Caught on the hop, like many, I heard the announcement that the Prime Minister was going to request a General Election in June, on the radio and instantly, the question that ricocheted around my brain was - who to vote for? In an ideal world, I wouldn't panic about this. I would let the politicians woo me with their manifestos. I would listen to reasoned, intelligent, informed opinion; I would watch passionate debate; I would read evidence-based analysis; I would assess track-records and past promises. But we are not in an ideal world.
The EU referendum of little more than a year ago taught me the naivety of all that malarkey. No, the modern manner of electioneering in this country seems sadly to have descended into vitriol, fear, nastiness and the school of 'shout it loud and shout it often and someone will believe'.
But my overriding concern is not how unpleasant this campaign, on all sides may become; nor that it will become a re--run of the referendum and largely ignore so many other significant issues be they health, education, defence, social care, housing, infrastructure, the economy etc.. , no my overriding, overwhelming, overwrought concern is that we have no effective opposition.
Ok, we have people sat in benches all over the House of Commons, I have occasionally seen the seats full when I have flicked on the tele, but I have yet to read or listen to one serious commentator or journalist who considers Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP an effective leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty's Official Opposition. His personal approval rankings are staggeringly low and his party, if you can call it 'his' seems to be fraught with division, between left, right, centre, remain and leave. The liberal Democrats announced a swell in their membership in the hours post election announcement and they will probably gain some seats lost in 2015, but even Tim Farron on his cheeriest day, cannot entertain hopes that he will be hoiking Jeremy et al out of position any time soon. UKIP have failed to capitalise in any way on their share of the vote from 2015 and have indeed managed to lose their one and only MP, forgive me, but to misquote Oscar Wilde, this just looks careless of them. Scotland poses a fascinating theatre and the dilemma facing many a voter north of the border should not be dismissed. This is in effect the second referendum Nicola Sturgeon mentioned, albeit by proxy. Currently holding 56 of 59 seats, a vote for them may be a step closer to the break-up of the Union and will Ms May leave Ruth Davidson to fight her campaign, her way. Northern Ireland surely must be fatigued after their recent elections and political goings on and what of Wales?
But for all the machinations and potential for upset, shock and fluctuations, not one serious commentator, pollster or person with a passing glance at a news programme can seriously think Theresa May will bother putting Pickfords on standby. She will be waving cheerily from the steps of 10 Downing Street on the morning of June 9th and she will have a mandate to do whatever the hell she likes, the only question is over her majority and therefore how brazenly she can do what she likes.
It's as though Usain Bolt has rocked up at the school sports day for the freestyle parents' race and whilst he's sprinting the 100m, all the other Mum's and Dad's are twiddling about with an egg and spoon, sack or three legs. There will only be one winner.
If we were in a sustained period of world peace and economic prosperity, a time of equality, and social justice for all, then maybe this election wouldn't matter quite so much. If we even in a period of relative calm we could say ok, let's go with this for now, you there Opposition - sort yourself out and come back and fight the next election properly. But we are not. We are at a crucial time for our country, arguably a never more crucial time. With questions hanging over us about the breakdown of our very union, our relationship with Europe and by extension the rest of the world, a world that appears dangerously in flux and unstable, what is going on that in the mother of all parliaments that means we have, in effect, a single party state?
Whether you're left, right or centre the call from all must be that we need effective choice and an effective Opposition to hold government to account. This is a founding principal of democracy and one that I fear we are sleepwalking in to tossing aside. History and the present-day throw up examples of countries where this is not so and whilst I shudder at any parallels drawn with dictatorial powers and actual as opposed to metaphorical, one-party states, experience shows us it happens even in countries where similar shudderings were no doubt felt. It does not matter if you are a Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid, Sinn Fein, DUP, UKIP or Green you just have to believe in Democracy to know that this is not right. It is not right ideologically and it is not right practically.Suggest a correction