Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

We The People Suckers

Last night I watched Channel 4's Dispatches programme on why politicians cannot tell the truth. It was presented by Peter Oborne, journalist for the Spectator. He did one of these programmes for the US Presidential election too which was very good, so I was expecting a similar standard.

He achieved it, and went way beyond. The angle of the programme was that politics today is nothing but a targeted grab at the 800,000 voters in marginal constituencies liable to change via the modern marketing methods that sells political parties as if they were a choice between a Snickers, a Twix or a Mars Bar. Meanwhile, the serious issues that are going to affect this country - the future of NHS funding, global warming, etc. are ignored, because to discuss them would be political suicide, or as Tony Blair put it, "the political realities" constrain them.

This thesis is not a new one. However, the programme was brilliant in the fact that it carefully took its time to flesh out the argument, giving us a superb insight into the marketing tools such as the Tories "VoterVault" and the Mosaic consumer profiling that the politicians use to send exactly the right message to the owners of the house. Families? Send them leaflets on childcare. Pensioners? Talk about the burden of council tax. It's slick. It's professional.

It's also killing politics. Unsurprisingly, Peter Oborne was unable to find anyone in the street who could disagree with the key planks of any party's strategy - and that is the point. The three parties are all fighting over the same ground. So much so that no one can actually tell the difference.

The demise of ideology is why people are finding it difficult to care about politics any more. There is no rallying call for anyone, apart from those who just so happen to have opinions that put them in the centre. These people are the lucky ones who matter. They can be summoned by everyone at the same time. For anyone out on the left or the right, we're pretty much stuffed. Our votes don't count because we don't change our minds enough - we're more steadfast when it comes to our ideology, sticking with it through thick and thin. Or in many cases, we just decide not to vote because no one matches what we want.

It made me wonder. Perhaps those of us who enjoy politics are actually the fools. We like to spend our time berating those who don't vote. We bemoan the fact that turnout is on a permanent downward spiral. We know best. We know politics is important.

Maybe we're the suckers. What if those who don't turnout are right? Perhaps they're the sensible ones for realising that the system is entirely flawed from top to bottom. While we spend our time endlessly bickering over who is the right party for Britain, we've been hoodwinked by the system for making us think that our vote actually means something. Those who don't vote have already cottoned onto all this - that no matter how you vote, you'll always get a government that reacts to events in a manner that doesn't piss off that nice little slice of middle England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't even come into the equation.

Before politicians knew about these people who Swing All Ways, they had to go on their gut feeling. They weren't to know what was going to be popular until they opened their mouths and said it. Now we have endless testing of policy to find what goes down the best in those little cosy living-room chats with the focus groupies. So before political marketing, politicians had no choice but to exploit ideological divisions. They were the only tools of political marketing. They were the only way to bring people together. They had visions for the future. Now, all politics is about the here and now. Tomorrow can wait, since it is always a day away.

Clement Attlee and his Labour government of 1945-1951 did not bring in the NHS because they thought it would go down an absolute storm in middle England, ensuring Labour dominance for the next decade. No. They did it because they thought it was best for Britain. They believed in it.

This is what is wrong with politics. We don't have politicians who genuinely want to do things that are best for Britain. We have politicians who want to take office and keep it at all costs. When Labour realised the Tories were winning middle England with their tough line on immigration, they came along and cloned their points system with very few differences. They didn't suddenly decide their ideology had been wrong all the time because it didn't have a points system for immigration. They don't honestly believe a points system is best for Britain. All they know is that a points system sounds tough, it sounds harsh, and it matches what middle England wants - therefore, it must be Right. They realised that they needed to close the gap with the Tories, as to not do so would put their future in jeopardy.

This pattern repeats itself infinitely across politics. It's tedious and tiresome. There is little solution. Even pure PR with a list system is not a saviour, since we still end up targeting the biggest and most electorally significant groups in society. The problem is terminal. The future consists of lurching from one problem to the next in ever more populist measures so that one group of people always remain happy.

But why should we complain? After all, all the parties are leading us to a Fair Society. A Just Society, forever going forward, watched over by the Loving Matron. With opportunities for all, including hard working families, and those who play by the rules. Doesn't that please everyone?


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