The Speaker
Saturday, 20 July 2024 – 07:39

The problem with making politics boring

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Tuesday 25th October bought a degree of certainty in British politics for the first time in a while. Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister with no chance of being replaced and the Tory Party – for now – seemed largely united. Given the return of many Cabinet ministers to their old positions (Dominic Raab, Steve Barclay, Michael Gove and Johnny Mercer to name but a few), order and routine prevailed.

After the last eight weeks, few can be blamed for desiring normality, not least with the numerous domestic and international political crises. Indeed, such is this urge for basic competence that the phrase: ‘the adults are back in the room’ seeped into the public imagination. Painting Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng as irresponsible children mistakenly let loose to run the country, Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor as Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister implies calmness being back in the building.

Indeed, that was the message of Sunak’s most vocal supporters. The day he became leader, Huw Merriman, now a transport minister, said he hoped government would become ‘more boring’. Rishi Sunak would ‘run Number 10 Downing Street like a chief executive would run his own office’ and they didn’t ‘want any excitement, we don’t want any more turbulence’.

This is the very embodiment of a more technocratic government. To use the term is a cliche, but what does it actually mean? On a basic linguistic term, it means a technical style of government. For a government trying to promote technical skills (see the appointment of Gillian Keegan as Education Secretary) that is no bad thing. 

However, as John Gray highlights in UnHerd, dig deeper and the meaning is slightly more suspect. By prioritising technocracy through running government like a business, the political ideals and ideological differences take second place. The whole idea of politics – based on struggles for power – is negated, with language of efficiency first and foremost. The realm of acceptable ideas and space for debate narrows. 

While contemporary debates over cancel culture have highlighted the range of space within the cultural sphere, discussion on economic matters has been more flexible. Until now. Rishi Sunak’s premiership has issued in arguments that austerity and a radical reduction in public spending is inevitable. Blink and you’d think we were back in 2010 at the dawn of the coalition government. Rhetoric of difficult or tough decisions has been deployed again, with the IMF praising Jeremy Hunt’s move. 

Yet this forgets decisions about economic policy are judgment calls, rather than set and inevitable. Austerity is always a political choice over an economic necessity. The language used of politics being boring, would suggest the government should cut spending like a company might, with little public debate.

Any decision made regarding such spending cuts would need to face reality. Numerous public services have been trying to cope with over a decade of reduced spending, with the cost-of-living crisis already making matters worse. Indeed, if taxes are to increase, the social contract would surely, to a degree, fall apart. Voters would be paying more for less. 

Whether Labour will offer a radical alternative or, like in the run-up to the 2015 election, prioritise a cautious approach remains unclear. What’s definitely clear is the last few months have completely sidelined the voters. While the UK doesn’t have a Presidential system, the volume of musical chairs is an easy cause for despair. 

Rishi Sunak has said he will stick firmly to the 2019 manifesto. That rhetoric, at least, is admirable. Though I am no conservative, it was on that document his party were elected. A commitment to levelling up, desiring more for all, is one that should stay at the heart of his agenda. Most of all though, public input by involving the demos (say, through, citzens’ assemblies), is key. Arguing politics should be boring and unexciting is the very opposite of that. 

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