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‘Liberal Conservatives’: new politics?

The first day of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition we had Nick & Dave: the Love-In in the Rose Garden which more than a few commentators likened to a wedding, such was the bonhomie and adoring gazes between the principals. Yesterday we had Vince Cable, the Lib Dems’ voice of sensible moderation, and William Hague, the conservative of the Conservatives, sharing the walk along Downing Street to David Cameron’s first cabinet meeting. Not to mention the bizarre spectacle of Lib Dem anti-nuclear spokesperson Chris Huhne taking charge of implementing the Tories’ plans to build more nuclear power stations! Today, of course, Cameron’s at war with a number of his own backbenchers over the intention to fix the level at which Parliament can be dissolved prematurely at a vote of 55% of the House of Commons (up from a simple majority of 51% and making it that much more difficult to get rid of them). At least the Lib Dems are only being berated for this ‘stitch up’ by members of another party (Labour)!

Undoubtedly the week since the general election results were declared has been one of the most interesting in modern British politics!

The 55% no-confidence level stitch-up is, in fact, a key plank in the Tory/Lib-Dem agreement which, theoretically, ties the 2 parties to each other for the to-be-fixed 5-year life of this Parliament. This straightjacket, it is claimed, will give us the stable government we clearly need to steady the markets and to start to tackle the huge problems Britain faces.

But the story of this historic coalition – the first since the Second World War and the first time Liberals have had seats in a non-wartime cabinet since 1922 – may be in trouble even before it has begun. Not only are there very noisy grumblings about the ‘unconstitutional’ 55% but grassroots Lib-Dem activists are mounting a campaign to force Nick Clegg to put the coalition agreement to a full vote of the party membership. Meanwhile a number of Tory MPs have said they will campaign outrightly against the Lib-Dem-driven proposal for electoral reform once the legislation for the referendum is pushed through.

A number of seasoned political commentators are also far from convinced. Eg: the venerable Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail (12 May), says: “Nick Clegg has climbed into bed with the Tories, whom most of his supporters hate, for a political price that is more than a pittance, but scarcely worth the price of their souls. More than a few Tories, in their turn, are dismayed that David Cameron has made a deal with a party of hookers.” He goes on to describe the coalition as: “…a pantomime horse doomed to fail”.

Of course, putting together a government from parties, which have been staunch rivals since the Victorian times when William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli used to square up to each other across the dispatch box, is going to be problematic. Not least because these 2 historical political giants still infect their respective parties with their memes.

While economically Cameron might be Margaret Thatcher’s grandchild, his emphasis on social responsibility and talk of society’s obligations to the underprivileged and disadvantaged show clear strands of Disraeli’s political DNA surviving and replicating through generations of Tories to infect his thinking. As for the Lib-Dems, while they might in title be Liberal Democrats and have a touch of the centre-left about them, at heart the likes of Simon Hughes embody old Gladstonian Liberalism.

But some would declare us now to be in a post-ideological age where stolid pragmatism is more important than unthinking devotion to principle. Perhaps it was that kind of thinking that led the Lib Dems to leak that Monday’s (doomed) flirtation with Gordon Brown and Labour (far more, it was previously thought, their natural allies) was just going through the motions, to appease the party activists, and that the object of desire all along had really been the Tories?!?!? Maybe it was similar values that led David in the Rose Garden to declare that a minority Tory government, negotiating policy by policy support with the Lib Dems, just wasn’t inspiring; he just had to have a full-on relationship with the man he had only a couple of weeks before, as one reporter reminisced, referred to as a ‘joke’?!?!?

If pragmatism does have the upper hand over principle, then maybe…just maybe…the coalition does have a chance of succeeding. In which case, Clegg’s fine words about a “new kind of politics” might not turn out to be just so much hot air.

As for Cameron, he is reputedly talking about the ‘Liberal Conservatives’?!?!?

Some overlap of values?
On the face of it David Cameron appears to be dominated in his thinking by the ORANGE vMEME. He is concerned with progress, achievement and wealth. In these respects, he is very much Thatcher’s grandchild. Beneath this is a solid BLUE desire for order, stability, duty and conservatism (small ‘c’). Thus, his natural approach to the fiscal deficit is to cut, cut and cut public spending while looking for opportunities to liberate wealth-generating entrepreneurism.

Yet there is also a touch of GREEN liberalism in Cameron’s thinking. (Goodness, he’s even on record as supporting civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples!) And it’s the work of GREEN on his selfplex which enables Cameron to at least understand where the Liberals are coming from.

As for Nick Clegg, his near-naked ambition shows strong ORANGE at work beneath the publicly-voiced GREEN-derived mantras of the Lib Dems. Ostensibly, Clegg’s ORANGE ambition pulls him down from GREEN ideals to do the ‘dirty deal’ with Cameron which has so unnerved many Lib-Dem activists.

It’s interesting, looking at the footage of him and Cameron on the steps of 10 Downing Street and in the Rose Garden, how alike they seem. The same age, similar youthful good looks, slim, modern haircuts, sharp suits…they could almost be peas from the same proverbial pod.

If they can get on on a personal level and they can use each other for mutual progress, there is every possibility the core of the coalition will work – and the ruthlessness and cunning of ORANGE will enable Cameron to outwit the rigid BLUE of the Tory naysayers while Clegg undermines the lofty principles of GREEN-led Lib Dems simply by being in government, having a highly-visible profile and gaining credibility with the electorate.

Of course, there is a real risk of divisions in the ranks being driven and/or manipulated into real splits, with one or both parties splintering in the stress of being in a coalition with those they had previously despised – and that’s probably a higher risk for the Lib Dems. However, a real partnership between Cameron and Clegg, even if one of mutual use, should, theoretically, work. And, if the partnership works, without the parties splintering under the pressures of coalition, then maybe we really are into “a new kind of politics”.

2nd Tier thinking
After the Regent’s College summit last June, when we started putting together the Centre for Human Emergence UK, there was some considerable debate amongst the core team, as to how we might engage with politicians in developing ideas for the regeneration of British identity and culture. By and large the consensus was that the Lib Dems – at least, as a party – were most likely to be receptive to the kinds of ideas we were beginning to formulate.

The reason for this perception, partly drawn from portrayal in the media and partly from the direct experience of some of us in meetings with Lib Dem politicians, was that GREEN was so strongly dominant in much of the party’s collective selfplex, compared to the BLUE and ORANGE vMEMES driving the Tories and BLUE and GREEN motivating Labour. (These vMEMETIC ascriptions are, of course, huge generalisations about the 3 parties.)

If we were to find 2nd Tier thinking – or at least a readiness to move to 2nd Tier thinking – we thought we would be much more likely to find it amongst the Lib Dems.

So, a year later, with the Lib Dems forming a minority element in the new government, how does that perception stand?

Well, there was little in the Lib Dem election manifesto to indicate that the primary vMEME driving their thinking was anything other than GREEN. (Which doesn’t mean other vMEMES didn’t exert their influence – just that the overriding impression is one of it being a GREEN-led agenda.)

Since GREEN, in its desire to bring about fairness and equality, can actually become unrealistic in its expecations, the Tories’ BLUE and ORANGE demands on their policies being adopted by the coalition in areas such as immigration, defence and fiscal management is probably no bad thing. The Tories’ insistence on not joining the euro for the life of this Parliament is also no bad thing, given the mess the Eurozone is in – but longer term that may need to be reviewed, both from a pragmatic as well as an ideological angle.

The coalition programme, from what we know of it so far, can almost certainly be described as coming primarily from BLUE and ORANGE, with some GREEN initiatives. So it’s not the strong GREEN-derived  programme a pure Lib Dem government might have attempted to implement – but then it’s also without the worst excesses a strongly GREEN agenda might have contained.

So far, at least, there seems little on offer for people whose values come primarily from the PURPLE and RED vMEMES lower down the Spiral. As all too often in modern British politics, their needs get ignored by the political cognoscenti, making them easy prey for the likes of the British National Party. Hopefully, the Tories proposed cap on non-EU immigration might help those people feel they are not totally ignored by the political mainstream.

This disconnection with communities dominated by PURPLE and RED thinking – particularly the traditional white working class – is just one reason why programmes produced by BLUE and ORANGE and even GREEN are not enough in themselves. It requires full 2nd Tier thinking to perceive the full range of needs and desires on the Spiral.

So we’re back to the question: where is the 2nd Tier thinking in our leadership?

The effects of dissonance
Between 9/11 and the build-up to Iraq, I thought I detected an amount of 2nd Tier thinking in Tony Blair. The way he courted Muslim leaders in the wake of 9/11, using Qur’anic text and Islamic concepts to persuade them to at least not oppose the American invasion of Afghanistan seemed to me to display the remarkable ability to work with people in terms of their own values. Then came the blind alliance with George W Bush and the blunders people are still paying for with their lives in both Afghanistan and Iraq. After that, Blair was always ‘damaged goods’.

Yet no other 21st Century Western leader has impressed me with that quality of thinking. Even Barrack Obama, for all his initial promise, now seems bogged down and uninspired.

David Cameron certainly doesn’t impress me he’s got that kind of vision. At least not yet. Nor does Nick Clegg. Vince Cable maybe. Certainly the man is a treasure for his erudite wisdom and seemingly-unflappable composure – but he’s yet to master projecting himself as a charismatic figure in the mass media. William Hague is even worse at handling the media; though, years after fluffing his go at leading the Tories, he is at last starting to be recognised for his incisive judgements.

So what hope of 2nd Tier thinking in our new government?

Ironically it may actually be the stresses and strains of coalition – the very same pressures that lead commentators like Max Hastings to declare the coalition doomed – that make the difference.

Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) identified dissonance as being a critical component in any process of change. And dissonance there will certainly be as the 2 coalition partners try to come to terms with people and policies they have publicly despised until now. So this key to change will certainly be in abundance.

The actual triggers for neural change, which would enable Cameron, Clegg and their colleagues to self-actualise into 2nd Tier thinking may actually come about via the incredible surfeit of ideas – memes – involved in the huge internal and external dissonance which will beset the coalition. Susan Blackmore (1999) hypothesised that it is was memes – the sheer scale of ideas – early hominoids were dealing with which led to the development of the human ‘big brain’. So could it be that it is the sheer scale of the problems they face which will force the thinking of Cameron, Clegg, etc, up the Spiral…?

If so, are there any signs of the potential Beck & Cowan state is also necessary for progress up the Spiral?

Well, consider this from Clegg: “I hope this is the start of the new politics I have always believed in – diverse, plural, where politicians of different persuasions come together, overcome their differences in order to deliver good government for the sake of the whole country.”

It’s a good talk, isn’t? Let’s now hope they walk the walk!

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