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Politics 101 for the Clueless.

December 23, 2009

Politics 101 for the Clueless.

Forget messing about with high ideals and theoretical solutions because that is not how the real world works. I am amused when people come up with what they think is wonderful compromise to complicated and divisive issues. Amused because though they may have their heart in the right place and the answer may seem plausible they have to yet to test it where it matters: in society. Often the answers are we should; they could; my understanding is that if; here is a win win scenario that we can all agree upon and so forth. Let’s all have a group hug at the end because another world problem has been solved by another ineffectual meeting. People may have reached a new level of group dynamic but as is often the case once the discussion group has closed the problems still remain unaltered by their remarkable conclusions. So other than winning an argument what has changed? Answer: Nothing.

The problem with all the rhetoric and lofty ideals is that few people have the power to implement them. This may seem horrific to those that have dedicated the last 2 weeks of their life trying to justify their position but that is the reality. Power exists and unless you have power wielded in the direction you want nothing happens. Try implementing any change in the law without the authority of the institutions being enforced. Laws may exist but unless they are enforced they may as well not exist. The effect will be the same for some people.

This is why many political parties will sacrifice many lofty ideal if they see it as a threat to their electoral prospects. They live with the understanding that unless they are in power they cannot implement the changes that they want to happen. They have an agenda which is competing with other agendas yet it is the one who holds the reigns of authority that has the power to run with theirs.

The second and even more crucial point is that no earthly power is absolute. There are limits to how far someone can go. A king may have absolute authority but if no one follows his orders then he is without power. Presidents may declare war but if the order is ignored and he is told to go jump then by everyone in his chain of command then guess what? His order will never happen. People chose to follow or not follow orders just as they chose to agree or disagree with any opinion. It would be easier to move a mountain than to change the mind of a person who refuses to agree. The president may be confident that his order will be carried out because he understands everyone who follows them has already agreed to do so. This is his circle of influence and where real political power lies.

Office politics despite its nastiness is often about increasing someone circle of influence and increasing their power. Yes even at the most basic levels of life there are people who engage in constant power struggles.

‘The Circle of Influence’ is much more subtle than autocratic power but it is also more basic. A captain may run a tight ship but the second he loses influence over his men he would lose the ability to run a tight ship. Who would follow his orders? Corporate companies spend million each year trying to influence their staff and encourage them to work better and harder. This is because they understand that just barking orders often does not work. If you look at any of the major political parties then you will often see a collection of factions. These are little sub-parties within the big party all dedicated to special interests. Politicians often join these factions to help gather numbers for a particular set of causes to sure up number for an internal vote. Sometimes the survival of the politician and whether they are endorsed to stand for a seat is dependent upon what factional support they can muster.

Lobbying is one of the oldest forms of influence and should never be underestimated in its effectiveness. If a business man tells a politician that he would like to invest millions in a job creation program in his marginal electorate then that does wield a certain amount of influence. A group of protestors seeking a meeting with the same politician may wield influence if two things occur: the protester can convince the politician of their case or they can convince the politician that they have influenced a critical volume of voters to support their cause. Hence you will find plenty of experienced pressure groups targeting marginal seats to promote their causes.

The numbers game in any vote about an issue can be a very clinical event. If you need a majority vote to push through a proposal that has failed before then the experienced politician will start trying to sure up votes before tabling. Every party has numbers men who dedicate themselves to looking for supporters before an issue is officially discussed. In a way the actual debate is just a side show for what is often a predetermined outcome. If we need evidence of this you need only ask why Peter Costello never became the Australian Prime Minister. The answer is that he never challenged because he never thought that he had the numbers to win the position from John Howard. His circle of influence was smaller than John Howard’s.

There is an unscientific rule that some people pushing a cause often use when trying to push a proposal. They look at the people from the point of loyalty. Every group is split into thirds. One third will always be against the proposal; one third will always be against; that leaves only one third to be influenced. The maths gets better for the experienced because you really only need half plus one of that third to win. So many power struggles are being won but what sways just over one sixth of the group.

So, good luck with any power struggle that you wish to enter into.

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