I get pretty fed up of listening to opposition to governments – of whatever hue – moanin’ about policy A, greetin’ about policy B and whinin’ about policy C, only for when the government decides to listen to the will of the public on each of the policies, for them then to claim “embarrassing climbdown” or “U-turn” at every opportunity.

For goodness sake, this is the outcome you wanted!

Look, I get there’s a political agenda, I really do.  And I get that people hate the government, and will take any opportunity to kick them.  But can’t we be a little bit more graceful in how we do it?  Have we forgotten entirely the manners taught to us when we were young?  I’m sure I remember something about being polite when asking for something, and then when it was given to me I was supposed to say “thank you”.  Yeah, that sounds familiar.  So why does politics exist outwith the boundaries of these well-mannered social conventions?

Well, first thought is the depth of feeling.  You really despise party A (the governing party) so asking them for anything is a challenge in itself.  They’ve been a rival for such a long time that you can’t really remember a time that you liked them or worked together to achieve something.  But this is really a repeat of your childhood.  “Mum – brother/sister won’t let me have X”… “Ask them nicely – make sure you say please”.  Sound familiar?  I remember fighting with my wee brother (a lot) and even when we were forced to be polite, we still didn’t like it.  So that could be part of it.  But doesn’t there come a point when you stop being so immature?  You stop despising each other and learn to work together.  At least, that’s how I remember it.

Secondly, what about the idea that politics itself is essentially a zero-sum game – if they are doing well, you are doing badly and you want them to do badly so you can do well.  So if you ask them for something and they say yes, you want to treat it as you doing well and them doing badly, not both of you working together to improve the situation for everyone.  That’s logical because (coalition situations excepted) only one of you can govern at any one time, and you want it to be you so you make your party look better than the party in government.

But what partisan politics oftentimes forgets is that governing is not actually a competition.  Its about setting and collecting taxes and spending that money in a variety of ways in order to best serve the public.  Now you may have ideas as to how better do this than the other party, and you may want the public to know how much better your ideas are than the government’s so that next time they have the opportunity to vote they will remember your ideas and vote for you instead of the government.  But sometimes, when you have an idea that you think the government should pursue, and they do in fact pursue it, changing their own position in the process, it should be celebrated as good for the country, not good for the party.

Of course this post is inspired by the debate over plans to sell off state-owned forestry land in England.  But it is more inspired by the media reaction which calls the government’s change of heart on the issue “an instant, screeching u-turn“.  Because, as with most things in politics, you can’t do something without the media.  Media shapes the debate and how particular issues are viewed depends very much how they are reported.  So for the opposition to the government plans, while in reality this was a victory for them, they – and the media – have to spin it as a defeat for the government in order for it to be worthy of top news-billing.

So once again my naive hope that politics can be conducted in a more positive and civilised manner is likely to be thwarted because we can’t handle a situation where government and opposition can work together without one party having to outscore the other. Yawn.  And we wonder why people are turned off politics.