This is a bit of an abstract thought process about being practical, but hear me out.
You get some interesting perspectives in the Socialist movement. I suspect that some of these go back a hundred years or more. Should social democrats join a bourgeois government, for example?
The automatic response of most people who accept the terminology tends to be ‘no’. While this is also my emotional inclination (and there is no way I would ever let myself get mugged off like Ramsay MacDonald), I am nevertheless opposed to automatic responses. Bad way of thinking. Or to rephrase, of not thinking.
I don’t agree with doing deals with Tories unless it stops Fascists or organised bigots of some kind. I don’t agree with doing deals with Nazis full stop. But apart from that, I pretty much feel that people in the labour movement should give others open consideration.
Deal, you say?
The biggest, toughest deal in politics has to be the Good Friday Agreement.
Consider how far ‘physical force’ Republicans in particular have some since the Easter Rising. A century of bitter conflict, most of which has been very local and community based to the North. But who seriously denies that in their weakened state and with the potential for a long-term strategic upswing, they should have avoided dialogue with unionist and the British Government, or that after this they should not have signed up to Good Friday? Should the IRA really still be bombing pubs?
In politics anyone at some point has to consider offers they are made by opponents.
I think this should be done in a way that weighs up the actual material case for and against, rather than simply relying on old slogans and the desire to fly a flag.
Often, having the maturity and emotional discipline to do this ends up being key to advancing their cause, or protecting those they seek to represent.
This stuff applies just as well to more banal decisions.
Do we trade slate places for an internal election? It’s amazing how differently people can feel over doing this just as a one off! Should Labour consider a coalition with, say, the Lib Dems, if we are eventually forced to? I think this would probably create an even more annoying split.
In my view, what your slogan or image is has some importance, but it’s normally a very bad idea to leave posturing and gesture as your sole or most important justifications for pretty much anything you do. Anyone can revert to type. Gaining by avoiding it is much more tricky, but much more rewarding.
What the circumstances are and how you can deal with them is usually a far more important question to consider on its own merit than by making it all about whether you have had a decent play to your gallery.
The simplicity of this truth means that your decision always has an arguable justification: whatever image you want to cultivate, in politics, good deals are worth taking, bad deals are not. Sometimes a deal can be good or bad for everyone involved.
This should all be fairly self evident.
In the most common deals (such as red-green coalitions in Nordic politics) there is a clear overlap of interest that mutual working can solve. Great.
Some deals (like the Good Friday agreement) can be good for multiple parties even if they are resolutely opposed, for example Good Friday. This is much rarer, but still possible when the outside circumstances are right.
In this example, both parties needed to end violence. Republicans, whose armed struggle had failed and were at a moment of historic weakness, gasping for breath. Unionists also had a big interest. They had come out better politically before Good Friday was agreed, but had also suffered greatly in the real world, particularly the working class elements of their national-political community.
This party to the agreement needed a period of consolidation for their community and freedom from the terror tactics which sucked their own young men into paramilitary organisations, and killed hundreds of civilians.
Nationalists and Republicans, on the other hand, wanted guaranteed human rights, and end to state oppression, and the long term possibility to realise their shared goal of a united Ireland democratically. They too suffered heavily from paramilitarism, sometimes in collusion with or carried out by the state (side point, but I would argue that the policies of the British state were ultimately responsible for beginning the process, and for exacerbating it on multiple occasions).
For many years within the armed groups on both sides, it was difficult to even steer through a tactical ceasefire, even if it was of clear benefit.
By the time of the deal the conflict itself had created conditions where a deal worked best for both sides.
That has subsequently been allowed to be tested and proven in practice, because both parties were open-minded and mature enough (most of the time) to actually work on the project in good faith. I think both parties were very brave. Being able to do this is an enormously important personal and political skill. It has also been pretty important for people who don’t want to live in a society where waking minutes are ruled by the gun.
Good Friday works. The only losers in that situation are dogmatists and posture politicians – people who don’t have a problem with using their own allies and constituents, regardless of the exigencies of their situation. Unfortunately, this is nothing special.
So, do you deal or not?
Surely it just depends.
MacDonald was a fool. Mitterand was noble but eventually unable. Gerry Adams, on the other hand, was both brave and successful. Same for Ian Paisley. None of these are even the temporary deals that often spring up, but at best semi-permanent ones.
I’m betting the gents in the Irish example felt pretty horrible doing it, on all sides. It was still right.
If you turned up to look like a person with great integrity, letting the appearance aspect (I’M SUCH A FIGHTER’) undermine a real opportunity for your politics is probably something that should be reconsidered. That’s the only way you know if you are doing a bad deal or not.
Political principle is not just about how you look, but about what you do, and even more, what the actual outcome is.
Sometimes, this means saying ‘yes’.