Sunday, 6 May 2012

Poor Politics

The day after Thursday's elections, I got an email "from Ed Miliband":
"Today I felt prouder than ever to lead this party. Proud of the extraordinary effort of people like you - not for ourselves but for the people we came into politics to serve."
And I thought: "delete". In fact, I delete every one of these well-meaning messages to the supposed party faithful. I used to actually read them, but have learnt not to, after straining my eyes through excessive rolling.

Thursday's elections were such a Labour coup because a) mid-term elections always punish the government, b) cuts are starting to hit and people are reacting, and c) only those who really wanted to vote for or against the government actually made their way to the polls. It's not because Labour is offering an attractive alternative to the Coalition, it is because they are not the Coalition.

If only the party would take that on board. If only the leadership would realise that the result wasn't a massive vote of confidence in Ed Miliband, or the Labour dialogue, but a vote of no confidence in the government. Day in, day out, Labour lacks any positive message; we know they oppose everything the government is doing, and oppose the cuts. But what on earth are they for

Wouldn't it be lovely if they started to treat us, the electorate, like sentient beings? Labour needs to develop a mature and credible line; to come out every day and say, "Okay, so that's what the government is doing...but here's our policy, and it's better in this way". The public, rendered jobless, their welfare state in tatters, their public services sliding into the sucking pit of Coalition cuts, are casting around for a viable alternative. And all they have is Labour, telling them what they already know. 

No wonder so many people think Coalition policy is tough but necessary. Labour isn't showing anyone how it could be different.

The horrifying thing is that there is no hope of a radical change in tack, at least not under this generation of Labour leadership. The political system encourages answer-dodging, toeing the party line, soundbite-ism, emotional but insubstantial grandstanding. The system is eating itself, populated by ambitious born-and-bred politicos who quickly conform to the system's dictat; accordingly the electorate becomes alienated from and disgusted by politics, and disilllusioned with their "representatives". The system suffers as a result.

The next generation of politicians and party leaders have the opportunity - nay, the duty - to rebuild politics from the bottom up. Voters are rejecting the system, as shown starkly by Thursday's projected 32% turnout. As this next generation moves up into politics, we can throw out the current tendency for self-imposed ossification. 

But it's a group effort. It means diversifying politics, in terms of class, gender and skills. It means politicians striving for statesmanship on a daily basis, rather than descending into petty adversarial mud-slinging. It means not promising what you can't achieve. Not pontificating and condescendingly semonizing to the people. To remember that humility is a most attractive trait in a politician.

It means a new generation of journalists have to resist the temptation to hang politicians up to dry, every time they actually answer a question.

It also puts responsibility on the public: to get involved in politics, and call out politicians when they bullshit. To stop demanding the Earth, when it's not your MP's to give. And to never give up on action, even if its just in a pluralistic, localised way. In twenty years time, we could have reversed this snowballing voter apathy, and reintroduced humanness to politics.

Or, Labour, you could just do it now?

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