Here and there
‘All politics is local’ said Tip O’Neill, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, and so it would seem if yesterday’s by-election victory in a former Tory stronghold seat by the Liberal Democrats is anything to go by. They overturned a 16,000 majority and replaced it with an 8,000 majority of their own, and from what I’ve heard some of this can be credited to their local campaign against the HS2 railway ploughing its way through the constituency. But nationally, the LibDems support HS2. Locals maybe thought ‘what the hell?’ if voting for the two-faced LibDems was the only way of registering their discontent. This does raise some issues. Firstly, should politicians not be covered by the Trades Descriptions Act? Openly misleading electors surely should be an offence? We know all parties stretch the truth, but the LibDems are world champions of deception (at least until Boris Johnson came along). At one end of a town you might be told they’re against a bypass, at the other end of the town they could be for it, all depending on who is to be worst/best affected by it.
Secondly, if indeed ‘all politics is local’ doesn’t that let national politicians off the hook? If for example you can put a wedge between a local consequence of climate change and government inaction on climate change, or between poorer local council services and government cuts to council funding, you can obfuscate responsibility and scapegoat others. But all politics do filter down to the local level, and to a large degree this harks back to the theme of ‘exceptionalism’ (see blog 11th June) where our focus is on our own circumstances, rather than anyone else's, e.g. in the global south (who can take care of themselves maybe with a few crumbs off our table). And why should I care if people in Northern Ireland can’t eat the Great British Sausage (a more trite, current example of the consequences of British Brexit exceptionalism)?
In riposte, so to speak to Tip O’Neill’s assertion that all politics is local the green movement asserted we must think globally and act locally, to appreciate the global problems and act within our own sphere to solve them. The weakness of this idea is well illustrated by the developed world’s response to the pandemic, which is to say vaccinate our own people first and if there’s a surplus of jabs, only then let the rest have them (keeping an eye on the sell by date of course). I think Margaret Thatcher was well attuned to the depressing reality of the local-global, exceptionalist dialectic when she professed that there was no such thing as society. The LibDems’ two-facedness is just one cheap example of that.
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