Revolutionary expectations

Article in TIME mag on Chinese politics looking at the country 60 years after the communist victory. The author, an academic named David Shambaugh, gave a wonderful phrase ‘the revolution of rising expectations’ to describe China’s progression towards economic liberalisation and modernity.

That China transformed itself when its people decided they wanted more is hardly a radical contention, but I’d argue that today expectation, rather than ideology, is what most revolutions are about.

Because especially in the UK, twenty first century political life, is rarely about major transition. The most left wing of Labour, the furthest to the right of the Conservatives, everyone is fighting for the same thing, more or less. Today in British politics, it’s not what one MP plans to do, but how much more he plans to do than his rival. Less Yes We Can, more Yes We Can Do Better.

China’s rising expectation of course led to some very real and very crucial change. But today in British politics, I wonder how beneficial our rising expectation really is and whether we expect to much.

We expect our public figures to be everything; celebrity, intellectual, adversarial power broker and consensus maker. They have to do everything for everyone, be all things to all people. The problem is that meeting all these expectations is time-consuming work and often a distraction from the real business of running the country.

Our government is castigated for making promises they cannot keep, but they make them because their electorate demands a solution ‘now’, even when ‘now’ isn’t really possible.

Meanwhile, to cater to rising expectations the opposition makes promises all across the board, never mind how patently contradictory they are, as the Lib Dems have demonstrated fabulously this week by calling for both spending cuts and the so-called ‘mansion tax’.

Wanting more materially has to be seen as one root of the credit crunch; likewise, wanting a quick fix cure to it has just created mass dissatisfaction. Everyone expects more of Brown and his government.

Our politicians should aim high and raise their own expectations. The electorate must be there to push them, to challenge them to better serve. But, especially when compared with China’s recent history, we have it pretty good with British politics. Things can be better, but they could also be a whole lot worse; Cameron could be in charge. Maybe we need to level our high expectations a tad.

After all, as my Nana would always point out, we can’t always get what we want.


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