Our Politics Is Like the Last Stage of a Desperate, Drunken Party: We Need to Sober Up Fast

01/07/2016 16:52

Two days ago, a Scottish Green Party member summed up the current state of our politics in one tweet. She wrote: "Politics go home, you are drunk."

And that was before even the astonishing events of this morning's final hours of the Tory leadership contest. (The Green Party's recent broadcast now seems even more accurate.)

So why does it feel like the entirety of British politics is like the last stages of a drunken party, in which the participants seem to be making coherent sense to each other, while outside observers watch them reeling around talking nonsense and starting pointless, bloody fights?

We've had a referendum debate that was a thinly disguised Tory leadership contest masquerading as a debate on a critical national decision with dodgy statistics and clearly false arguments.

One of the key players in that debate, the leader of the Out campaign, Johnson has created the mess, campaigning for us to leave the EU without any clear idea of what that might mean. Now he's walked away, making it everybody's problem.

David Cameron's moral position is similar. He put the holding of the EU referendum into the Tory manifesto for the 2015 election to appease the Ukip-leaning side of his party. He assumed that he wouldn't win the election - at least not outright. It was a minor, probably hardly considered, tactical decision with massive strategic, historic consequences.

He too has walked away. (Not that he had any option.)

We have a huge vacuum of leadership at the centre of British politics.

I was asked yesterday - reflecting on my own experience - about what running for leadership should entail, and I said that it should entail having consistently held principles and values that your project is to implement with a clear plan of action. That's not what we're seeing in the contest to be our next prime minister.

Theresa May has been entirely associated with the project to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, but as part of her bid she's now dropped that, to win the support of more liberal Tories. The right decision, but hardly the right reasons.

Then there's Michael Gove, a man who has regularly self-identified as not being of the right temperament to be Prime Minister, who's complicit in the dodgy Leave campaign.

The Green Party has been saying for years that our political system is broken. That reality is now crystal clear, agonisingly clear.

The two largest parties have been squeezed on to a narrow centre ground, bidding for the votes of swing voters in swing seats, competing on personality and polish not principles. Day-to-day media imperatives have driven the direction not just of messaging but policy. The idea that the City of London is a magic money tree, that will keep growing cash that will trickle out to a hungry, desperate hinterland, has dominated.

Politics have become entirely detached from the concerns of the public. Putting food on the table, keeping a roof over your head, caring for the old and young in our communities, dealing with the pressing reality of climate change - these have been dismissed with a snappy soundbite, a GDP growth figure that shows only how the rich are getting richer while the rest of us become poorer and more insecure, with the fantasy of fracking.

But the ultimate blame for our condition doesn't rest solely with David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, culpable as they all are.

It rests with our political system. The last significant change in electing the House of Commons was in 1918, when women got the vote. Other than that one change, it is essentially a 19th-century system.

The House of Lords has superficially seen some change - it used to be mostly the accident of heredity that got you there, with a smattering of patronage. Now the balance of those two has been reversed.

Our parliament is a tottering 19th-century structure. That's also true about the fabric of the building: it's a perfect metaphor.

Our politics is now being compared to that of Greece.

It's certainly in equal disarray, and we need to look to the deeper reasons for that.

There's much surprise in some foreign quarters, with the belief that the UK is stable, sober, unchanging.

But many British people - entire communities - have recognised the deep structural failure, for some time, particularly the communities furthest from that gilded City money tree. Many of those communities voted in large numbers to leave, using the only mechanism they could find to show their dissatisfaction.

It's the unchanging nature of the political system that's got us into the mess of today.

We haven't reformed the system for the 21st century. We didn't really reform it for the 20th.

Nothing's changed, now everything's broken.

We don't have a democracy.

The people are the answer to this situation. Not one leader (we know from history how dangerous that idea is). Not even one party.

We need to hand the power to the people.

That clearly means, in the immediate future, a general election.

And then it means profound electoral reform - a fair voting system that produces a government that reflects the will of the people. That means proportional representation. It means an elected House of Lords.

It means a will to ensure a society in which no one is left hungry, no one homeless, no one stranded without hope of a decent life. It means a society that lives within the environmental limits of our one fragile planet.

The grown-ups need to take over. We need sobriety, calm, sense, genuine representation of the will and interests of the people.

And the best force, the only force, to deliver that is democracy.