• The Choice Before Us

    With just days to go till polling day, the rival parties have now presumably set out their stalls.

    There may still be the odd attempt to lure the floating voter, (or cynically misrepresent what others are saying), but we now have a pretty good idea as to what we will get – or, at least, as to what they are promising – if they get elected.

    It may be that these promises will do the trick. But for many voters, ploys such as these relate to issues that do not concern them individually, or involve sums of money that are so large and incomprehensible and dates that are so distant from today as to be meaningless.

    Offering policy goodies, in other words, may not be as effective in attracting votes as some politicians seem to think.

    My perception is that voters are more likely to vote according to whether or not they think that the country is in good hands and heading in the right direction.

    That may be so, say experienced (not to say cynical) politicians, but in the end questions such as these will always boil down to “what’s in it for me?”

    I choose to believe, however, that people (or enough of them) are more thoughtful than that, and that there is a genuine and fundamental choice to be made – a choice which many voters are willing to consider as they vote.

    It was Mrs Thatcher who famously said that “there is no such thing as society”.  She apparently thought that we are all just an agglomeration of individuals, who happen to be living in the same place at the same time, but that we each pursue our individual interests with no regard for anyone else.

    In expressing this opinion, she was reflecting the views of some very influential thinkers – people like the philosophers Hayek and Nozick, economists like James Buchanan and even (not very good) novelists like Ayn Rand.

    They argued that not only do we all act in our own individual interests but that this is how it should be.  They took this view on two grounds – that to restrain individuals from doing what they want and grabbing what they can would be unjustifiably to limit their freedom, and that society as a whole would be better off and everyone would benefit if individuals – particularly powerful individuals – were able to do whatever they liked, without any restraint imposed on them by “society”.

    Those who disagree prefer to look to what they see as the adverse economic, social and environmental consequences of a free-for-all, not only for those individuals and families who lose out in the rat race, but also for the health and happiness of our society as a whole and for the sustainability of the natural world we share and the planet on which we live.

    These philosophical arguments may mean little to many voters.  But the issues can easily be translated into practical terms that are closer to everyday life.

    We can all recognise, in our day-to-day dealings with our fellow citizens, different kinds of attitudes and behaviours.  We understand selfishess, greed and lack of compassion on the one hand, and kindness and willingness to share on the other – and we know which we like better.

    When we project these behaviours on to the wider social or political scale, we can see those who recognise no shared interest with their fellow citizens but see them instead (perhaps as employees or tenants) as simply there to be exploited.  These are the people who resent paying taxes to help those they regard as “losers” and who then complain about the social consequences of the fractured society they have helped to create.

    On the other hand, we can see a kinder, gentler society, where we recognise that we are all in this together – and that we all benefit if everyone gets a fair deal.

    In the end, we can ask ourselves whether or not we place any value on our democracy.  Our forefathers, after all, fought for our democracy because they saw it as essential if power was not to concentrate in just a few hands.

    I like the sound of “kinder” and “gentler”.

    Bryan Gould

    6 August 2017