The linked long term phenomena of falling electoral turnout and a decreasing percentage of those who do vote, voting for the two main parties, leaves politicians in power with the active support of an increasingly small minority of the population. To date this has not seriously impacted on consent – the Majority are apathetic, and devoid both of interesting sources of useful political information, and of social cohesion. Membership of organisations of horizontal solidarity is also in long term decline.
I would love to see an attempt at long term quantification of the difference between the parties in terms of the manifesto policies they offer. I have no doubt that there will be a very sharp reduction in difference, or rather policy convergence between the parties. If you look at 1911 – social insurance, pensions, power of the hereditary aristocracy, 1945 – nationalisation of major industries, initiation of the NHS and full welfare state, and 1983 – privatisation, nuclear weapons – there were very real and sharp political differences that offered voters a distinct ideological choice. The country – and your own future – could be recognisably different dependent on for whom you voted.
The last two times our government changed parties, the new party came in to pledge to continue the fiscal measures already projected by the treasury under its predecessors. Anyone who believes the Treasury would be fundamentally different under Balls or Osborne is delusional, and responding to tribalism not real difference. Who introduced tuition fees? New Labour. Who accelerated the “marketization” of the NHS? New Labour. Who vastly expanded PFI? New Labour. Who bailed out the banks? New Labour.
In effect, the parties offer exactly the same neo-con policies. NATO, Trident, Occupation of Afghanistan, Privatisation, Tuition Fees – the only apparent alternative at the last election came from the Lib Dems, and the electorate grasped at it in larger numbers than a third party had ever received before, something we have quickly forgotten. The reason that we have forgotten it is that Clegg, who was never any kind of Liberal, dumped the entire radical heritage of his party as soon as he came to power.
There is a much wider point to what happened to the Lib Dems. Two other changes – the introduction of PR for the European Parliament, and the large increase in expenses for MP’s staff – had made a radical change to that party. Lib Dem conferences were suddenly places of power dressing, not woolly jumpers. A great many young professional politicos – MPs research assistants, and staffers from Brussels – were all over the place. Bright, presentable, highly paid, most of them had no connection with liberalism, had never read John Stuart Mill or Hazlitt, had no idea who Lloyd George was and cared less. They had latched on to a rung of paid political work, had become part of the political class – that was the entire purpose of their activity. The woolly jumpered chap who had campaigned about paving stones in Salisbury and passionately wanted to abolish Trident and adopt green energy became sidelined, an amusing anachronism, the subject of the jokes of the sophisticates.
Of course, their focus groups showed that the people want policies which the ever shrinking ownership of the mass media promotes, because they are the only policies they have ever heard of. But the people no longer trust the ownership of the media, and the expenses scandal caused a much-needed scepticism of the appalling political class. People are desperate for leaders who look honest and say something different.
So do not despise UKIP supporters. They are not vicious racists. They are in fact brighter than those stupid enough to continue voting for the three neo-con parties, despite having their lives crippled for the next three decades to pay unconceivable sums to the bankers. The UKIP voters at least wish to punish the political class and wish to hear of some different policies.
The problem is that the only alternative of which the mainstream media is prepared to inform them is Mr Farage and his simple anti-foreigner maxims. Many of the bankers are keen to leave the EU, as Nigel Lawson told us. So if people want an alternative, that is the one they will be offered. Only in Scotland have people been offered a more radical alternative – and while I do not wish to exaggerate the economic radicalism of the SNP, they are markedly to the left of Westminster on issues like tuition fees, healthcare and PFI.
The great question of the day is, how to put before the population, in a way that they will notice, a radical alternative other than simple right wing populism. I have a strong belief that there remains a real desire in society for a more social policy, for a major and real check on the huge divergence between rich and poor, for good public services, for a pacific foreign policy, and for leaders not just in it for the money or to promote wealthy interests. But how do you get that message to people?
From comments made, there must be an ambiguity about this article which I don’t see myself. I made this clarification in a comment and I add it here for certainty:
Of course UKIP are not a real alternative. I said “do not despise UKIP supporters”, not “do not despise UKIP”. UKIP are a false “alternative” dangled by the mainstream media and the bankers. But the support for them is evidence that the public do very much want some alternative. I shall append this to the article as it must be more ambiguous than I thought.