The opposite of wrong is just not right

I want you to cut out the following quotation, or memorise it, or have it tattooed on your wrist, or otherwise made easily available, because it is going to be of wonderful help to you in the days leading up to the next election.

"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right." (HL Mencken)

There is a great truth contained in this gloomy reflection, and the neatest way I can think of expressing it is as follows: "Just because you are wrong, it does not mean that I am right."

A moment's thought will show that this is true. The fact that Tottenham Hotspur have lost five matches in a row does not make Arsenal a good team. The collapse of Soviet Communism does not make capitalism admirable. The foolishness of joining a single currency does not prove the wisdom of staying out. Oh, how much nicer life would be if the opposite of bad was good, but experience tells us that it is not.

To come down to the example looming through the fog, the general election will be presented to us as an either/or situation. If you don't want the Tories to govern us, you must want New Labour to do so. If you don't like the sound of New Labour, you must support the Tories. In fact, all political debate is presented like this already. When Labour condemns the Government for its policy, it assumes that the Opposition policy is the right one. If one is wrong, the other must be right.

But another moment's thought will show that this is rubbish. Just because the Government has got it wrong does not mean that the Opposition will get it right. It is much more probable that both will get it wrong. It is even possible that both will get it right. Sometimes one party holds up ideas which the other party recognises as being the same as theirs. Do they celebrate? Do they hasten to clap the other side on the back? Not a bit. They jeer at them for stealing their ideas. They mock them for not being able to think up anything better.

The whole Tory v Labour contest is presented to us by TV, by radio, by the papers, by Mrs Betty Boothroyd, by the Today programme and by pub conversation, as if it were democracy in action. But it isn't. Choosing between our two main political parties is like choosing between two men in masks in an identity parade. It is simply a cup competition in which both sides have progressed to the final without beating anyone. It is a self-appointed league containing only two teams. It is a beauty contest in which we have to choose the less ugly of two ugly sisters. It is a game in which the other side is presented as more of a threat to Britain than pollution, China or global warming ...

We have only ourselves to blame, of course. If we end up with a system in which we are reduced to choosing between Blair and Major, then plainly the system reflects on us and our society. If our political system produces nobody worth voting for, it cannot be a great political system, and it is probably not a great society. Indeed, if a great party leader did emerge, he might well be too good for the job. It would be rather embarrassing to have a world-class leader at the helm of a non-world-class country ...

That's it! I have suddenly seen the truth! Both parties are unfit to rule this country - and we deserve both of them!

Well, I have done a dramatic U-turn since beginning this piece, and still have some space left, so I want to ask three questions which have been preying on my mind recently.

1. Why do we assume that when someone in an English court of law is acquitted, he is therefore innocent? All that has happened, surely, is that the case has not been proved. He may be guilty. He may be innocent. But the evidence was not felt to be adequate.

2. Why was it felt that Diane Blood's husband should have given written permission for his babies to be born? Does anyone ever give permission for it to happen? I never gave written or verbal permission for my children to be conceived. There are many fathers who do not know they have had children, and there are other fathers who did not want the children to be born, and would have stopped it if they could. So why was it felt that Diane Blood's husband should have given written permission for his babies to be born?

3. If the European Court of Justice has ruled against the legality of sado-masochism, saying that people should not have the freedom willingly to inflict and receive pain, how can it possibly be legal to play rugby?

If anyone knows the answers, please do not let me know.

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