The myth of the principled opposition


10 downing street

If there’s one thing that we should have learnt from the last five years, it’s that opposition is miserable.

In opposition, there is of course no power. And without power you can’t do much of anything at all. All of the grand ideas that you have, all of the ways that you want to make life better — for yourself and for everyone else. The doors of power and change and influence are closed on you.

In opposition all you can do is watch whilst others tear apart all that you treasure and worked so hard to build.

There is a school of thought, within the Labour Party and the broader left, which seems to prefer opposition. They find it, for some reason, comfortable, to be isolated from the corrupting influences of power. For these people it is all about maintaining ideological purity.

You see, power does corrupt. Or rather, if you want to get things done then you have to compromise. That’s less a dirty word, than a fact of life. It’s easy, from the outside, to imagine that if you were in that situation you would stick to your every principle, not compromise on a single issue, and achieve everything you want to without having to do any of the things you criticise others for.

The lesser of two evils is, after all, still evil.

Except that viewpoint ignores the point I started on. That being in opposition really is awful. The only thing, really the only thing, you have is your indignant anger. You can shout and scream, you can stamp your feet all you like, but it is incredibly hard to make a difference.

So you have to ask yourself: what’s more important — holding onto a sense of holier-than-thou, or achieving change?

I choose the latter. I grew up under a Labour government, and it wasn’t until Labour lost in 2010 that I realised how lucky I had been.

The comfort of opposition is a trap. Impotent criticism might seem superficially attractive, never having to offer a workable solution or alternative, whilst throwing rocks at those who dirty their hands trying to achieve something. But sooner or later you have to ask yourself what your unadulterated principle has done to make the world a better place. And the answer will always be nothing.

There is no such thing as the principled opposition. If you want to make a change, then you need power. If you just want to have a moan, then your principles are worthless. For those of us who want to build a better world, we can’t do that without the means to effect it.

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One comment

  1. Your entire argument seems to hinge on the legitimacy of parliament and its monopoly on democracy. You post seems to suggest that other representative organisations and bodies do not have influence. This in itself is the Tory narrative. This explains why the Tory party dislike the reach of power from the EU. They see it as a competitor. They do not like the remaining power of the unions and want to legislate in order to make their ballot system more stringent then the one used to elect MP’s.

    I personally, would rather see the labour party make the coherent and hard argument for social justice. The vast majority of people of this country are putting in ever increasing effort for ever diminishing return. We are stuck in a false economy that’s been built on top of the ruins of the last financial collapse and the political attitude can be summarised by the saying ‘not my circus, not my monkey’s’

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