Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Friday, 4 May 2012

034- Opinion: Choosing not to choose

I am intrigued and equally saddened by the level of rejection meted out by a trickle of electors, around the chance to install directly elected mayors in various major English cities.

It is widely observed and loathed in political circles, that Great Britain- and especially, England- is unhealthily centralised. There is little scope for local decision-making to emanate from anywhere except Whitehall. Thus by definition, local government in effect is nothing more than a low-level outpost for the national administration.

To add insult to injury, the prevailing structure of our local government- a reflection of the national model- is one which favours leadership being determined by those within the political realm, than those without.

Make no mistake about it; being a Tory voter in a Labour heartland, may seem a waste of time in and of itself, but consider that this worthlessness does not change, even if an administration does end up being Conservative-lead, since your vote counts for nowhere beyond your locality.

Our system prefers a tyranny of the majority model, which means that when a sufficient number of surrounding voters, pushes a candidate beyond a certain threshold, all other votes become meaningless. This is both a shortcoming of the first past the post system, and also our political framework.
The mayoral referenda held on Thursday 3rd May 2012, were an opportunity to break through this tyrannical model, and allow people to finally have direct influence over who leads them. It was also an opportunity for such leaders, to consult with the Prime Minister in future, lobbying more directly for local needs at national level. Admittedly, it was also the route by which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could reasonably conceive of breaking into northern English Labour council strongholds.
However, at no point were any of these positions made clear. Much like the AV referendum of 2011, this year's proposal was preceded by a combination of latent misinformation or quite simply, no information whatsoever.

In my eyes, the options were the following:

Option A

The status quo. Your council, who you already feel you pay far too much money toward, in relation to the services you receive, decide for themselves who is to lead them. The leader is typically one of three representatives of a small ward, which you are unlikely to have ever visited. This leader makes a poor job of being a ward representative, since they are often more concerned with being a leader than a representative. They're bound up in meetings with potential investors and their millions, rather than with 65 year old Mrs. Smith from up the road, who would like to know why she doesn't feel safe walking in her own neighbourhood, for her weekly bridge game in the local social club. The most contact you get from a leader is a pamphlet, with their cheesy grin emblazoned on the front, pushed through your door whenever they are due for re-election. The leader only really cares for what members of their own party want them to do. They are solely accountable to their political party.

Option B

A better way. Your council, who you already feel you pay far too much money toward, in relation to the services you receive, are made to consider giving you an option to decide who leads them. The leader would be one person, who heads the administration of your entire council area. Though the leader wouldn't necessarily be assigned to a particular neighbourhood, they are however, obliged to conduct themselves in your public interest, since it is you who has placed the leader in their position. This leader could potentially be free to operate outside of the expectations of particular political parties, who often have their interests held primarily with the London elites. Even if they do form part of a political party, it may not necessarily be the same one which dominates your local assembly. They would be tasked with unifying policy from across your city's wards, freeing your local councillor to actually focus on your particular needs. You would finally have a choice in who your leader is, and they would be obliged to keep you informed of what they are doing for you and your city. They would be accountable to you.

Through a combination of mistrust, misunderstanding and disinterest, the majority of cities have opted for Option A: the status quo. That works for the current councils, since their little kingdoms remain intact, and individual councillors can keep alive their hope of being promoted within the ranks of their parties.

Turnout: 30%

Fortunately, the people of Doncaster are wise to this, and have opted to maintain their controversial English Democrats mayor Peter Davies' position, amid opposition from the Labour party cartel, which dominates Doncaster's council and has launched numerous votes of no confidence against him. Disruptive though it may be, I feel it is the essence which is required to breath real direction in local politics. Of course, turnout remains low across the board, but at the very least, it's one route of opening the possibility of not being lead by the usual suspects.

So, for everyone else, except London, Bristol, London, Salford and Doncaster, we can expect more of the same knee-jerk voting behaviour in response to national political events and the continued sense of disinterest in local political issues.

When someone approaches me next, and complains about local facilities yet doesn't vote, I will simply turn around and say that this is what they asked for. They had the choice to choose a leader. Instead, they chose (through either abstention or voting 'no') to allow politicians to continue choosing. The most contact they will get from their leader is a pamphlet, with their cheesy grin emblazoned on the front, pushed through their doors whenever the leader is due for re-election. The leader will only care for what members of their own party want them to do. They will continue to be solely accountable to their political party.

Don't say we didn't warn you.



  1. Another interesting topic, so I thought I'd continue to tyrannize your blog.

    I have very mixed feeling on this issue. You raise some good positive points, but as a resident of North Tyneside, I have first hand experience, which has highlighted some of the significant failings of the current implementation.

    NT has a Labour council and a Conservative Mayor and as a resident I receive information from both. If something positive happens, they both try to take credit, if something unpopular happens, they point the finger at each other. Without actually delving into the council records and studying the minutes relating to every decision (which even someone politically interested like me doesn't have time to do), I've no idea who's policy it was, or what change to my voting would be appropriate if it was a critically issue for me. When there was just a council it was clearer, "they done it".

  2. As far as the lack of information goes, I agree completely. I spent a fair amount of time trying to find out about the issue to no avail. Even spending a significant amount to time reading related materials, I ended up with no idea what powers were being offered, or how that balanced against councils. To further confuse matters, people kept making comparisons to Boris, but as far as I know, that's not what was on offer. The mayor of London is a different proposition, a single mayor operating at a regional level, impacting multiple councils. The offer here was a mayor for "Manchester" or "Newcastle", the central areas, more comparable to the single borough "City of London".

    In light of that fact, I decided to read up on the details in North Tyneside, and see what the exact balance was here. Nothing, couldn't find anything except vague marketing materials, which is astonishing given that it's been in operation since 2002.

    As far as I am concerned, this can single-handedly account for the poor turnout and rejection.

    The electorate are being put in the position of choosing between:
    1. Stick with the status quo, well understood if somewhat flawed system.

    2. Gamble on a mysterious unknown quantity, with no idea of the consequences.

    Given that choice, I pick option 1. In business, maybe there are wider considerations, but government has (and should in my opinion have) a lower risk tolerance, and mustn't be subject to blind gambles.

  3. Thank you once again for taking the time to comment on realpolitikblog.com!

    You have made some fantastic points in your comments.

    I believe you have hit the nail on the head, when discussing the blame game which ensues in NT council, if not in other mayoral-council systems. Just as on a national level, I believe this stems from the ambiguity surrounding the uncodified nature of the rules which our administrators apparently abide by.

    Our system seems to have a problem/be reluctant with/about setting easy to understand rules and instead prefers to use ambiguity and the totem of tradition, to justify their positions. This smoke and mirrors style, as I'm sure you might agree, is no way to re-engage the public, and certainly leaves the perception that these administrations are only interested in furthering their own standing, rather than the standing of the electorate.

    By presenting proposed changes in as ambiguous a manner as possible, quite logically- as you have pointed out- people opt for the status quo, either by voting for it, or not voting at all.

    But, by not opting for change, we create two results: 1) is that we prolong our perennial mistrust of politicians, by allowing them to continue in a system which allows them complete immunity from public will, 2) we pander to the politicians' choice; they prefer the status quo.

    How might we encourage the public to take an active interest in politics, in order to reinvigorate it?

    1. The mayoral campaign isn't the first example; the AV campaign, as with the Regional Assemblies, suffered from hopelessly uninformative information from both sides of the argument. The assemblies managed to get no information out at all, the AV campaigns got out huge quantities of opinion from interested parties, "facts" which contradicted each other and completely irrelevant points (expensive counting machines which aren't made in Britain! - is the quality of argument about changing the governance of the country so weak that that is all they can come up with?)

      On issues such as these, I think we need a, preferably neutral, body which is responsible for getting the arguments out, accurately, but in simple terms. One might think the BBC should do this, but the few well considered articles which were published at the AV referendum were swapped by hyperbole.

      Once again I find my argument turning away from politics towards the media... hmm