The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Will There Be A Choice?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 3, 2009 @ 09:04

Turnout: Not looking good, is it...

Turnout: Not looking good, is it...

It’s only appropriate that my 100th post to this blog returns to one of my favourite topics: my overall scepticism about the general state of politics…

The next election will be an extraordinary battle between three parties fighting over the same territory. The same tired old centre ground of British politics that has been the same for nearly a generation.

Previous elections in the 80s were fought over genuine ideological divisions between the left of Labour and the neo-liberal Thatcherism of the Tories. But after that, certainly in 1997, Blair’s appeal to “middle England” began to signify the death of the ideas-based divide.

Elections now are a very scientific affair. The parties all use sophisticated software that breaks down constituencies into the demographics of their ward, and even their street. Using this data they can make decisions over whether areas are lost causes, or whether they should get the “daily drop” treatment in the run up to an election.

Furthermore, being able to assess the type of people that live in a street means a message can be specifically targetted, so a street full of students will get all the news about top-up fees, while the pensioners paradise will get the focus-group crafted messages on post offices, pensions and other community services (e.g. free personal care in Scotland).

This is all very clever, but it has a horrible habit of ripping the soul out of politics. No more is it a battle of conviction, trying to persuade their electorate that your values are what the country needs. No, it is a question of pressing the right buttons to get people to “buy” your product. In a sense, it is yet another example of where the normative values of capitalism have taken over another aspect of democratic life.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” – G.Marx

Take the 2005 election. At the edges, the parties do have differences. These nuances are necessary, but they are still broadly based on an opinion as to what the leaders think will sell better. But, in 2005, I remember thinking that the so-called “battle ground” of the NHS was nothing of the sort.

At the time, I remember watching a debate on Channel 4 news between the three parties representatives… and at the end of it, I was none the wiser. At varying points during the interview, all parties had pledged their support to it, would fund it more, would provide for more accountability, more local decision-making, more freedom to choose treatment venue, more service provision from GPs, better pay for nurses, less bureaucracy…

It really disappointed me. Not even my own party convinced me that they knew what they were talking about. It was just one constant stream of talking points, with some fake disagreement thrown in for good measure over who whether X would genuinely cut bureaucracy.

This criticism of politics – that is now nothing other than managerialism – is not new. But, at each election, its effects are felt wider and wider.

Still don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at the major issue of the next election: the deficit, and the economy.

Lib Dems: slash and burn. “Savage” cuts.

Conservatives: can’t even begin to hide their glee at finally having the cover to implement huge cuts to government spending. Not even Thatcher was able to be so ambitious and get the public on side.

Labour: have finally caught up, and are pledging to halve the deficit, pass legislation to make cutting it a legal requirement. Brown et al talking about saving money, even cuts.

One might say that this is merely parties acting responsibly in an unprecedented economic crisis, and to ignore it would be even more reckless. Perhaps this is true to some extent.

But, on the other, it just goes to show that, in a capitalist system, there is actually no real scope for all that wide a difference between the parties. The broad consensus in favour of free markets permeates throughout policy making in every area.

When all mainstream politicians are saying the same thing, it grants the necessary cover for other parties to enter into the debate. People will look to see if others with a different perspective on our circumstances have a better, more radical, solution. UKIPers will blame the EU. The BNP will blame immigration policy. The Greens will blame capitalism and globalisation in general.

But great swathes of the country will, instead, combined with the political scandals of the past few months, simply shrug their shoulders and switch over to X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing.

And the more they do that, the greater the disconnect between the ruled and the ruling becomes. The less the values of democracy are inculcated onto future generations.

And the more you’ll hear this old classic: “They’re all the same”.

Perhaps politics just isn’t inspiring any more.

Maybe Ken Livingstone’s was right all along:

“If voting changed anything they’d abolish it”.

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One Response to “Will There Be A Choice?”

  1. […] Of course, back then everyone was assuming the recession was ending, and cuts in 2010/11 would be sensible. Maybe even I was. I can’t remember now. The Tories certainly were. They were wetting their pants with delight over the amount of cuts they would now get away with all under the perfect excuse of recession. And then Labour joined in. It all got me pretty depressed about the state of the choice available at the next election. […]

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