War on line 2, please hold

New batch of “Get Your War On” cartoons here. (This is the anniversary edition of this occasional cartoon series. Compare the first two cartoons of this batch with the first two of the first lot.

After last week’s international furore following the publication of the new National Socialist Security Strategy, and the British government’s posturing over their dossier of “evidence” against Iraq, we seem to have entered a few days of relative quiet. At least on the surface.

Beneath the surface, the Bush regime is drafting a new resolution to be put before the UN security council. UN Weapons Inspectors are getting prepared, and will be meeting with the Iraqi government in Vienna tomorrow. The big demonstration against war took place in London yesterday without any massive incident.

In Britain, it’s political party conference season. The Liberal Democrats are opposed to war without a UN mandate. The Labour Party is, too–or at least its members are. Regrettably , this hasn’t stopped Tony Blair from asserting that Britain still reserved the right to act unilaterally against Iraq.

The spin doctors seem to be using this quiet time to hunt around for more ways to make the war acceptable to Britain. In an interview with Channel 4 News this evening, Helen Liddell (the current Secretary of State for Scotland)raised the issue of Saddam Hussein’s cruelty to his own people. As if we didn’t know already.

They tried using Iraq’s link in the terrorist chain as a reason to go to war. That didn’t work. Then the buzzword became “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. That was better, but it still didn’t get a majority on board. So now they’re going to use Saddam’s cruelty towards the people in Iraq as their latest rationale?

This is policy by evolution. Devise a series of stances, and then see which ones play best with the public. When you find one that gives you better poll results, you latch onto it until a better one comes along to replace it. Principles? You think that party policy should be based on principles? How quaint.

This is the behaviour of a party (and a leader) determined to hold on to power, no matter what principles they have to sacrifice to keep it. It is greedy, dishonest, and reckless. It undermines the political process, and the public’s faith in that process. After all, what point is there in voting for a party that represents your views if that party is determined to ditch those views whenever they become inconvenient?

Martin Sixsmith, the former civil servant (and former Moscow correspondent for the BBC) who was messily ditched by the Labour Party in the Jo Moore/Stephen Byers “Good day to bury bad news” mess at the Transport department earlier this year, presented a documentary on Channel 4 yesterday evening. In it, he mostly succeeded in refraining from using the programme as an outlet for his frustration over that affair. What he mostly talked about was how the Labour Party is putting pressure on the Civil Service to actively support their policy instead of just implementing it.

It adds up to a Labour party that has forgotten its socialist roots, and has decided to use capitalist principles instead. If your product isn’t good enough to survive in the marketplace, you change your product so that it is more appealing. Companies use this strategy in order to make more money from the consuming public. In politics, the public rewards parties with votes rather than money.

In the marketplace, a company dies when no-one is willing to buy its products any more. In politics, it used to be the case that a party would dwindle when the people no longer wanted its policies. But because the public could only “buy” those policies at election time, once every four or five years, it would take time for those policies to lose traction in the marketplace of power. So I suppose you can argue that a party that is willing to change its policies in mid-term represents a more dynamic form of democratic capitalism. It is able to respond to “market forces” immediately, without having to wait for an election to replace it with a government that represents the new will of the people. And isn’t it the purpose of government to represent that will?

But…there’s something not quite right there. It makes me uneasy for two reasons. First of all, it’s a mechanism that favours flexible morality. The people who are most willing to blow with the prevailing wind will gain the most votes, and stay in power longer. It’s glib. It’s dishonest. Personally, I would prefer men and women of principle to be in charge.

Secondly, it allows government policy to move too fast. Humans, by nature, are fickle and selfish. Economic theory tends to be based on “rational” consumers, but time and again boom/bust cycles in the stock market prove that humans are not rational–we are short-sighted, and out for the greatest immediate gain.

Stability and prosperity comes from long-term thinking, and policies that look five, ten, fifty years into the future. Like the Kyoto protocol. With a political process that forces governments to be as fickle and selfish as its citizens, you end up with a society that embodies selfishness, and that favours quick wins over long-term benefits that may not kick in until after the next election.

This is, regrettably, the Western world in which we live. It’s the demented offspring of Democracy and Capitalism, and it combines the worst traits of both. Does this mean that there is a good twin, locked away in an attic somewhere? A world where people trust politicians and the media? Where fair trade with other countries is more rewarding to corporations than exploitative practices are? Where everyone has access to clean water and proper sanitation?

I’d like to think so. But the key to that attic is buried deep in the dung heap of selfishness.