British politics is in a truly bad place – how can it reconnect with the voters?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:10 16 August 2018
There is a common misconception about elections in this country (and I suspect in most other democracies).
Generally they are not won by the party or the individual that most people like most – they are won by the party or individual that most people dislike least. And the next general election in Britain could be won by the person most voters despise least!
This summer the leadership – or at least the aspiring leadership – of the two main parties seem determined to place themselves on a spiral dive into the centre of the political abyss!
The Labour leadership seems incapable of understanding what anti-Semitism is, let alone knowing how to deal with it.
And frankly the party leader seems so out of touch with the vast majority of people (apart from some of his party members) on almost all international issues, one really has to wonder how he could represent the nation if he was prime minister.
Jeremy Corbyn’s squirming over the wreath presentation he attended in Tunisia before he was leader is really embarrassing for Labour and will undermine his credibility to many voters.
Following on from his equivocation about the role of the Russians in this year’s nerve agent attack in Salisbury and the uncertainty over his position with regards to official Labour policy on the nuclear deterrent makes it very difficult for many people (including some Labour supporters and members) to trust his judgement on the world scene.
There are many senior Labour MPs and party members who are seriously concerned about the leadership’s positions on many things from Brexit and a second referendum to anti-Semitism and Russia.
But those MPs are all now outside the party’s leadership structure – they’re on the backbenches at Westminster or at best chairing parliamentary select committees.
However Labour isn’t alone in getting itself into a mess. The European question is tearing the Tories apart (as it has, off and on, for the last 30 years).
And now just as the embers of a Tory civil war are brewing nicely, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has come along to stoke them with what many people see as an injection of Islamophobia.
His comments on the Niqab or Burka (actually there are hardly any Burkas in this country – look them up online if you really want to see the difference) can be seen as a “freedom of speech” issue if you don’t mind who you offend.
But if you really want to be Prime Minister, is it really a good idea to unnecessarily stir up religious tension? As others have said, this was not an accidental slip of the tongue in an off-the-cuff interview (and Boris knows something about them!), it was deliberate entry in a newspaper column. He knew what he was doing.
What he has done is split his party into pro-Boris and anti-Boris factions. Who knows what will happen in the end, but it doesn’t look good for the Tories. Their only hope must be that Labour is in as big (and unseemly) a mess as they are.
Speaking to local members from both parties, it is clear that those on the ground are trying to distance themselves from their leaders (in Labour’s case) or potential leader. They would rather talk about local, or at least domestic, issues than the state of British politics.
Which all begs the question, is this time for a new political force? In some ways the country needs a new voice more than at any time since the early 1980s when the SDP shone like a political meteor for 18 months.
Actually the formation of the SDP did shake up British politics – but not in the way its leaders were hoping for.
It didn’t lead to a centrist government run by Roy Jenkins and David Steel – but it did galvanise the moderates in both the larger parties (and especially Labour) to win back control from the militants who were threatening to take them into the political margins.
I suspect the fate of those who actually formed the SDP will persuade very few of today’s politicians to follow their lead.
What will galvanise the moderates now? Labour leaders are keen to tell us they have more than half a million members – that’s more than anyone else but it’s only 1.2% of the UK electorate.
The Tory Moggist/Johnsonistas tell us they represent “the will of the British people.”
I’m not sure either party’s extremists really understand that the UK is a diverse country with millions of different opinions. And right now many people are totally turned off by the antics of the party leaders.