The voters demand a moderate candidate, I read. (‘Think of the Red Wall!’) Moderates do not come out of party leadership campaigns though, do they? In any case, what is a moderate? Every commentator believes he knows, but the true answer is Einsteinian.
Extreme politicians put the voters off, it is commonly understood, but that is not quite true. Voters will say they want a moderate candidate, but you cannot stop there: it is enough to get a headline, but the observation means nothing until you examine why any individual voter says he or she wants a moderate and what they, as an individual, mean.
The average voter is put off by the arguments of politics: we want politicians to stop arguing and get on with doing the job they are being chosen for. The ideal politician in that view is like Jim Hacker – he was all tied up in wanting to keep voters on side but what was portrayed on screen was a minister who concentrated on actually doing the job, not on wasteful , childish political arguments and bidding wars with other people’s money. Jim Hacker is a fiction. Democratic politics is a long and complicated running argument which happens to spill government out almost as a waste product. (In undemocratic politics though, it is the population who are treated as the waste product.)
Peace and compromise sound lovely – if however we have a balance in politics such that ministers and MPs are unable to put through decisive changes towards the ultimate expression of their own political beliefs, they are despised, and rightly so, for sitting doing nothing while being highly paid for their indolence and doing no good for the nation. For twelve years, Conservative-led governments have failed to do the things they promised, failed to dislodge the tax-fed social justice warriors we loathe, failed to cap immigration, failed to cut taxes much or at all – they could be praised as moderate, but that is wilful impotence.
What then? Is a virtuous, moderate politician one who does not get into constant playground fights? The fights are necessary though to argue a policy through and put it into effect. Is the moderate one who listens to all sides, takes opposing opinions into account and finds a middle course between them? That is the course of indolence and a refusal to do what that politician believes is actually for the benefit of the nation. Worse, it encourages the assertion of extreme positions in order to drag the middle ground backwards and forwards, or eliminates the middle ground.
A fish may see virtue in either of two adjoining lakes, but it may not, for the sake of compromise, lie on the path between them, the moderate choice though that is.
It should not need to be said, but ministers should do what they believe is in the best interests of the nation as a whole, and if the other side, or those within their own party, oppose that action, listen to their arguments so the minister can test his or her opinions and find flaws in the detail and likely outcomes, but still do what (on all the evidence) is believed to be right not a compromise.
Moderation is a virtue, Aristotle assured us (we gain nothing of real value from him) and other antique writers as we know, but we can listen) but we must not take an extreme position on it: even Aristotle treated the concept only as a starting point. The necessity of moderation appears demonstrated from the horrors we have seen born of extreme ideologies. Look closer though – those familiar examples, with their death camps and starvation, are evil not from extremity as an isolated concept but from false, murderous philosophy, usually of socialism. Extreme wrongness brings evil: extreme rightness need not, if only there were a way to judge rightness.
Actually, the word ‘extreme’ is toxic, but ‘staunch’ is positive. How different are they logically?
Let politicians shun extremist if they wish, as long as they are staunch. Refusal to follow their own beliefs is dishonesty, or a wilful refusal to do what they know to be best for the nation – provided that the key a keen eye on what actually happens not what they expect.
Re-reading the above there is a foolish error lurking. Please do not read the article only that far. The problem is that an ideology generalises, and reality and humanity are not capable of generalisation. A nation is composed of individuals, not systems. Perhaps “extreme”, meaning wrong and dangerous, is actually a good way to express the application of ideology with too much generalisation. In that case one could conclude that a libertarian approach is the least extreme because it refuses to impose general rules on individuals. There too though it can generalise itself too much and prevents the institutions of the Common-wealth from exercising the duties they have to defend the individual.
The hunt for moderation goes on,. and I did pose the question earlier of who is a moderate. We like moderates, but we like those who will do what is right, which is a logical inconsistency until we look at how the words ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ are actually used. The moderate candidate is praised by all commentators, and it is a different one, for different reasons every time. The truth is that moderation, like the speed of light, is a constant which is relative to the position and motion of the observer. In plain truth, a “moderate” to any given observer is “someone who believes what I do and will act accordingly”.