In a recent Westminster lecture David Miliband warned that, "for many people, politics is broken" - a sentiment rooted in the mistrust of politicians since the expenses scandal, the privileged backgrounds of many of our leaders and the apparent loss of ideology in British politics. Whether it be the dodgy claims of exploitative house-flippers, the presence of ex-Bullingdon Club members or the apparent inability of the main parties to adhere to their founding beliefs, political apathy and antipathy are growing forces in the UK. The inexcusable behaviour of hundreds of Parliamentarians and their subsequent withdrawal from British politics should have been a good thing as the new influx of young, enthusiastic and demographically diverse MPs gave the Palace the boost it needed. However, the role of the media and the vocal minority has led to an increasing focus on politicians not policy and I find myself agreeing with Laurie Penny's statement that, "public debate has become a spiteful, irrelevant Punch-and-Judy show". The personal attacks by the media on politicians and between politicians themselves has begun to steal the limelight; after David Cameron left his daughter in the pub there were calls for him to step down as Prime Minister. His abilities as a parent are irrelevant to his ability to run the country, irrespective of your opinion of him as a Prime Minister and in reality he did something that most parents (my own included) have done, if in perhaps a different way.
Likewise, the propensity for u-turns on both sides of the Chamber signifies that there is something wrong with our political parties. By pandering to the immediate response to policy announcements parties aren't allowing themselves to develop comprehensive, ideologically motivated agendas. We live in a country where a tax on warm pasties and whether politicians ate them dominated the headlines for weeks and where a junior Minister can be ridiculed and personally targeted because of one poor performance in an interview. Whilst I think the press holding politicians to account is an incredibly good thing, the immediacy of response and the extensive condemnation of policies which are barely even in the legislative process is hindering and damaging our political system.
Another issue is that the main parties are increasingly agreeing (to greater and lesser degrees) on a number of previously divisive policy issues; the future of Trident is secure, all three parties agree on a rise in university tuition fees and now Labour's shift in policy on immigration, budget cuts and the public-sector pay-freeze signify that the parties are beginning to share common ground. But by making these moves the parties go against the grain of their founding, ideological beliefs. The Labour party of fifteen years ago would find the idea of rolling budget cuts, immigration blocks and increased tuition fees totally abhorrent. Likewise, the Liberal Democrats' new found support of a nuclear deterrent can only be explained by their membership of the Coalition Government. By seeking to appeal to a wider demographic of voters, the parties are in reality alienating their core supporters and weakening themselves in the long-term.
BUT, there has been a recent ideological flurry. David Cameron's speech at Bluewater shopping centre about the state of welfare in the UK is the first thing to prompt a genuine debate for a long time. Whatever the motive behind it, he appealed to the libertarian right wing of the Conservatives, reassured the Cameroon centre of the party and outraged Labour. Irrespective of whether this plays a part in any future policy agendas Cameron has stirred up the ideological divide in British politics and that is something that everyone should be grateful for. Whatever your opinion of this as a policy, it signifies an evacuation of the middle ground that could lead to our political parties occupying their natural places in the British political system.
So perhaps all is not lost.
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