Monday 9 August 2010

Summer Reflection

Twelve months ago, I thought I had my future career objective set in stone: I wanted to be a solicitor. I was going to find a public law firm, work my way up and become a partner, possibly eventually leaving to establish one of my own. I had my place at Uni to do the LLB and things couldn't be clearer.

It's remarkable, though, how things you seem so certain of can so quickly riddle you with doubt, and how idealist notions you have of how things will pan out in the future never quite live up to their rose laden tint.

Don't get me wrong; I've really enjoyed the last year or so, and I'm still going to finish my joint honours law degree; but it's been enough to persuade me that it just isn't for me.

What to do then, 3 or 4 years down the line? The best thing about the long summer-holiday is that you can take the opportunity to switch off a bit and reflect. I asked myself: what is it that I can really be passionate about, engross myself in, and most of all gain satisfaction from in a career?

I thought about the things that interested me and made me so enthusiastic at school. I pondered for a minute my success and fascination with maths, chemistry and physics. Involving it in a career, though? I couldn't do that. I need something in my life that I can keep to myself: my own intellectual challenge. The old saying about not mixing work and pleasure is true, as the former inevitably drains what of the latter you might once have had.

So then I turned to my other side. I've always been forthright in my political views and most who know me probably see me as a bit of a political anorak. The way the world constantly changes because of decisions made by those in positions of power is something I just cannot help but show enthusiasm and interest about. If there was a tipping point that changed my way of thinking, it was Election Night. For 48 hours straight, I stared at a 15" screen, desperate to find-out who had won that Welsh marginal; who looked likely to win the recount in that former Sinn Fein stronghold; would the Conservatives sneak over the line, or at least close enough to do a deal with the DUP?

Catching up with the Dillons in Moffat
In truth, I can fight it no longer: my future is in politics. Exactly where, I don't know: as someone who would probably stand on the Conservative ticket I wouldn't stand a dog's chance in hell of winning a seat in Scotland, but indeed politics isn't just about elected representatives. The two options I'm still considering are working in central government or the diplomatic service via the Faststream Civil Service scheme. I'll probably change again in another twelve months, but with the time to reflect, I can sit comfortably with where I think I'm going, even if the future is uncertain.

I'm conscious I've not posted here since quite a bit before the election, and I guess with a few month's hindsight now is as good a time as any to reflect on the new direction of our country.

In the European elections last year, I voted Conservative without giving it an awful lot of thought. I felt the way Labour had handed the Lisbon Treaty was an absolute democratic outrage, and I couldn't sit comfortably with ardent Europhilic Liberal Democrats. As the campaign went on in the General Election, though, I really began to lose confidence that the Tories would be able to win hearts and minds whilst still taking the difficult steps to sort out the economic mess Labour had got us into.

What was my choice then? I started reading a little into the work of some prominent and rising Liberal Democrats, who have reflected on the direction of the party, increasingly seen as a middle class Labour alternative. The Orange Book, published in 2004, with contributions from, among others, David Laws and Nick Clegg, asked some radical questions and diverged from the traditional Lib Dem position of using the social market to resolve society's problems and inequalities. In his contribution, Laws suggested that the NHS might better operate if certain parts of it were restructured to form a free market health insurance scheme, with tax relief being used to ensure maximum access at the best level of cost-effectiveness. Clegg surprised me with a vigorous critique of the European Union and how (then) it needed to reform considerably if Britain's future could be within it. He inspired me, a Euroapathist, into seeing that the EU could be used to strengthen the UK's position in an ever more globalist world, if only we stopped bickering about loss of sovereign powers and focused on strengthening the principles of intergovernmentalism at the top table.

When I saw this fresh thinking, and then noticed just how many of the contributors now lead the Liberal Democrats, it was startling. Their manifesto seemed to be one both with a social conscience and an element of rationalism. Their classical but progressive liberal agenda (as opposed to the meaning we associate with "liberalism" in Britain) resonated strongly with my views on civil liberties, coupled with a pragmatic approach to macroeconomics.

I then compared that with the Tories, who seemed still to be shackled by their core vote. Their inheritance tax and marriage allowance policies in particular made me think they were going to struggle to engage sufficiently with the electorate, especially in Scotland where old wounds continue to antagonise despite efforts at modernisation.

And so I voted (perhaps a little tactically) in Glasgow North West for the Liberal Democrats. It was naturally in vein (despite their appalling record both across the UK and as representatives for Glasgow, Labour managed to increase their majority) and when the seats distributed themselves as they did, I feared that the Lib Dems would cave-in to grass roots pressure and prop-up Labour.

Imagine, then, my delight at the Lib-Con coalition being struck after days of deal-making. Certainly on the face of it, they tick all of the boxes I could want: a centre-right but liberal era of British politics. The cores of the two parties isolated: we have the best of both worlds.

Reality, of course, never quite lives up to expectation, and it was desperately disappointing to see David Laws, a man for whom I have great respect and agree on a great many things, depart only days into the new Parliamentary session after personal indiscretions re-expenses. On the whole, though, I think the coalition has done as well as could be expected in its first Parliamentary session. There's been teething problems: the free-schools initiative needs ironed out, and some of the necessary cuts aren't going to make them popular by any means, but I find it equally instructive that Labour's attempts at splitting the coalition has driven them close together. Ultimately it will be judged by its long-term results, but after 13 years of expansion of the state, erosion of civil liberties and undemocratic croneyism, it's nice at least to have the promise of change for the better.

On a final note, I'm sad to report that while I was on holiday in Brittany, one of my hamsters passed on, just shy of its second birthday. It had been getting on a bit and had to be separated from the other one after being bitten by it, and although it seemed to make a reasonable recovery I suspect it had an impact on its prospects. I'll miss the wee guy, and I'll always remember his obituary: Byte bit 8-Bit and 8-Bit bit the dust.

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