Lost in Translation

There is much heartache these days in our charming little city parliament fraction. We are now eight from this very Swiss party, the liberals, who in January took our seats at the Rathaus for the legislation period 2012-2015. That is two less than four years ago.

I did not join this party because of some ideology which I thought they represented, and that I could identify with, or at least subscribe to. That may be the whole appeal of this party, at least from my perspective. We disagree often, but on major issues, we disagree less. I can only speak for myself, but somehow I like this. The trouble is that the folk out there have one hell of time knowing what we are about, and what we do.

Actually, we in the city parliament who belong to this fraction of the liberals, we are there for all in this city. We fight to keep the small business in town in business, and we fight to make sure that city employees pension funds are well managed. We fight to keep the budget under control, and we actually succeed on that one for years on end. It isn’t as though we did nothing. Unfortunately we have the media sex appeal of a dead gnat. The media loves to ignore us.

There is nothing less newsworthy than a group of politicians who actually serve the public interest and are not on some sort of ego trip. Most of us are intellectuals, lawyers, jurists, and have a full-time job on side, family, but our biggest blunder is that we argue much too subtly. We are not against this or that, we are not even against the Reitschule, but we do criticize it. We are not against increasing the offer of living space in the city, but we want this done with the right mix of regulation and market forces. You see, we have a problem. Do we? I really do not think so.

What I think is that there is much too little understanding of what drives a liberal. A liberal is not a capitalist. A liberal is not a neoliberal that can not distinguish capitalism from free-market. And a liberal may be radical in that she advocates political and social reform. A liberal is neither a libertarian willy-nilly, nor libertine à la Strauss-Kahn. It is perhaps not fair to mention DSK, but somehow I cannot resist mentioning such a conflicted character. That said, it does not mean that among the liberals there are no individuals as conflicted as DSK. If faut de tout pour faire un monde.

Actually I joined this party exactly because they did not have an ideology to which I was to subscribe to until death do us part. In the vagaries of political affairs one needs to be able to think straight and unencumbered by ideology; politics is about finding solutions. It is also about finding solutions that are sustainable, equitable, and anchored in the social norms of what we aspire to be. I read Marx, and I like reading Marx. I read Hayek, and I like reading Hayek, but I also read Feyerabend and Amartya Sen. When it all gets too much for me, I escape into Agatha Christie. Occasionally I read newspapers.

Perhaps I should engage with our newspapers a bit more. Actually I have already started. It is not all bad what the media publishes, but it is just a very small slice of reality that finds its way to the (mainstream) media.

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A Matter of Belief

I suspect that my belief in the democratic process has just been reinstated. I am in a mild state of shock. Really!

After I psyched myself to what I prognosticated as a personal defeat at the polling station in this city, I am now facing the fact that I came in fourth position on the list. This means that there are folks out there who have voted for me and that somehow believe that I do represent them in our city’s parliament. I thank all who voted. Those who voted for me have given me a gift that I do not quite yet know how to handle. Thank you.

Actually our party did take a beating on yesterday’s elections. This was rather expected given the party dynamics in this city that included several new parties with either right wing or liberal ideologies combined with a sprinkling of green. Now green, liberal and conservative has a certain hipp value and sex appeal right now and it was expected that the more traditional right-wing parties would lose constituency as a consequence, and so it was. Our party – the good old plain liberals – lost five seats from the present 14. The total number of seats in the city’s parliament is 80. Our fraction may still remain the second largest as we will be a total of 10. The one additional seat comes from the third list – the FDP-youth – who bravely defended and kept their one seat, while the women’s list lost two seats and the men’s list lost three seats. To put things in proportion, one new party made six seats on their first ballot ever, not a bad start indeed. (Thanks Jacqueline for pointing out the error as to how many seats on which list were lost.)

Why does this reinstate my belief in democracy? It would be a long winded and boring explanation, as is normal for any explanation or justification. The reason is more to be found in the results of the federal votes which brought in some welcome results and new challenges at the federal level. I am especially pleased that the initiative aiming at bringing to court pedophiles has passed even if this leaves our Justice with new challenges.

For me personally at the city level there is one decision that the electorate did not make for me, but then I will write a bit more about that one when that fruit is ripe.

All things not being equal

Last night at the Stadtrat session the FDP has just managed to get its motion trough that effectively eliminates the city’s “Wirtschaftsamt“. This is the kind of office that would have been of assistance in recruiting and managing the relationships of industry and commerce in the city. Trouble is… oh there are many!

First, this is a job – the relationship management between business and government – that is best done at the cantonal (regional) level AND in intimate collaboration with the federal government. The city is, in this particular instance, not the most relevant or important actor even when said business are located in said city. Now, that it would be the liberals that would do away with such an institution as the Wirtschaftsamt, could raise a few eyebrows and confuse a whole lot of people. I tend to think that most citizens are however in a position to see that this was a necessary step which reduces redundancies and waste.

Second, finding a link or webpage to said office either in the http://www.bern.ch or by googling does not yield a result. I am wondering if I have lost my knack to find information on the web… I used to be good at this. I am wondering as to what kind of data mining tools I need to use in order to find this office… I consulted the StadtKalender 2008 – a paper directory of all the city’s administrative offices – and with the information in there was able to google for the link to the said soon to be defunct office.

What does this mean?

While debating the 2009 budget, the FDP has submitted an alternative budget (for the city) and proposed that it be subject to the choice of the voters. However the present majority of the holy alliance of red-greens in our city defeated us in the effort of bringing an alternative to the voters. Now, it is a matter of shaving off items from the present proposed budget in order to save where saving brings rationalisation and improvement.