Friday, June 20, 2008


Optimism OK in Politics but not Dr Pangloss Variety

Tom Harris MP has beenpilloried in the Daily Mail for suggesting voters are 'bloody miserable'. Who he? Well, news to me as well that he is a junior minister for transport. But on his blog he had the temerity to suggest that, despite the credit crunch and other economic problems things were not all bad:

There are more two-car homes in Britain today than there are homes without a car. We live longer, eat healthier (if we choose), have access to forms of entertainment never imagined a generation ago. The majority of us have fast access to the worldwide web, which we use to enable even more spending. Crime is down. So why is everyone so bloody miserable?"

The Daily Mail harangue was not long in arriving and Phil Hammond, shadow Chief Secretary gave his (predictable) answer to the question: 'We've got Gordon Brown as Prime Minister'. But isn't Hall right? We are not so badly placed at the moment- consumer spending actually rose by 3.5% during May- but there is gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts that we have eighties level credit problems and approaching seventies level inflation. Two observations follow:

1.The fact is voters are hard to please; they want more and once they've got it they want yet more again and allow little gratitude for the agents of fulfillment when it happens. Over the past decade, voters have become used to continuously improving economic conditions and are punishing Labour for being unable to maintain this. This is merely a fact of political life which would hold whoever was in power.

2. Optimism, as Ronald Reagan proved, is an attractive quality to which voters warm; if only, one reflects to counter their own often unreasonable pessimism. However, if one is perceived to be straying in the direction of Candide's Dr Pangloss (pictured being played by 19th century US actor, James Haworth)who argued after every reverse that things were the 'best of all in all possible worlds', voters will be unimpressed, especially if they are in the process, accused of being 'miserable'. If young Tom wants to make it beyond junior minister, this is a lesson, I daresay he's already taken on board.

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