Politics only has one true aim: Power – Conservative Article
Recently, one of my Labour colleagues, Joseph, wrote an article where he constructed a political Turing test and applied it to British politics. However, the idea missed what politics is truly about. Politics is simply about gaining and maintaining power. I’d like to explain this using the book that drew me into politics. The Dictator’s Handbook. I’d highly recommend it.
The core of this book is that politics is a game of power. No leader, autocrat or democrat, rules on their own. They have to have support from an essential number of people in order to gain and keep power. There is also another group, called the nominal selectorate. These people are potential support for the ruler, and thus can replace an essential if needed. There are also 5 rules to successfully gain and maintain power:
Rule 1: Keep the number of essentials as low as possible
Rule 2: Keep the nominal selectorate as large as you can
Rule 3: Control the money
Rule 4: Pay your supporters no more than you need to
Rules 5: Don’t make people’s lives better at the expense of your key support
These rules operate in both democracies and autocracies. The rules are the keys to power. Democrats rarely step down unless forced to, and there are few political careers that end in glory. Democrats cannot rule so openly on these rules, but they still apply. Decisions are taken to maximise power. Some want to expand the franchise because it will benefit them politically, e.g. with Labour wanting to expand a second Brexit referendum to 16 and 17-year-olds. This would have formed the basis to expand the vote in general elections, thus expanding their potential support. Without control of the money, you have no control at all. Money determines what you can and can’t do.
These rules explain every action that politicians take. Why they spend money on private rewards for their few backers or public rewards for their many. It is all about having the people you need to keep you in power stay happy. Whatever happens to the rest is irrelevant. Politics is not about what’s best for the people, and it won’t ever be.
As an example, the British government has become more cronyist, doing politics with the people you know and who are loyal to you instead of those who would do the job better. This goes back to the Blair years of sofa government but has expanded itself into politicians being critical of the civil service and only keeping people for their loyalty. The election system we use, first past the post, demonstrates rule number one perfectly. Winning each constituency with the lowest amount of people possible, half plus one.
All these things are in place to keep power, not to benefit the voter. The system simply won’t allow for it.
The American government is also built on maintaining power. Gerrymandering is rife; if you don’t like a bill then filibuster. Playing on people’s distrust of the media and government is a viable strategy. Their electoral system is even worse than the UK’s for winning without a majority of either states or people.
Politics doesn’t allow for idealists because they won’t do what is needed to stay in office. They don’t stay long even if they emerge, or it is soon shown they aren’t as noble as they appear.
The rise of authoritarianism is a trend that has resulted because of this. The governments of Romania, Poland, and Hungary are experiencing rising authoritarianism. Putin recently amended the Russian Constitution to keep himself in power for longer. In South-East Asia authoritarian regimes continue to persist. These politicians have enough power to entrench it openly.
This doesn’t even touch on how technology has added to the ability to maintain power. Data gathering is now the norm. Not only through private companies collecting and selling but also through governments doing themselves. The book was published in 2011 when this technology was in its infancy. If an updated version was ever released, I am sure it would include a chapter on how technology is used.
This is the way politics is. It is only a power game, not for the benefit of the people ruled. It is this way because of the inherent selfishness and greed of human nature, so it cannot be changed.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
There is some humanity left in politics – A Liberal Response
I disagree that the sole nature of politics is power in a state of democracy. While I concede that that is the case in authoritarian states with despots clinging to power, in a democracy, politicians do have some interests of the people as a concern. Not everyone is a Machiavelli.
I will not naively suggest that politicians are purely self-sacrificing and generous. However, there is a greater level of nuance than this article lets on. I’m not going to sit here and deny that many people do, in fact, go into politics for power and for their own gain. But for this article to damn everyone who goes into politics is a little strong. Perhaps it is damning those on the right-wing, those who say that human nature is inherently greedy and selfish and seem to do their best to prove it. Human nature is also inherently rational and people have empathy. So, not everyone who walks the corridors of Westminster is prepared to stamp on the people that handed them power, to simply maintain it.
There is a balance of self-interest and the interests of others. Power doesn’t always pay; see Boris Johnson fretting about being on only £150k. So somewhere along the line, in those who go into politics, there is some desire to help somebody, whether that is kids in education, small businesses, the just-about-managing, or maybe someone else entirely. But power is neither safe nor comfortable and it is not all that we seek.
Furthermore, it is still in a government’s interests to have a majority of more than the bare minimum that is necessary. 50%+1 vote is not a stable and reliable position for a government to be in. It makes them susceptible to rebellions and undermines their authority. Therefore, it makes sense for a politician to act in the interests of the people.
Power is not the only point of politics. There’s some humanity left in it too.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Emma Hall
Politics is a power game, but the intentions are not universal – A Labour Response
Keiran is right that politics is a power game. Ultimately, the goal of politics is to get elected. This goal subsequently grants power to those elected into political positions. However, I don’t believe this to be true for every politician. The statement that ‘these rules explain every action that politicians take’ is one that I do not fully agree with. This can be demonstrated with examples of policies and politicians.
The recent school meal debacle in the United Kingdom paints one good example of this. Celebrities, political activists, and the general public have been extremely critical of the policy and there has been little public support of it. The Conservatives have struggled to defend the policy, with one Conservative MP, Caroline Ansell, even resigning from her post in government. Looking further into the circumstances, Ben Bradley MP, posted extremely controversial tweets about Free School Meals. Even if these tweets were a political decision, it is hard to see how these tweets will help him remain in power. The same goes for the Free School Meals policy in general. Although a small number of core Tory voters will support the policy, the original response to the situation has been largely negative.
Jeremy Corbyn presents a good example of an MP who only looks to power as a means to improve the lives of others. While the national public opinion of Corbyn is negative, his constituents are fond of him. As an MP, Corbyn has been said to stand up for ‘unfashionable causes’; causes that may not win him votes but will help others. Corbyn often devotes his time to his constituency in an attempt to better the lives of those around him, instead of trying to seize power at a national level. For example, when he was meeting his constituency as opposed to making a show out of supporting the nation’s rugby team. Corbyn provides an example of an MP who, yes, may be attempting to seize power, but only so he can better the lives of citizens.
However, these examples of politicians and policies are few and far between, meaning what Keiran says rings true. Further, as Keiran mentions, idealists like Corbyn are unlikely to be successful and will struggle to achieve the power they need to improve the lives of the population, despite their attempts to better them.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Ollie White
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.