As you know, a General Election is an opportunity once every five years for politicians to go to the people and attempt to shut them out of the discussion. So, while we want to know more about cuts on welfare, tax increases, NHS spending and schools, the folk in charge of the election are spending their time talking about Labour and what it may or may not get up to with the SNP.
They have every right to do this, of course; one of the biggest issues likely to emerge post-election is the constitutional muddle we’ve allowed to engulf the United Kingdom.
Any country with one voting system for Parliamentary elections, a different one for local elections, a different one again for devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish votes, and an unbelievable fourth system for Euro elections, deserves a big slap in the face. I expect it’ll get one on 8 May.
But what seems woefully unengaging about the current debate on the constitution is that it’s conducted in terms that the electorate doesn’t believe in. The rise of the SNP has made every other party retreat to the binary terms of past times: the SNP is “bad”, Nicola Sturgeon is “dangerous”, Ed Miliband is “weak”, an agreement between the parties would be “wrong”, the country would be subjected to “blackmail”.
To reduce these very important issues to simple black or white dynamics shuts the conversation down to an all-or-nothing argument the public finds prohibitive.
Is it any wonder that Nicola Sturgeon has caught the public’s attention since she is the only party leader openly discussing where she might find common agreement with another party? It may be a clever and strategic ploy on her part to wind up her opponents, but it plays well because it’s so radically contrasted with every other main party leader.
These more conventional figures are effectively saying, my party is the only one who’ll get you out of this mess and you’d be an idiot not to vote for it.
We don’t buy into this all-or-nothing politics any more. The single thing that alienates young people from politics is the party system. The idea that only one party can speak for them, or represent all their views across a spectrum of issues as diverse as housing and defence, is nonsense.
If you don’t shop in one supermarket any more (as Tesco is finding to its cost), if you don’t watch one TV channel all the time, if you don’t even have to buy a whole album but can compile your own playlist from everything that’s available, then why in God’s name should you be expected to sign up to one and only one political body to express or represent all your views? That may work in a system where only one party is expected to govern, but those days are gone. The system’s bust. Single party governance is history.
So why do party leaders talk as if it still exists? They talk of majority government as if the mere act of talking about it will make it happen. But to us they just look like men in suits stuck way behind in mud.
So, consider how different it would sound if the leader of a major party said the following: “I know we won’t win a majority. I can see that. That’s what the public mood is, and who am I to denounce it? So here’s where I agree with SNP, and here’s where I disagree. And here’s where I agree with the Green and Lib Dems, and Plaid Cymry, and the DUP and the SDLP. Here’s even where I could get some Ukip members on board. And here’s where I profoundly disagree with them, and with those other parties. Somewhere, somehow, if I get the most votes or members in the election, I will commit myself to working out a proper vote-by-vote consensus that commands a majority on each vote.’
But that leader would have to go further. If we truly want to bring an end to the tired one-size-fits-all party politics, that leader would have to say, “And here’s where Conservative and Labour agree, and where we don’t agree. Again, if I lead the largest block of MP’s in the next Parliament, I will commit to finding as much common ground with as many MP’s from the other side of the House as I can.”
If we’re to take a truly fresh look at how our constitution works, then this boldest move of all becomes a necessity. No party leader will dare mention it, because it threatens that leader’s control of their party. But if the electorate is prepared to vote for a grand coalition of ideas, then the true leader is the one who offers a grand coalition transcending party.
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