The long awaited Third Edition of this almost long abandoned series is here. It was my intention at the offset to write a regular article on the lesser machinations of Westminster and yet both initial attempts descended into angst and distraction. I like to think this is because I do care about the nation’s politics, however perilous a notion that is, but I’m also happy to invest plenty of the guilt in Westminster itself.
Where, oh where, oh where to start? Well, despite a recent wild assertion of Simon Jenkins that Nick Clegg is political mastery personified, and an article from Lib Dem president Tim Farron suggesting that the party is still a significant force not to be written off, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s are now entirely written off. Attach any variety of expletives to the prefix “catastro-”, and you’ll be in the right descriptive area.
Both Jenkins and Farron were eviscerated for these outrageous views and rightly so, with polls showing Lib Dem support holding to their once familiarly weak 10% vote share. The minor surge in popularity brought to the party by Clegg’s 2010 debate performances has been trampled under the perception that they have done nothing to vindicate a single vote cast for them. The Mansion Tax, voting referendum, university fees and Trident spring to mind.
The truth is that Britain was briefly fooled into thinking there was a viable third party when the Lib Dems were given a platform at those debates, the first of their kind in this country. I can only imagine how small the minority of regularly engaged political junkies is in this country. Most do not take great interest in PMQ’s much less any other venue for occasional Liberal bleetings, and so the sight and sound of an essentially new figure who could complete full sentences was hard to dismiss.
I’m happy to call it now. Come the next election Labour and the Tories will strip the Lib Dem’s back down to their core base, however disenfranchised that lingering gaggle may be. But what of the main two parties, what are they doing to earn those votes? Virtually nothing at a glance. While the Lib Dem’s have been haplessly consigning themselves to ignominy, messirs Cameron, Miliband and all under them have also been resoundingly disappointing.
Labour first. I will admit to having a more sympathetic ear to the Tories, notably after a fairly destructive 13 years of Labour power, but that doesn’t make my present distaste for the front benches totally biased. Wednesday’s PMQ’s provided sound context for this claim, as Miliband stood up once again to try on the latest of his tactics, those currently being aggressive derision for the Prime Minister.
It may appeal to the hardline Labourites but I would think that to anyone to the right of even a fairly liberal disposition is going to be turned off. Speaking for myself at least, I have no time for someone who offers little beyond hugely hypocritical criticism, and in a fashion entirely lacking in deference. He and Balls sit at the dispatch box like some smug cabal, apparently ignorant of their responsibilities towards the current climate.
Labour are direly in need of some housecleaning, starting at the top. It should have taken place in the immediate aftermath of their 2010 defeat, the electorate having only disposed of so much chaff. As much as I may lean towards centre-right views, I passionately believe in a proper socialist alternative to act as a foil and provide a genuine spectrum of political discourse. Labour under this pairing are offering us nothing of the kind. I’ve said it before and will keep saying it.
The Tories, of course, are now also in need of a similar purging. I was for quite a long time pleased and impressed with Cameron’s “compassionate” conservatism, effectively a ploy for moderation while hoodwinking the right of the party into thinking there were still some traditional values politics therein. The game is now up though, and as last night’s vote on legalising gay marriage showed, at least half of the party is significantly behind the times.
As a side note, the legislation isn’t all it could be. I do not like that it explicitly protects religious freedoms as I feel these are already well enough protected. The state recognising the right of homosexuals to enjoy full marital status should have been the extent of it. Churches of any description in the nation can now hide behind the law, without further consideration for the progressive direction of society. Not that it matters to me, but this lack of debate within these religious bodies places their future at great risk.
But that isn’t why over half the Tories didn’t vote for it. Listening to the Commons debate it was the usual bewildered denial of marriage being anything other than the union of man and woman, and similar baseless propositions. The definition of marriage is whatever we what it to be, as made clear by the distinct evolution that the institution has gone through over the centuries. As with some of the stronger anti-European members of the party, I wish they were only a minority. Theirs being the prevalent position would not be good for the country.
Beyond this stark question of identity sadly lies the substance of the Tory’s successes and failures, and here there is little cause for celebration. Farce after u-turn after mishandling after farce, has bombarded my once rosy outlook on the party with so much doubt that I further seriously question the general competency of government. Botched contracts, botched policy and the metronomic presence of scandal does that to a young observer.
The absolute judgement is inexorably tied to the state of the economy, which is presently often labelled “anaemic” despite George Osborne’s regular insistence otherwise. But the signs of his over-optimism are apparent, as with Michael Gove today retracting his plans for an English Baccalaureate we have further proof that disorder is systemic within the echelons of the party. The likelihood now that Osborne stands alone in getting things right, if the Pasty Affair hadn’t already minimised it, is minimal.
Cameron bears plenty of responsibility for not guiding the ship with a firm hand, perhaps the result of trying too emphatically to return to cabinet style politics from the more presidential model of the Blair years. But this failing is clear outside of the cabinet, made visible by the increasing resurgence of the old Tory faction. I frequently allude to his balancing act of satisfying this wing while moving the party forward, and the act is in a more endangered state than ever.
It is unlikely, but heavens forbid he be ousted before the next election. Our political system is essentially one of cheques and balances, where one major party acts as counterweight to the other. Just as we need a worthy Labour party, we need a moderate Conservative party, in light of the fact that people prefer multiple incarnations of Labour to a harder right Conservative image. It was the inability of the Tories to find the middle-ground that allowed Labour so much unhindered activity from 1997 to 2010. After barely three years, it would be disastrous to go straight back to that.