6.2.6  Steering a Political Course: the ‘Joystick’       

(This is a current extract from the Patterns of Power Repository.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/626.htm)

Each political ideology and implementation approach has its justification and its adherents.  Doubtless each would work beautifully if everyone were to agree to support it and contribute their best efforts to make it work, but this is an unrealistic expectation of human nature: people’s viewpoints vary (2.2).  And each of the four directions can lead to an extreme position which is dystopian. They all represent viable directions of travel away from the status quo – but they are not desirable destinations in their purest forms.

Each of the four has some validity, so it is worth checking whether the treatment of any particular issue should move further in that direction:

·      An individualist might ask whether government intervention could be avoided and whether people couldn’t buy their own services.  It would be necessary to enquire what form of regulation might be needed, to protect the interests of the population.

·      A collectivist might ask whether a proposed decision would properly respect everybody’s rights, taking care to include minorities and those who are economically disadvantaged.  If not, one might then ask what it would cost to achieve a ‘fairer’ settlement and what effect such spending would have on other government programmes and on the economy as a whole.

·      A conservative might ask if any governance change were necessary, or whether people could just be persuaded to behave differently within the current system.  If change could not be avoided, one might then ask how its disruptive impact might be minimised.

·      A progressive might ask whether a different system would be better.  A risk analysis would be appropriate if making the case for radical change.

Informally, people may follow some of these thought processes but it may be worth formally asking all four questions.  Publishing the analysis would then help to convince doubters that a decision had been carefully and fairly reached: transparent evidence of an inclusive negotiation (2.4).

The different ideologies and styles can be applied both to individual decisions and to broad overall directions, for example to an election manifesto.  As discussed later, governments which do not hold elections also have to set policy directions to ensure that they remain acceptable to the population ( A government can be thought of as trying to steer a political course in some desired direction from the current position.  It is very rare for a government to move completely to any of the dystopian extremes and more usual for it to seek what it thinks of as an appropriate compromise in direction for the way ahead. 

A government’s selection of a policy direction can be pictured as moving a joystick to an appropriate position between the ideologies and styles. 

To pursue the metaphor further, there is a level of feedback from the controls: sensitivity to crosswinds and resistance to tight turns, as governments change direction in response to circumstances – including public opinion – during their terms of office.  Proposed policies have to take account of people’s tendency to resist change.  A current government tries to demonstrate that it is responding effectively, but an opposition argues for the opposite course as part of the process of challenging the government’s performance. 

The political power structure as a whole determines if and how the population can influence politicians.  The rest of this chapter analyses political power structures, ending with a summary of the ways in which the population can ensure that it is well served by its politicians: the processes for appointing them (6.8.2), opportunities to influence them (, free speech ( and meaningful political negotiation (6.8.4).  It is this total picture which determines whether people can have a hand on the ‘joystick’. 

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