Sunday, 25 January 2015

Let’s kick the D-word out of politics.

Next Tuesday there will be a hundred days to go until the next general election; just writing that sentence makes me cringe.

It shouldn’t be like that, I’ve been actively interested in politics for fifteen years and if I’m getting turned off by the prospect of the coming election what chance is there of a floating voter getting engaged?

Even before the race has begun in earnest what passes for debate has settled into the grimly repetitive rhythms of a playground squabble. Labour accuse the Tories of ‘wrecking’ the NHS, they in turn say the only way to ‘save’ it is by selling huge chunks off to private companies. Ukip want to make our flesh creep over immigration and everyone agrees there is no alternative to more cuts, although Red Ed, bless, seems to think Labour cuts would somehow be kinder than Tory ones.

Locally a Labour group with no idea what to do about the city’s problems, apart it seems from dreaming up costly and badly run projects on which to spend money we don’t have, clings limpet like to power for no reason other than that’s what they’ve always done.

When it comes to the ever more troubled Smithfield project, still no tenant in sight and over the weekend rumours emerged of fresh problems with the floor that could being more costs and delays voters could be forgiven for thinking we’re living in a topsy-turvy version of the Kevin Costner film ‘Field of Dreams.’ What the vision told them about had been built, but they, meaning the investors, will not come.

The Independents and some others carry the banner of protest, but they are too few and too divided to bring about change and so inertia and Labour could win the day.

All of the above makes me sound like the worst sort of saloon bar cynic, they’re all the same so why bother with any of them, and that isn’t good.

I have always believed that politics matters, that it should be an optimistic business and even though they are the most over used words in its lexicon; that it really is all about hope and change. What needs to change than to make me feel a bit less jaded about the coming election?

What we need to do is get rid of something that has dragged politics down for decades; deference.

Let me explain what I mean using a story told to me some years ago when I was Secretary of my local Labour Party branch. A member told me about taking his very elderly mother-in-law to vote; she had poor eyesight but was in every other respect the full shilling. She would always ask him how far down the list the Labour candidate was, count that number of places down and make her mark. At no stage did she ask the name of the candidate or what he or she stood for, the idea that she might vote for anyone other than Labour was, to her, as unlikely as one of Pavlov’s dogs not getting excited when the bell rang.

You could probably get someone to tell you the same story in a staunchly Tory constituency and it is a mind-set that has done terrible damage to our political life. Too many people voting how they have always voted lets the political class massively off the hook. It means they need only pay lip service to engaging with the voting public, leaving them with more time to concentrate on their own insular little squabbles, it’s like Game of Thrones without the swords, a good thing too says our old chum the saloon bar cynic because you wouldn’t trust that lot with anything sharp.

Locally it means Labour can go on using a play-book written for them by regional office that ignores most of the things that concern local people safe in the knowledge that however rough the waves might be in May they’ll still be there clinging to the civic rocks once the storm has passed.

It doesn’t have to be like that, we deserve so much better; but it is up to us to do something about it because the status-quo suits the people who have always held power all too well.

We need to look beyond the so familiar they’ve gone past contempt main parties to new parties that bring new voices to the debate. Voices that, incidentally, sound more like yours and mine because they belong to candidates who have lived a life outside politics.

If you can’t find a party that fits the bill then be one of those new voices yourself and stand as an independent committed to living up to the name.

This isn’t easy for some people, even though it has let them down time and again the Labour Party, for example, exerts a strong emotional pull over those who have supported it for generations. If we’re serious about wanting change though then the time has come to let go of nanny’s hand and make our own way.

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