I suspect that I am not the only member of Monday’s Newsnight audience to be profoundly depressed at the prospect of five more months of the irritating, cliché and sound bite riven drivel that passes for political coverage in the UK.
Let’s start with the basics. For my entire lifetime UK politics has been described in terms of “left” and “right.” Occasionally some commentator of moderniser comes up with “the centre” but no one ever asks what this means. The Left is socialism, and the far left is communism. (If you happen to agree with Friedrich von Hayeck you will see these as indistinguishable – read “The Road to Serfdom” to find out why). The Right is free-market capitalism.
Some media commentators (often of the Guardian/BBC/Toynebee persuasion) think of the “far right” as fascist, and start implying Hitler like tendencies. This, of course, is cant; the Nazis were socialists and the “far right” if it is anything would be very liberal (i.e. uncontrolled) capitalism. While that may concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a very few people (as it was in Athens) that does not make a dictatorship.
Which leaves the “centre” so beloved of Will Hutton, Tony Blair and David Cameron. Modern political thought is that to win elections you have to occupy the centre ground. But the problem is that there is no philosophy underlying the centre. Either you are a free market capitalist or you are a socialist. Hutton and Blair talked about “the third way” but after a quick bout of “Cool Britannia” the New Labour economy left us with a good old fashioned old Labour debt problem caused by uncontrolled and ill allocated public spending (which seems to be the defining feature of socialist governments – cf France under Hollande or UK under Wilson and Callaghan).
So my first gripe with the coverage is that if we are going to endure five months of it, can we at least use a nomenclature that reflects what the various parties believe in, rather than try to define them in the terms used in the Estates General during the French Revolution of 1789 (which all ended in tears 200 years ago at Waterloo). The next time someone talks about “moving to the centre” I want them to be challenged to ask quite what they mean.
Hayek’s main point is that you can’t be a little bit socialist; rather you will find yourself intervening in more and more parts of society by law. As he says, the ultimate sanction of the socialist is the hangman (for treason) rather than the capitalist bailiff (for bankruptcy).
I do get the distinct impression that this election is going to be very much socialism versus capitalism as the post-Cold War / post-Thatcher generation seek to rekindle the socialist flame, not realising that the argument has been won comprehensively everywhere outside academia by capitalism. (One of the few interesting charts produced on Newsnight showed that there is a direct correlation between voting conservative (i.e. capitalist) and age.) If the battle can be kept on those lines then it becomes Conservatives, UKIP and History versus Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Green and theory. I rather fancy that battle, but for it to be conducted properly interviewers and commentators must get candidates to define themselves in the simple terms of capitalist or socialist. Anyone claiming to be in centre must be treated as “don’t know” (thus unelectable) or “won’t say” (ditto).
The sad fact is that until we get better journalists we are unlikely to get better politicians. Evan Davis, Andrew Neil and the rest of you, pull your bloody socks up. and Emily Matthis, stop jogging while you interview and invest some time in thinking of decent questions!