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Monday, 5 May 2014

Advocacy Politics and the Pavement Paradox

If you read (I don't advise it) a newspaper like The Guardian you will come away with the impression that politics is about advancing the interests of groups which feel they are disadvantaged and are articulate enough to say so. They want a bigger slice of the cake and know that sharp elbows are the route to getting it.

When I read some piece of sectional-interest advocacy politics, I always think of the pavements.

Everyone from the filthy rich to the stinking poor uses them and no one likes tripping over on badly-maintained ones. There is a common interest - a shared interest - in having well-maintained pavements.

That's the problem. Well-maintained pavements aren't the stuff of advocacy politics. No one group is going to get better off from better pavements. Everyone is. And no one is an advocate for every one. No one is going to pay you or encourage you to represent a common interest. If one day better pavements arrive, everyone benefits regardless. They don't have to contribute to get them.

Politicians - the professional political class with their own interests in shares of the cake - know that the route to power lies through assembling the voting support of enough sectional groups. In Britain, that mostly means people over 50 and what are always called ordinaryhardworking families - the sort of people temporarily encumbered with children but looking forward to the day when they too will be over 50.

Pavements are not an issue but housing costs and child care costs and pension benefits and Free Bus Passes are. They are slices of the cake. Politicians make promises about these things, often engaging in competitive bidding. That could end up being costly, so sometimes they try a different strategy, appealing to sectional groups who won't be a Burden on the Budget. It doesn't cost much to appeal to those wanting fox hunting bans (Labour) or gay marriages (Conservative). There's just the risk that you lose more votes than you gain.

But if you promise Better Pavements you are trying to appeal to everyone and Everyone is not a winning coalition. Pavements aren't adversarial enough, just painful when you trip over. They will remain that way, for ever.


Added 25 July 2018: See now the chapter "Macadamised" in my book, The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones, and other booksellers

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