitlement.

Do these people believe they have some god-given right to govern, and that what is expedient for them must ipso facto be the right thing to do?

Meanwhile there are people who feel they have to riot and burn to have notice taken of them. Is it then too much to suggest that these two elements are directly related to each other, or born from the same root cause?

  1. Barney Stannard
    December 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    There is something admirable about someone who gets up and defends their position rationally. There is also something righteous – but often this dissolves into self-righteous. I am sure we are all familiar with the person who simply must tell the truth, even if it does balls everything up for all concerned.

    And a rather pertinent question is whether someone who always does that; who always follows their conscience and their principles, will ever actually get anything done? There is a reason that politicians the world over (and indeed almost anyone ear a decision making role in any walk of life) are prepared to lie, compromise and evade. Because it allows them to get things done.

    There is a line to draw as to where one must stand by their principle. I don’t know where St. Vince stands with respect to that line; I suspect he is right he is balancing on it. But saying one thing in public and another in private pretty much defines politics – whether it be house politics, office politics or national politics. Maybe the world would be a better place if there weren’t this disconnect but it seems to be a fact of life.

  2. December 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I don’t think it is a fact of life – but you knew I was going to say that. Besides “life” is not some immutable and monolithic phenomenon; it consists of many things which are changeable.

    But let me posit things to you in terms of democracy. If lying allows politicians to get things done, then we need to ask a) what things are they trying to get done and b) why do they have to lie to get them done.

    The answers however phrased always seem to indicate a disconnection between the political class and the people they ask to vote for them. And this is not a passing thing. So do we take the elitist, technocratic view that people just don’t understand reality, or should we not instead assert that the democratic system is broken when politicians are not servants of the people but masters of the people, and when lying is how they disguise this reality, which would be unpalatable to most?

  3. Barney Stannard
    December 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Yeah I did think you would probably say that.

    I am also pretty sure that you would take the latter answer to the question you posit. But at the same time I’m not sure how you square it with what I believe to be your view that political views are right and that they are so is determined by the fundamental nature of things (the distribution of the means of production etc) and the fact that the vast majority of people don’t realise you are right. Surely the Marxist has to believe that the majority of people don’t understand reality and that it is the job of Marxists to enlighten them?

    But I digress. I am not so elitist as to think the people don’t understand reality wholesale. Although I would say that 99.9% of us are remarkably uninformed – a grouping within which I would put myself (grudgingly). But with respect to the case of Mr Cable, what is striking is that we all knew he thought this anyway. Everyone knows he is struggling to bare being in the coalition, all the Telegraph obtained was conclusive proof of a fact commonly accepted.

    Neither Cable nor the rest of the stung MPs were practising some great deception because although the words they said in public were supportive of coalition policies, they were often sufficiently ambiguous, non-committal, or simply damning in the faintness of their praise to leave us with no illusions as to where they stood.

    Democratic politics requires compromise. Sometimes that means voting for and even arguing for things one doesn’t agree with, provided they aren’t too awful. Perhaps voting for the top-up fees (or tax as it is really! – another debate) was a step too far – je ne sais pas.

    Politicians dissemble because one can’t advocate something which one expressly and publicly says is a bad idea. But for whatever reason it seems one can advocate something even when everyone knows you probably don’t actually support it. It gets tougher the more certain people are that you don’t – see the squirming Vince is doing over various policies.

    In my view that is the primary purpose of the, erm, flexibility with the truth which most politicians display. I don’t think it is to disguise the reality that politicians are the masters, not least because I think that is a rather crude characterisation of the relationship they have with the citizenry. No doubt politicians lie to disguise abuses of executive power and policies which they think would be unpopular if the public knew of them. But I think that is a pathology of the system rather than symptomatic of the system itself.

  4. January 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Sorry for the delay in returning to this Barney.

    I’m going to break the argument up into two and hopefully you won’t hold it against me. In a subsequent post (just below this) I’ll deal with my view of what people do and don’t know about reality and how this bears on their and my politics. It’s an interesting question, I think.

    The second – the question of lying politicians – I’ll deal with here.

    With respect to the Lib-Dems who were “stung” I don’t think the deception disappears simply because we can attribute to them lacklustre support for Coalition policies. Firstly I don’t think we can say they are lacklustre in their support – they supported the Coalition in the only way that matters; not mobilising opposition and vonting for the policies.

    Second even if we can characterise their support as lacklustre, we can’t characterise the rest of us as “in no doubt” as to where the Lib-Dems or VC in particular “really” stand. The truth is, we’ve no idea what’s truth and what is posturing for the sake of easing things within the coalition and cushioning the Liberal Democrats from the backlash they must inevitably suffer for breaking their election promises around tuition fees.

    On this last subject, what the Telegraph obtained was thus proof either that Cable was being dishonest to his Coalition partners, or dishonest to the public. Even if you don’t want to call any of this dishonesty, an equally heavy charge is that Cable is a hypocrite.

    Either he accepts that the Coalition will, all told, be of positive influence, and should say so, and defend any negative effects as a necessary price or he thinks the Coalition is an overall negative and should be clear in his opposition. These would be principled solutions to his problem. The disadvantage would be, of course, that he’d be breaking with the Lib-Dem leadership and the privileges being part of that leadership and the government allows him.

    If both parties know he’s saying one thing to them and another thing to the other party, it may not be dishonesty but it is unprincipled. I’m inclined to believe it is a through-and-through dishonesty perhaps because I’m hostile to the Lib-Dems as a matter of course but also because tuition fees are not the only matter Cable has been caught out on. On those things he can afford to be publicly radical on, he is publicly radical – the banker’s bonus tax. On those things which are likely to get him in to trouble (his declaration of war on Rupert Murdoch for example), he’s quiet on except in private – and in this last case the certainty that he was dishonest to somebody is secured by the transfer of his responsibility for overseeing the BSkyB takeover to Jeremy Hunt.

    You are correct that democracy requires compromise – but there’s nothing dishonest about compromise. If you are going to compromise, it should be done in the open and honestly, as I say above. Compromise means giving up something for something else one considers to be of value, that one could not otherwise get. Defence of the compromise is thus the politically principled position. If you can’t defend it to your supporters or potential supporters on the basis that they might stop supporting you, then aren’t you essentially using a lie to maintain your position?

    I think such behaviour is not a pathology of the system but symptomatic of it. Connection between people and their leaders is, as you say, more complicated than servant to master. But since politicians are relatively unaccountable as far as the electoral system is concerned, and a high degree of inertia is built in, not to mention the distortions the system is catapulted through as a result of certain private interests shaping the public sphere of debate, lying is a relatively easy to maintain one’s position. So really I guess the surprise for me is that I’m both surprised and annoyed at all.

  5. January 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    On the other thing, you’re correct that it is my opinion that political views must depend on really existing circumstances. I don’t agree, however, that a Marxist has to believe people to be ignorant in order to explain away the irritating disinclination of the working class to proceed forthwith to outright revolution, do not pass go, do not collect £200. Nor do Marxists have to believe themselves an enlightened few, with responsibilities to lead people the rest of the way.

    Material circumstances, insecurity, fear, apathy, no effective leadership and other such organisational concerns, the successes of the opposition…the list of potential reasons why people don’t do what Marxists (who are themselves usually divided on the subject) want them to do is a long one. Not to say that winning people around to our way of thinking isn’t a large part of what we have to do – but convincing someone of something doesn’t imply their ignorance, it merely implies a difference of opinion.

    This comes back to the Marxist view that being determines consciousness; one can be in possession of exactly the same facts as someone else and hold different views.

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