It is time for radical change led by people, not politicians

Businessman David Cliff takes a look at the body politic and decides it is in need of a jump start

PA Wire Labour party leader Ed Miliband speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Labour party leader Ed Miliband speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

Yes, the class war debate is over. We no longer talk about the socio-economic classification of people, in favour of looking at the TV planner instead to watch social extremes writ large in the form of “lifestyle television”.

On the one hand, we have Skint and Benefits Street, which tacitly accept the position of the poor, showing people who are attempting to do their best within a system that clearly constrains, every bit as much as it enables, those who simply cannot compete in a world market space.

We see interminable debates about immigration, where it is very clear that so many employers find strategic advantage by employing foreign nationals who are well-educated, multi-lingual, less militant and assertive in a workplace and whose work ethic would stand anyone well.

Flick over a few channels and we see, nationally and internationally, the rich, the famous, the well-heeled and connected, blatantly showing lifestyles of wealth, privilege and opulence. The message very much suggests that your birthright and who you are connected to is the key factor of your success in society, irrespective of your true abilities.

Then we see recently the vested interests of ageing “pillar of society” politicians falling for stings where their true self interests clearly subordinate notions of public service.

We do live in an increasingly unfair society, but what is even more alarming is we tacitly accept that that is how it is.

Let’s face it, we had 13 years of Labour denying the “P” word - poverty. Labour’s Orwellian “Ministry of Love” continues to massage concepts of hardship and tries to appeal to what they believe is a politically active middle ground by calling upon the cost of living crisis.

The problem is poverty exists so much amongst those in work anyway that the sons of Blair spin have lost any credibility to actually represent the needs of the ordinary person. They have morphed into an Etonian parallel universe, over populated by elites and almost identical to the Tories in every respect. That is except for their occasional penchant for referring back to the ordinary people, like they think somehow they can connect, and making pointless tokenistic promises of freezing of fuel bills, in ways that are implausible, impractical and reactivate fears of the poor fiscal management that they showed in Government that got us into this fine mess anyway. (Yes, yes of course, there was a worse set of forces going on at the time internationally, but the banks went playing on Blair and Brown’s watch).

Then let’s look at the Tories, where you have David Cameron as a basically decent but beleaguered leader who after four years of coaching, is beginning to look like a product from a City PR cloning factory, yet remains plausibly convincing that he cares about ordinary folk at some level, whilst operating a Chameleon-like action in relation to Europe, given the pressures of Ukip.

Then we have the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg still stands as a rather decent man who doesn’t always get it right, but in a merciless political environment we simply can’t get it wrong, not even once,(if only it was once, Nick).

This brings us round to Ukip, which despite its policy vacuum and incredible dependency on Nigel Farage to maintain discipline in the ranks as so many of its members see it as a platform for their own egos, rather than a political body corporate. It truly does seem to strikes a note with some of the white van men when all Labour can manage is a badly timed social media posting of a Transit!

Ukip may not be just practising the safer politics of BNP wearing a political condom, however. Underneath, let’s face it, there are still some unbridled forces that however much they resonate with the frustration of people in politics, offer every bit as insecure a policy platform as the other parties.

Ukip ironically has such diverse instability as to offer appeal based on apparent inclusivity of oppressed unheard masses, through to potentially accommodating borderline neo-Nazis in their ranks and no one would know the difference until they were in power.

Yes it’s a very exciting time for politics but it’s a very scary one as well.

Who have we got to blame? Our current elites? These members of ossified establishments that purport to represent the masses, who in turn ably sit on news and debate programmes telling us they know what people are asking for, when they really do not have that much of a clue? Those who again and again resurface that litany of “we need to listen more”?

I always thought that was what politicians did, or should do. So why does it need to be so constantly re-stated?

Our problem is, we live in a society where the ambitious prefer to acquire power than offer service. The sadness is, the Lib Dems, while never really a seriously contending force for Government and society have, as the price of coalition, sacrificed themselves in an attempt to ameliorate the worst extremes of a potentially unkind Government at a time of recession. And they will take a drubbing as a consequence.

Some might say that’s foolish, others might see it as integrity.

What is apparent, is we are likely to see a run of hung Parliaments in a way that we have never seen in British politics. The Lib Dems’ very aspirations for proportional representation, so mercilessly quashed a few years ago, may appear through the back door in the form of block factions within Parliament that need to do deals, in much the same way that many European states need to now.

Modern politics is changing and we are viewing the most interesting period we have seen in generations.

The key component that is needed, however, is the electorate. Whatever one reflects about the Scottish debate, the energising of the populace and the high voting turnout, was a seminal moment for British politics and I would argue set the bar for greater participation within our communities in the political process.

The problem is you will never get high turnouts when people perceive a “done deal” or there is no chance of real change. What you get is systems inertia. The motivated turn out, the demotivated stay at home. Those who feel empowered or hold on to hope turn out to vote, those who really have formed the belief it does not make a difference, do not.

Behold the face of modern British politics: the mother of Parliaments, the political model that is said to be the envy of the rest of the world.

It’s time for change. It’s time for change where no seat is safe any more and politicians actually have to win votes again, not rely on the small “c” conservative allegiances of party loyalty based on class. The North East sleepy cartel of Labour types does not provide an insulating blockade from Tory/coalition government, it simply legislates for neglect of the region in those long periods that Labour can’t get into power. It then offers complacency when it does.

It is time for radical change and it lies with the populace, not the politicians, to make a difference. Is it time to make voting mandatory, even if you wreck your paper? A small fine for no turnout would motivate most of us and would generate some offset to the cost to the public purse of running elections anyway.

Would that shock us out of our inertia?

David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken and chairman of the Institute of Directors’ Northern Sector Group.

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