Purity politics works against getting things done

Good piece by Ian Dunt on the way purity politics has spread from the Toytown worlds of student unions and social media activism to infect the world of real politics, and has a negative impact of the ability to make positive change in the real world

There are two options in politics: stay pure and accomplish nothing, or compromise and affect change. No one ever changed anything on the basis of moral purity. The history of radical change is the history of principled men and women making painful compromises. It’s terribly easy to sit on the sofa and shout righteous indignation at the television. It’s much harder to work on how to expand the audience which might be interested in your campaign, to convert those who might be open to some of your ideas. But as soon as you do that, as soon as you get into the mucky business of debate and compromise and practicality, there will always be people out there calling you a traitor to the cause.

It’s always been like that, but right now it’s worse than ever. Much of the blame must surely rest with the digital echo chambers of social media, the daily self-propaganda machine in which we can surround ourselves with those who already think like us and then shriek with outrage when the it turns out the world does not agree.

It’s making us incapable of nuance or compromise and highly sensitive to the visuals of cooperation, which we take to be a sign of corruption. That’s where the online and student debate is. And mainstream politics is just now learning to profit from it. The SNP and the Tories have proved highly adept at it. And Labour, previously the victim of these efforts, is now gearing up to use the same rhetoric itself. The frenzied tactics of student politics and Twitter shouting matches are increasingly the common currency in Westminster.

The way the falout from the Scottish referendum campaign deeply damaged Labour’s brand north of the border suggests that the electorate is as guilty as the parties. But it would be a tragedy if the parties, especially Labour, were to risk the European referendum to be lost purely for short-term electoral advantage.

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2 Responses to Purity politics works against getting things done

  1. ard sloc says:

    You did well to extract this piece from Ian Dunt’s website. But the third paragraph is confusing. Agreed that purist theorising is not practical politics. But is he saying that the Tories and the Scot Nats are profiting by appeasing the purists?

    Labour was gravely damaged by its part in the Scottish Referendum. Were the Lib Dems punished for their role in the Coalition? I think that was more because their erstwhile partners concentrated their efforts on Lib Dem seats at the General Election (which alone gave the Tories their majority.

    What we are waiting for is for Labour to pull their weight in the Referendum campaign. Mayor Khan did I think preserve Labour’s identity when appearing with Cameron. In fact by doing so he showed-up the insincerity of Cameron’s stupid labelling of him in the Mayoral election. But we wait for Corbyn et al to say more. (Or are they speaking but the Press not hearing?)

  2. Tim Hall says:

    You’re dead right about Labour not pulling their weight.

    Certainly get the feeling Corbyn’s (and Seamas Milne’s) support for Remain is at best luke-warm. It might just be because both of them are completely useless. Or maybe they think the Tories will either implode or shift to the right in the event of a Leave vote, and that will be an opportunity for Labour.