The Nature of 'Politics'

In an interview with Mark Kermode last year, Alastair Campbell argued strongly against Kermode’s suggestion that politics is “venal and crass”:

Politics has delivered most of the great things in the world and its history

In fairness, I should probably start by saying that I’ve always been a great fan of Mark Kermode’s film reviews. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think Alastair Campbell was deliberately misunderstanding the accusation.

Politics hasn’t given us great things. It hasn’t given us the NHS, or rights, or fundamental changes in the law. Governments, Parliament, politicians, campaigners and democracy have given us these things, whilst politics appears to have taken on a completely different meaning.

The term ‘politics’ now appears to refer to hostile briefing, infighting and bickering in the Westminster bubble – the easily televised and publicised elements that satisfy what (of all people) Russell Brand refers to as a public desire for a narrative. Just think of the phrase ‘office politics’.

That’s not to say all politicians are evil, or that all great ideas have evaporated from the system. Far from it. Yet politics seems to have been reduced to a pettiness and point-scoring with the dreaded capability of making or breaking a career.

Why else would the accusation that a party is “playing politics” be an acceptable (and often damning) response to criticism?

There is an element of hypocrisy in my definition – you’ll note the category this and many other posts are published under – and perhaps my interpretation of the term ‘politics’ is that of a cynic, but I’d like to think otherwise. The political system can give and has given us some great things, but, in my opinion, it’s not quite politics.

Science and Research in the Age of Austerity

Henz has written a series of posts on science funding which are well worth reading, arguing that any cuts to science would seriously damage an already neglected area. This post is brief and not nearly as well researched as Henz’s, but simply aims to add a slightly different angle to start thinking about.

Whatever your views on the subject, there’s an enormous number of aspects to how science and technology are developed, so this is a huge area with plenty of room for debate. For a start, there are the contributions made by the private sector, not to mention the research done by universities.

Speaking of which, we now have the news that the graduate tax has been abandoned – a concept which arose from the need for increased funding of universities.

As for the private sector, there is an argument that technology companies have been moving away from London. In 2008 Yahoo! relocated their offices form the UK to Switzerland, and Google’s European HQ is located in Dublin rather than London.

All this seems pretty grim news, so what’s to be done?

The classic Conservative argument would be to lower taxes, aiming to draw tech firms to London and to free up resources for research. In the “age of austerity”, this doesn’t seem likely. So how should we approach developing science, technology and research in the UK?

Russell Brand and Celebrity

I’ve just watched an interview on Newsnight that can only be described as bizarre. Jeremy Paxman interviewed Russell Brand, who decided to discuss the nature of fame and celebrity (seemingly regardless of Paxman’s initial aims for the interview).

Brand’s answers and commentary on “the cult of celebrity” seemed to consist of intelligence spoken so quickly as to be often virtually lost. He argued he drew attention to the public obsession with fame and narrative, claiming that as a result of constant media coverage of non-stories, nobody is interested in “the big ideas”.

For all my initial scepticism about the interview, I can’t help but feel that he has a point. The criticism levelled at “the cult of celebrity” is hardly new, but the concept that ideological debate and “big ideas” have been obscured is an interesting one.

Has the obsession with fame permanently damaged debate and the way politics operates?