Sunday, 14 July 2013

The big three parties are dead- one in five Tories can’t be wrong.

There is a rumbling in the shires, trouble in the Tory heartlands. The Turnip Taliban are lacing up their sensible shoes and getting ready to go on the warpath.

According to a poll of eight hundred grassroots members of the Conservative Party one in five are seriously considering voting for UKIP at the next election and fifty three percent said they did not feel respected by the party leadership. Unsurprisingly a large proportion didn’t care for gay marriage (59%) and even more (67%) were unhappy about the ring fencing of the foreign aid budget.

David Cameron and his chums probably won’t have been all that shocked by those results, if nothing else an Eton and Oxbridge education gives you the ability to work out what bears get up to in the woods. They might though have been a little more discomforted by the fact that forty four percent of the members polled said they spent no time at all on party activity, out of those who were still active thirty nine percent said they were less active than previously.

I could spend the rest of this article having a whale of a time going on about Tory stereotypes sitting in their crumbling country piles harrumphing that there was no youth crime when we still had transportation and that the BBC, apart from Radio 4 obviously, is a communist plot. Thing is though this isn’t really a laughing matter; not one little bit.

It’s inconvenient for David Cameron because if he can’t enthuse his own party members to go out and campaign he has little chance of getting the country to go blue again. For anyone who cares about democracy though it’s as serious as an unexpected shadow on a routine x-ray.

The Tories might be the party in the spotlight but were the same poll to be conducted amongst Labour or Liberal Democrat members the responses would be identical. All three main parties are dead brands trundling along to nowhere on the last of their momentum.

In the past I have likened being active in politics to going to church, an activity carried out by enthusiasts that either bores or bemuses most of the public. That isn’t quite correct, the church, through its links to powerful ideas about birth death and personal growth, will always have an, admittedly much smaller nowadays, steady flow of people who have surprised a desire in themselves to be more serious flowing through its doors.

Politics could have a similar pull, one linked to notions of fairness and striking the right balance between tradition and change, but the three main parties that are its gatekeepers have allowed it to wither. As a result their own membership is in freefall and their sense of purpose is burning away faster than morning mist during a heat wave.

Tame focus groups have taken the place of an engaged if often awkward membership and the dark arts of spin and triangulation have replaced ideas around which people can rally. The result is three parties that look the same and say most of the same things, none of which resonate with a bored and cynical electorate.

The best case scenario if the three main parties are determined to consign themselves to history is that smaller, more communitarian parties like the Greens might fill the resulting void. Trouble is along with them might come less kindly political forces like the BNP and a parade of chancers and charlatans out to grab a piece of the action.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum; what fills the space left by the three main parties might be much worse than what went before.


It could be curtains for the long summer holiday as the government prepares to give schools the power to set their own term times. The teacher’s unions are not best pleased, making all the usual noises about their members needing to ‘recharge their batteries’, although I doubt they will attract much public support for retaining what most working people will see as a perk. Anyway they have a bigger battle to fight against the unbalanced and unworkable reforms to the national curriculum Michael Gove is determined to push through at all costs.

The normally sensible New Statesman got all excited about Ed Milliband’s plans to reform the relationship between Labour and the unions calling his plans a brave step towards modernisation. I’m not so sure, the system for having union members ‘opt in’ to having part of their membership fee donated to Labour seems overly complicated and could lose the party millions of pounds at a time when it is all but bust. If not so Red Ed emerges from this looking anything other than weak I will be more staggered than the Staggers.

The government is likely to withdraw its plans for forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain packets and a minimum price for alcohol, this is a rare, but welcome, hint of common sense. Putting a minimum price on alcohol won’t deter hardened boozers it’ll just penalise sensible drinkers; plain packets like blood curdling health warnings just make smoking look like a cool and dangerous thing to do to silly people. The best way to promote sensible drinking is through community pubs where the emphasis is on convivial fun rather then soulless ‘vertical drinking’; if you want to make smoking genuinely un-cool with the kids, then treat it like the unpleasant but legal habit it is not like a threat to society.

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