Here at Prospect we eschew the wearisome political cynicism of our age and look forward to the election with a whistle and a skip. Like all national elections it is a festival of democracy—a chance for the country to talk to itself about how to cut the deficit (and whether a hung parliament would make it harder). We have sneaked in with an early “election special” to help to prepare you for the deluge of commentary. But it is not shaping up to be a historic contest.
Indeed, it may be encapsulated by a poignant exchange between a husband and wife (David and Karen) in Luton’s main shopping mall, reported by Sam Knight. “I ask David if he plans to vote Conservative. ‘It’s got to be better than the Labour lot, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘That’s just the way I see it. Maybe it isn’t…’ He is suddenly filled with doubt, and turns to his wife. ‘Karen, if you was voting, who would you vote for? You think they’re probably all the same don’t you.’ Karen looks down the mall. It is full of families. She speaks quietly. ‘I’d give the other ones a bit of a chance,’ she says.”
Britain may not be feeling happy and confident but it is not broken either; the Tory slogan “It can’t go on like this” seems rather silly, when it so obviously will go on roughly like this whoever is in No 10. Moreover, it has been an oddly calm recession with no hint of the summer of rage we were promised—despite the fact that the slowdown follows Britain’s biggest ever immigration wave.
Many of the pieces in this issue—including David Willetts explaining how the Tories can foster co-operation without the state, and our special section on brain science—explore how insights from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology can inform politics. The drift of the debate seems to be favouring moderate Conservative positions, so perhaps it is the political zeitgeist leading science rather than the other way round. On most big questions of the day, however, it is shocking to realise how little most of us actually know about anything. Or rather, despite all that data on the web, we know almost nothing at first hand, relying instead on our chosen interpreters to help position ourselves along a spectrum of views and values. This was brought home to me by Roddy Campbell’s piece on why climategate matters. I had believed that the temperature record was a simple thing that gave us an even simpler message about the dangers of global warming. Now I’m not sure. It is still likely that pumping all that C02 into the atmosphere will lead to warming, possibly catastrophic warming, but the record is not yet convincing and its scientific guardians must surely be neutral dullards, not activists. A proper scepticism towards the data is not only legitimate, but necessary, before we change the way we live.