THE BLOG

Compromise Is Not The Enemy

26/10/2016 17:41
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If by some unfortunate mishap the UK were to find itself under my control, I doubt I'd last a week. With unfettered power a reckless series of knee-jerk policies would follow until a widely backed coup restored order. That would put an end to severe tax hikes, the abolition of private education, and the general crushing of all who have the temerity to revel in profit. Business would, for the briefest of moments, cower beneath my steel boots, most likely ill-fitting and several sizes too big after I've removed the customer focused efficiency of a market economy. In short it would be a mess, as I suspect it would under anyone given the keys to the kingdom with no requirement to compromise.

Right now compromise is out of vogue, a dirty word not to be so much as muttered in public. To do so is to betray principle. It's the ultimate heresy for any good and proper political soul. In the UK triumphalist Brexiters within the Tory ranks march like lemmings to the clifftop in step to the sweet tune of hard-line orthodoxy, while Labour couldn't agree on a sandwich spread for a local branch meeting, never mind an election-winning strategy. The only change Jeremy Corbyn's leadership seems likely to enact is constant rotation within the Shadow Cabinet. The idea of working together with allies that dare think a different thought is bad enough, never mind fraternisation with anyone else.

Rigid refusal to step outside clannish group-think is hardly a UK specific problem. The US is undergoing a bitter election campaign that has fired partisan feeling to bizarre levels. Despite one party - supposedly a mature, professional party with a proud reputation - fielding a mean-spirited, thin-skinned, bullying, hectoring, incoherent buffoon, far too many Republicans have rallied to the flag. Democrats are hardly blameless, many willing to tear strips off their own candidate for being the relative economic moderate she has been her whole life. In a heated environment that sees politicians ripped apart for straying from narrow political convention, it's no surprise to find the ability, and indeed the desire to work with those of opposing views, an undervalued and poorly received trait. When everyone who doesn't think the same is painted as the enemy, a move to bridge the divide will be derided.

This view of compromise is inherently short-sighted and extremely damaging. Beyond our natural desire to close ranks against a common foe, an admittedly powerful drive, it doesn't even make sense. Each and every one of us compromises countless times daily. We weigh up decisions and make trade-offs on what to spend our money on, how to allocate time and how to behave. It's part of living in human society. Margaret Thatcher might once have told us there's no such thing as society, but that can only be true if we choose to ignore the entire history of our species. And still we look for our leaders to be the paragons of unbending virtue we know no human could, or ever should be.

The world is full of individuals each with a unique set of desires that must be blended, mixed and moderated into a greater mass. Were I allowed to do anything with no checks on my power, I would embark on a series of policies that matter to me, but in reality will be of no consequence or actively opposed by many. Some I might push through but I could not get away with acting like I can do whatever I want. The same would occur were any other person handed similar scope. Knowing this does not make me reject my vision of the world, it simply allows me to recognise I can't have everything I want because everything I want is not going to be shared by others. It may be similar in some cases, far different in others, but never exactly the same.

So what we do now is look for compromises. This does not mean giving up on principle. It's not a betrayal. Compromise isn't bad, only bad compromise is bad. We work through priorities and trade off those that matter less to get those that matter the most. There will be issues that are intractable and there will be plenty that are not. Sometimes agreement proves impossible, at least for a while. That shouldn't shut down all dialogue. There are of course views that are too horrendous to bow to. Unpleasant fringes exist everywhere. Compromise in such cases does not have to mean conceding to aggressively bigoted positions. It could mean working with others to stamp out such views and improve the circumstances that lead people to back them.

What certainly doesn't work is labelling everyone else as a heinous other, refusing further discussion in the process. We are not lone wolves howling at the moon from atop a mountain even if internet comments and political rallies sometimes give an impression to the contrary. If individuals want to stand screaming their purity for all to hear, they can't expect the world's problems to have magically resolved when they choose to reengage. The problems will have worsened. In the absence of compromise, the only unknown is by how much.

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