Fairplay Politics seeks to convince politicians that more and more voters are searching their policies for fairplay. And they are looking at how honestly the case for fairness has been made. For that, there is no need to have agreement about what fairplay is. And fairplay does not have to mean we like whatever is proposed. All we need is lots of voters being watchdogs for fairplay. We credit politicians with more intelligence than many of them seem to credit us with: they are perfectly able to figure out - without any definitions - what is fairplay, and what is not. That is what they are for, isn’t it? We leave it to our supporters’ intelligence to recognise fairplay politics when they encounter it.
We can recognise ourselves as belonging to a community. As a community member, any undermining of human value by others awakens in us a profound sense of unease. Perhaps we have unconscious memories of mutuality - of an ancient harmony amongst us. If so, that may be why we can have really strong and deep feelings of outrage when there is lack of fairplay, when we, or others, are being cheated and lied to. It goes seriously against the grain. “Its just not cricket…….”.
We are tired of the cliché of the unlevel playing field, indicating some unfairness or other. But, if political fairplay is lacking do we really want to be citizens who vote? Without fairplay our loyalty, emotional attachment and identification [all aspects of citizenship], may also be missing. With a lack of fairplay you may feel alienated from the political community you legally belong to. Perhaps you were politically alienated by the 2009 MPs expenses fiasco.
It is by showing themselves to be on the side of the people that politicians earn support.
It is not just MPs’ expenses scandals that alienate us. There is also the general rise of a cynical and unattractive political class. We are shocked when we discover that political spinning, cheating and being economical with the truth is widespread. These bad habits all treat the electorate unfairly by assuming it is less than fully intelligent. That is scarcely democratic. It is not fairplay when leaders lie to us - we cannot then make sensible voting choices about people or policies – a loss of political legitimacy. And then we may feel seriously apathetic, and disinclined to be citizens at all. It is serious when apathetic voters have no channel other than choosing fringe parties, or staying at home.
Politicians have beliefs and positions which are supposed to validate policies. Sometimes the basic policies are fine in principle. We can all think of some. But sometimes policies infuriate. Often they infuriate because they do not meet our personal interests. But sometimes we are cross because we sense there is some lack of fair play. For example: we all know it is simply not right to allow tons of food waste to go to landfill [Stuart, 2009]. That wrongs many millions.
Sometimes a policy is meant to have wide emotional appeal but turns out to be simply illogical. The ‘war on terror’ is a good example. It was a slick soundbite policy that chimed with the dismay of an outraged public. But when people had recovered from the shock, the illogic of a war on terror was recognised. All could see the massive downside aspects, including multiple unintended consequences – such as the encouragement of fundamentalism. Now the trance of revenge has faded. With it has gone much of the public support for the war on terror.
Fairplay Politics says: never assume that the public is gullible - we want fewer demonstrators carrying placards against politicians lying.
There are some obvious problems here. First, there really is some gullibility.
But politicians and others had best not take advantage of that. If you
assume listeners have adequate intelligence they are more likely to listen
well than if they sense you think they are a bit thick. We know well enough
when something is phony [like the old back-to-basics campaign]. Also,
we know when the answer to a question is being evaded. Determined evasiveness
seems to assume we - unlike Mr Paxman and Mr Humphrys – are too
dim to notice it. No wonder there is pervasive apathy around politics.
Another problem: what is fairness? How do we determine what is fairplay, and what not? Do we disagree with the over-fair notion that all must have prizes [Melanie Phillips 1996]? Or do we go leftwards and follow Marx with his ‘….to each according to his need’? For many reasons, not all of them good or logical, we differ in our notions of what is fairplay, but that is okay: fairplay can be calmly and intelligently considered.
The recent rise of the political class is a turn-off because it seems to be too much about them, and not enough about us.
Through this new pressure group our politicians can become aware that we are here, listening intelligently, and looking for fairplay above all. We invite them to wake up and smell the coffee, fairtrade of course…… And not just wake up, listen up as well. Let us be the writing on the politicians’ walls.
The word liberal has become a term of abuse in some political circles. Critics will say that notions of fairplay are simply part of a cosy liberal-left agenda, and so to be dismissed. That fairplay is taught in schools as part of citizenship teaching is unlikely to impress liberal-haters. But well-meaning parents see fairplay amongst children as fundamental, not merely cosy, or equality-seeking. Fairplay makes at least practical sense, as does invoking the old fashioned ethic of ‘do-as-you-would-be-done-by’. We can support that.
If fairplay seems a bit simplistic – so what? If politicians realise that what they say is heard through the filter of fairplay and honesty – would they just not care? Or would they be encouraged to wise up? Perhaps they will say: “Oh well, we know all that already”. So it seems. Gordon, Jacqui, and company use our f-word. But how do they demonstrate it? It is not enough for Gordon to tell his conference that only Labour genuinely wants and could, in fact, deliver a fairer Britain – are you taken in by such strutting? Perhaps it makes you smile.
How about this from George Osborne: “I think the real debate in British politics will be about who is best placed to make Britain a fairer society. We don't just know how Labour has failed on fairness, we also know why. It is because of Gordon Brown's dogmatic insistence, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that "only the state can guarantee fairness". Do you agree? Is it enough just to leave it to them to deliver fairplay? In his 2008 Pre Budget Report the Chancellor mentioned fairness eight times. Good, but are you convinced just by repetition? “A fairer Britain” may become a slogan like ‘British jobs for British workers’. Fairplay Politics is looking for more depth than a mere slogan.