So much of what passes for debate and argument in modern Britain revolves around the politics of division and personal destruction. One of the main reasons for people being turned off political debate is that it seems irrelevant to them and their daily lives. When asked about how they feel about politics people often comment that they feel that they are being manipulated because they are always being asked to make false choices: you have to be pro-business or pro-unions, pro-growth or pro-environment, for civil liberties or against them, in favour of immigration or opposed to it, a progressive or a dinosaur.
The truth is, of course, that most people don't think like this, most people don't live their lives in this way, and most people long for a politics where we have genuine arguments, vigorous disagreements; where we don't claim to have a monopoly on what is good, where we don't demonise our political opponents. Most people want their politicians to engage in what President Obama has called a "fair-minded" approach to politics; a politics that understands that truth and certainty are not the same thing.
Being "fair-minded" is, in my view, a philosophical approach to politics which ultimately has as its goal the pursuit of the common good. Common good politics is the politics of empowerment; it is the politics that espouses cooperation not competition, the hand up and not just the hand out. The uncomfortable truth is however, that rather than some broad common good philosophy it has been what might be called an "uncommon-good" ideological approach to politics that has dominated the political landscape in the US and Europe over the past 50 years.
Ideologues like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher believed that nations were best served by ensuring that the maximum concentration of wealth and power was in the hands of the "right" people. Those that argued for the common good and promoted the need for mutual responsibility were opposed by those who believed that in large measure people made their own luck, that there was no such thing as society.
What is emerging in modern British politics is the move by Labour leader Ed Miliband to take a "fair-minded" approach to issues that confront the majority of citizens in this country. Miliband believes that debate should be dominated by evidence and argument, that it is political philosophy and political philosophers that we need to embrace and it is political ideologues like David Cameron that we need to be wary of. Cameron an ideologue? Yes - and the worst kind of ideologue, an ideologue with no convictions.
If, like Miliband, you have a moral and political philosophy, it generally pushes you in one clear direction or another, but like all philosophers, you want to engage in discussion and argument. You are open to evidence, to new learning, and you are certainly open to debate the practical applications of your philosophy. You might therefore end up making a principled agreement with someone with a different philosophy. But if, like David Cameron, you have adapted a particular ideology then you've already got your mind made up. You know all the answers, and that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time, so you tend - like Mr Cameron so often does - to resort to vague and general assertions and personal attacks on your political opponents.
Miliband relishes debate and ideas; he creates policy based on sound evidence and a clear sense of justice and moral conviction. Sadly what we have witnessed in recent months in particular is the reality that David Cameron relishes sound bites, image and tomorrow's headlines; he has a clear sense of what will look good and almost no apparent political convictions.
The next UK election will not only be a contest between the Tory 'posh boys' and Labour's 'ordinary people' it will also be a fascinating run-off between the philosopher politician and the marketing man's ideologue.
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