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May 19, 2013

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Mil

"... political activism, unusually amongst voluntary activities, does not make people happier."

I would agree with this, and have never been blind enough to be happy about envelope-stuffing roles. Which, of course, means I don't get brownie points at local levels.

I did go to a Labour Live event this weekend though, and, in relation to the "being happy or not" theme of your conclusion, wonder if Labour isn't onto something far more important here. The evening involved excellent live music, young and old people, people from Chester and people from further out. This was about as close to happy as political parties might get. The reward before the pain of envelope-stuffing, even.

And it does make me think that if political parties start to give before they ask something of one, the conditions for party-political volunteering might reach a tipping point in favour of happy collaboration over manic belief.

Not that it's turned me into an envelope-stuffer overnight, mind. Some things I'll never be blind to.

The Thought Gang

Small point of order: I think that gay marriage and EU membership are sufficiently different for them not to be casually presented as different branches of the same tree.

If someone is particularly anti-gay-marriage in my general direction, I can point out that gays being married does not make one iota of difference to their lives. If someone is anti-EU, I cannot.

Luke

TTG,

I sort of agree with you, but there does seem to be a correlation between opposition to gay marriage and opposition to EU membership.

I'm not sure that I could tell someone what difference leaving th EU would make. No one (OK, not me) really knows th terms on which we would leave. Would we prevent French immigration?

Keith

I think Tories and UKIP are swivel eyed loons. The leader of the Tory party does as well and once said so but now is reluctant to attack UKIP directly. His own loons need to be humoured for the envelope stuffing and UKIP for a possible alliance or endorsement to come.

There is a fine difference however between two different word meanings. You can be right but feel irrationally strongly about something or be mad in the sense of being totally irrational.

Many of the people in UKIP and the tories are just mad; they are wrong but feel strongly. The people who have real power have rational reasons for their positions but I am not sure that the activists are the ones with power just the useful idiots. Cameron and his rich mates like paying less tax and are quite happy to impoverish millions of people so they can. That is perfectly rational but nasty and unpleasant for the rest of us to have to endure. The Tory big wigs would be happy with the EU if they were sure it would always do things good for them and the city namely for their wealth. But a large association of reformist Democracies might be inclined to threaten their wealth so a bit of Europhobia has its uses. Farage is the Mad dog that can be set on Mrs Merkel if she is not careful. What German ruler wants Farage sinking his teeth into her? There is method in the Madness.

The only comparable ravings on the left were the strange fondness some people had for Stalin when he was around and the foreign policy of the Soviet Politburo. The homophobic old Tories and UKIPers will go the same way in time society advances one funeral at a time....

Rich

The main problem is that there are parties. In order for it to work, every view you have has to line up exactly with the policies of exactly one party. That's dumb -- there are better ways to run democracy now.

rogerh

Good quote "narcissism of small differences". So perhaps the parties encourage the loons in order to create news coverage and to create the illusion of controversy. Such creative politicking is needed in these austere times when little political work of any substance is possible.

Take gay marriage for example. Surely very few people really care if gay people can marry. The Churches are kicking up because they want to maintain their USP, the gay-haters are kicking up because they hate, the MSM creates a noisy controversy to sell papers - but among those I talk to almost no-one really cares. But if the MSM took the line "who gives a sh*t" well that would throw the spotlight back on economic policies which would never do.

Perhaps we are seeing a kind of Dutch Auction for the 2015 election. Maybe no-one really wants to win in 2015 and we will see a spiral of ever more foolish irrelevant debates in parliament.

Ralph Musgrave

Re political activism and happiness, there is a study that claims that such activism DOES make people happier. See:

http://www.psmag.com/politics/get-politically-engaged-get-happy-8307/

Miki098

Ralph ... thanks for link

Andrew Zalotocky

I recently posted something about the difference between how the small single-issue parties and the major parties approach political campaigning:
http://randomnotes.typepad.com/rnd/2013/05/game-of-votes.html

Basically, the former tend to act like evangelists who want to convert people to their cause while the latter focus on building a coalition of support that will deliver votes.

But it now occurs to me that there can be a similar difference in attitudes between the grass-roots of a party and its leadership. The activists have a really strong belief in their ideology but the leaders believe that they have to appeal to the "centre ground", wherever they currently think that is to be found, in order to have any chance of winning.

So there is a natural tendency for the activists to see the leadership as insufficiently committed to their beliefs and for the leadership to see the activists as hopelessly dogmatic. I suspect that the "mad, swivel-eyed loons" remark is a particularly blunt expression of the tensions that exist in all large political parties.

Andrew Zalotocky

rogerh, apparently it was Freud who came up with that phrase:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism_of_small_differences

John

From my my experience in the Labour party I'd say that what motivates most activists is not, as you seem to be suggesting, an overestimation of the impact of politics, but a feeling of guilt: the idea that they should put their time and effort where their beliefs are. Consequently, they're usually active on a fairly fitful basis and/or when the occasion demands. For the minority that are very active, the added motivation is usually ambition for political office (or something they have to do as its holder). The kind of zealots you describe are typically not activists: rather they turn up very occasionally, sound off (usually about the need to take action), then bugger off at the first mention of door knocking, envelope delivering, etc.

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