Peter Troy: Things can only get better, we were once promised. Clearly, they need to

Journal columnist Peter Troy asks why so many people are convinced there is no point in them voting

Rui Vieira/PA Wire A ballot box at a polling station
A ballot box at a polling station

The May 7 General Election result will be the closest in our history yet I will be one of over 25 million people in more than half of the 650 constituencies in the UK who can confidently predict who my MP will be.

Furthermore, I am hearing a lot of people saying this election is totally unreal since nothing of substance is being discussed even though we are hearing a lot about politicians and their promises.

It is often said that we get the politicians we deserve. However, I can’t recall any election that I have voted in over the past four decades where so many people now seem convinced that we really don’t deserve any of them for many reasons.

An analysis of so called ‘safe seats’ by the long established Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has found that the winners for over half of the total constituency seats in the UK - 364 of them - can be predicted, because of what it calls Westminster’s “archaic First Past the Post voting system.” In the North East over three quarters of the seats are regarded as ‘safe’.

Well, if voters think about it the ERS has a point the candidate with the most votes in a constituency becomes the MP, while parties that get a significant number of votes but don’t come first have nothing to show for it - the choices of millions of voters are thus not being represented. Amazingly, most parliamentary seats haven’t changed party since the 1960s. In a truly dynamic and modern democracy this hardly seems right.

The current outdated voting system is in my opinion half the reason that people are increasingly not voting – what’s the point when the outcome is so predictable? The other principle reason for people staying at home on May 7 (or not even applying for postal votes) is that would be voters do not feel connected to politicians.

This latter reason is on the increase because many important issues are not mentioned in election campaigns because so much of how we are governed is now decided elsewhere, by European and global bodies not accountable to our Parliament; over which our votes cannot have the slightest influence. For 40 years politicians have given away the right to make laws and policy over many issues, shrinking ever further those areas over which our elected representatives have any say.

Issues that affect our environment, food farming and fisheries, and how we dispose of our rubbish are important matters that voters have views on. There was a time when, in a British election, such matters might have attracted heated debate in the media. Yet now because the power to decide on all these things has been handed over, first to Brussels and then to unaccountable ‘agencies’ whose responsibility is simply to carry out what Brussels has decreed.

Also we hear mention of defence, but only centred in the vaguest way for example on whether the SNP will stop us having nuclear weapons or whether the Conservatives will keep our defence spending at present levels. Nowhere do we hear any proper discussion of what our Armed Forces should actually be for. Nothing has diminished our politicians more than the way they have abdicated so much of their old responsibility that, without explanation, they have removed many of the issues which affect our lives

We may have heard the odd mention in this election of “tax avoidance”. But how often do we hear any politician honestly explain the reason why Google, Starbucks and so many other multinationals, including our foreign-owned water and electricity companies, can “offshore” their liability to pay tax on their British earnings? It is because this is entirely legal under EU treaty rules, and those laid down by even more mysterious global bodies.

Which candidates are discussing these issues in meaningful detail with realistic solutions? UKIP, which was founded on the principle of leaving the EU, are strong on rhetoric and aspirations yet very weak on important detail. The Lib Dems want more “Europe”, Labour don’t want to discuss it, and the Tory party want to vaguely re-negotiate our membership of the EU.

In this superficial stage-managed election, where all that seems to matter is who said what about the latest “gaffe” which was typified by the leaders’ debate on TV. A show which resembled more an edition of the weakest link TV programme rather that serious political debate, it can be no wonder that so many voters are saying they are getting bored.

As Tony Blair’s campaign song reminded us in 1997: “Things can only get better”. Clearly they need to.


David Whetstone
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