Skip to Content

Coffee House

The relevance of politics

19 December 2009

12:47 PM

19 December 2009

12:47 PM

This morning’s papers share a unifying theme: the failure of political leadership to secure a deal at Copenhagen. Now, I applaud politicians for not succombing to enormous pressure and making a series of pledges that would risk grinding the world’s poor ever deeper into the dirt. For those who take a different view, it is not that politicians have failed, but that high politics is an irrelevance, a vanity. I know Coffee Housers loathe her opinions, but Polly Toynbee is at her polemical best today. She writes:

‘Politics is being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The writing is on the wall. The leadership required within and between each nation is heavier lifting that the weak machinery of governmental power can manage.’

Government cannot alter behaviour without the consent of the governed. Humanity and the forces of opportunity, communication, environment and the market determine progress, for better or worse. In the context of climate change, populations around the world, and in countries at every stage of development, remain unconvinced or unmoved by fantastical hysteria about us all joining the polar bears at th bottom of Davey Jones’ locker.


And what of those people who stand to lose most if the global response to climate change is wrong? Matthew Parris returns to Malawi, a country he first visited in the colonial era. Despite a century of investment and interference, high politics has changed nothing there:

‘I am not exaggerating when I say, without qualification, that nothing – nothing has changed for better or worse or at all, in village life. You could rewind the video 50 years and you would not spot a single feature that placed us in 2009 rather than 1959.

From this we should perhaps no conclusion at all: for or against Africa. We should instead observe that in large parts of the world, and for billions more of our fellow human beings than it suits us political obsessives to acknowledge, politics hardly matters.’

Nothing better illustrates the futility of top-down solutions. Adapting to an increasingly adverse climate, regardless of whether that change is manmade or not, is an enormous but not insurmountable challenge – humanity is ingenious by nature. Politics cannot change the behaviour of the apathetic and disconnected, but it can facilitate the means by which change becomes profitable. The next time political leaders convene, they should concentrate their efforts on that.   

     


Show comments
Close