The State of UK politics
I first became interested in politics when I was in my mid-teens. This was the mid to late 90s when Tony (or as my mum used to call him Tory) Blair was first about. I missed being old enough to vote in the 1997 election by a few months but even at that relatively young age something struck me. Blair had very few detectable ideals. For him it wasn’t about saying what he though was right, it was about saying what he thought was popular. From a purely pragmatic stand point it was a good strategy; the Tories were in disarray and had had plenty of floating voters up for grabs. Blair for all his failings was a true showman and knew how to manipulate the electorate. He went on the Frank Skinner show, courted the youth vote, and portrayed himself as the new face of British politics. The man even had his own theme song. For the UK in general however, this was the start of the great political march to the centre ground and I feel we are suffering as a result. Politicians have become scared to have an opinion that has not gone through their media team, not been weighed and measured to make sure that it won’t lose them any votes. As a result, we’ve wound up with a party in power and an opposition who, half the time, are little more than enablers.
We often hear the old chestnut of “I don’t vote, they’re all the same.” This is, of course, the excuse of a person who can’t be bothered to read up and inform themselves about the options. However, in their defence, it’s not a totally unreasonable assumption. Outwardly, both main parties try to court the middle ground at every occasion; as a result both main parties, at a cursory glance, look incredibly similar.
Most politicians don’t want to take a risk; they don’t wa
nt to sound like they have ‘extreme’ views. A good example of this came a few years back during the public sector strike. Two of the main reasons for the strike were pension contributions and retirement age. George Osborne had been on Radio 4 and said outright that the government would not negotiate on either of these points. Just a few days later, Ed Miliband was asked about his thoughts on the strike. Now, I wouldn’t have thought that it was unreasonable for the leader of the opposition to back up the people on strike and, dare I say, oppose the government. Had he been properly informed, he had a sound bite offered to him on a plate. “The government are forcing the strike, they are lying when they say they’ll negotiate.” Instead we got: “Striking is wrong when negotiation is still taking place.” Why did he say that? Because he was terrified to back up the unions in case someone called him a socialist. Even though he was the leader of a supposedly social party, a party founded by socialists. A party who had enacted some the United Kingdome’s greatest social reforms through socialism. It didn’t work out too well for him; he lost the election. Brown before him, who had a similar attitude, lost the election. Blair’s tactics in ’97 were great because the Tory party was a mess. In 2010 and 2015, like them or not, the Tories were organised, polished and slick.
For years we have complained that the parties are too similar. For years we have complained that politics has become style over substance, that we expect politicians to lie. Then enters Jeremy Corbyn, a man catapulted to leadership on the back of phenomenal grass roots support. A man with clearly distinctive politics, a man not scared to put his own ideals front and centre. What do we do as a country? We complain that he’s ‘hard left’, that he’s ‘pie in the sky’, that he, despite being elected, is unelectable. His own MPs, who seem to lack the most basic respect for democracy, have fought tooth and nail to get him removed since he took post. The media reports that his opponents say his economic plans are crazy; when 40 leading economists disagree, the media ignore this and focus on his lack of a tailored suit. And of course, the electorate digest these bite-sized nuggets from the media and gobble them down without even noticing that the people on the next table have gone off-menu. The battleground of politics should no longer be the press, it should no longer be Rupert Murdoch’s ‘sledgehammer’ predisposition, nor the poorly veiled bias of the BBC. It should be – and I acknowledge the irony of saying this on a blog – the internet.
If the Brexit debate taught us anything, it’s that the majority of politicians think the electorate are stupid and that the media can’t be trusted to call them out on their nonsense loud enough for people to hear.
Far be it from me to tell you how to vote, but for God’s sake understand what you are voting for. Take the time, become one of the informed electorate, not one of the sheep who believe whatever they see on the front page. Maybe one day we’ll see more than just centre politics again. We’ll have to see where the Labour party goes in the next few months. I’d love to see a party with principles for a change (principles, that is, beyond trying to get elected). A party which says “Here’s what we think is right. Here’s why we think it. Here’s why we think it’s a good thing for you and why you should vote for us.” That what I’ve been seeing from Corbyn this past year; that’s one of the reasons I voted for him.
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