23 July 2016

Political parties are divisive and unnecessary

John Lanchester writes about UK politics:
Political parties are the mechanism through which divisions in society are argued over and competing interests asserted. The trouble with where we are now is that the configuration of the parties doesn’t match the issues which need to be resolved. Brexit Blues, John Lanchester, 'London Review of Books', dated 28 July
Quite so. Society has become too complex for the old political parties which, I believe, will have to evolve much as the stonemasons did, into organizations that are less concerned with improving material circumstances than with ritual, bonding and inner development. In their place we could see new types of organization: ones with protean structure and composition that are dedicated to single issues.
In a Social Policy Bond regime, these organizations would target social or environmental outcomes. All their activities would be devoted to achieving broad, meaningful outcomes as cost-effectively as possible. Most of us agree that we need a society that both looks after its disadvantaged members and has a healthy, efficient business sector that will generate surpluses to pay for a welfare state. Broad, meaningful goals would encompass (for examples) health, education, the state of the environment, crime, and poverty; at an international level we could target the elimination of all war and civil war.

Of course there will be disagreements about priorities, but there will be more consensus about these goals than there is about the supposed means of achieving them. Political parties are failing. They cannot cope with society's complexities and are unnecessarily divisive. They're unlikely ever voluntarily to relinquish their over-sized role in making policy, but a transition toward a Social Policy Bond regime could see them decline or encourage them to reinvent themselves as something different, much as did the old stonemasons. For my thinking as to how this transition could be managed, see chapter 4 of my book.

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