Friday, 23 April 2010

How we can fight money

This week’s post comes from Simon Beard. Simon is a freelance political researcher and consultant working on a wide range of issues, from feed-in tariffs to same-sex marriage. He writes for several think tanks and is also currently studying philosophy and public policy at the LSE. He is a member of Littlehampton Quaker Meeting. 

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In so many ways this election campaign is turning out to be unique. It's not just the leaders’ debates and the greater use of the internet that is doing it; there is a real sense that from the top to the bottom, campaigners are finding new ways of getting their message across, and this appears to be working well for many of the less-heard voices in politics.

The reason for this change is hardly difficult to see. Once again a retiring government is exposed as having been riddled with people on the make, but this time the rot appears to have spread all the way through parliament and nobody is coming out looking good. Ask anybody on the ground what they think a politicians’ main interests are and they are likely to place ‘their wallet’ quite high on the list.

All of which is rather depressing for those of us who work in politics, either as campaigners, party activists or, as in my own case, in the legion of research and support staff beavering away in the corridors of power, writing speeches, making cups of tea and constantly trying to get the right thing said by the right person in the right place, at the right time and without pissing anybody off too much.

I say depressing, but perhaps shocking is the better word to use. After all we do this work because we love it, and we work with these people because, in one way or another, we love them. Most people in politics are there because they desire to help people make the right choices, through spreading information, ideas, resources or simply the time and energy that oil the wheels of our parliamentary democracy.

And for most of us, MPs – or at least some MPs – have appeared to want very much to play their part as well as they can. I appreciate that I may be sounding a bit naive here but my experience of both MPs and Lords is that they work long, hard hours, and come largely from a background of lives spent campaigning for what they believe in. Yes, there are perks, from long summer holidays to expenses-paid trips abroad, but there are also great costs; from an eye watering lack of privacy, to a need to struggle constantly with ones many loyalties to party, constituents and ones own principles. The longer I have spent with these people the harder I find it to believe that most of them, at least, are in it just for the money.

So what is it that has produced this apparent contradiction, and what can under-financed campaigners for environmental and social change do to make sure their voice is not drowned by the millions of corporate pounds being spent on professional lobbying?

My own discovery has been that MPs and Lords are, perhaps surprisingly, just normal everyday people, so that normal, everyday rules apply. This means that, like most of us, they do really want to do what is right; but that, also like all of us, they face constant temptation to do something else. More importantly however, at least from the point of view of campaigning, how they will react to you depends, very much, on how you treat them; so when we treat politicians as criminals – as Quakers who advocate reform of our justice system will point out – we end up making criminals out of them.

In the most recent Good Lives course we looked at how people change to fit the societies they live in, and what changes we needed to make to fit a society under threat from environmental disasters. To help conceptualise this we used the theory of Spiral Dynamics to look at different types of people and how they relate to the world around them. I think this can be usefully used to help us see where politics goes wrong, and where it can go right.

To summarise, in an inadequately short space, modern society contains people in many different psychological states, who are motivated by different things, form different sorts of organisations and have different values and resources. Most people in the UK at present can be classified into one of five groups, each of which is named after a colour.

Colour   Motivation     Organisation     Value      Resources

Red      Status         Strength rules   Respect    Independence
Blue     Stability      Hierarchy        Truth      Solidarity
Orange   Economics      Markets          Reason     Innovation
Green    Peace          Consensual       Diversity  Conflict
Yellow   Higher values  What works       What's     Get things
                                           needed      done

[apologies for the dreadful layout of this - Blogger can't handle tables! - follow the links above for more information on the meanings of the colours - Pam]

My argument is, then, that whatever psychological position you present a politician with is probably the same one they will exhibit in their response.
  • People who approach an MP with the desire to dominate them will be ignored
  • People who approach an MP with the mentality that their group has sole claim on correctness or truth will not be treated as an individual
  • People who approach an MP with economic incentives will get what they paid for, nothing more and nothing less
  • People who approach an MP with the intention of having a two-way discussion will get an interesting conversation
  • People who approach an MP with ideas and a can-do attitude will get whatever assistance that MP can give, within the limits of their other commitments
  • When we believe all MPs are liars then they will lie to us
  • When we try to exclude groups from the political process they will refuse to engage with us
  • When the principal debate about MPs’ pay is ‘how large an increase will prove acceptable to the general public’ they will take whatever we allow them to have
  • When we try to listen to everybody we will hear things we don’t like
And finally:
  • When somebody else wants change more than we do they are more likely to get it
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Thanks to Simon for this article. Simon will be co-tutor on a forthcoming Good Lives course focussing on politics, to be held at Woodbrooke 1-3 April 2011.

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