Friday, 29 November 2019

Succumb to despair? A serious and dangerous mistake

Revulsion? Disgust? Despair? Reach for the Thesaurus and choose the word that most accurately describes your mood as we enter the final furlong of this miserable election campaign.

A prime minister who lies more often than he ruffles his hair, and who seems determined to duck out of a potentially bruising encounter with Andrew Neil.

A Labour party leader still in total denial over the anger and pain caused by his failure to grasp the anti-Semitism nettle and who can’t bring himself to tell the truth about his party’s tax plans. (Watch his encounter with Andrew Neil if you don’t believe me.)

You can agree or disagree with what the different party leaders say about the major policy issues of the day, but what I find most depressing of all is the sheer hopeless incompetence they display. Boris Johnson clearly doesn’t understand (or is happy to blatantly lie about) the Northern Ireland trade arrangements in his own EU withdrawal deal, and Jeremy Corbyn seems either unable or unwilling to spell out his tax and spending plans.

In fact, I have rarely seen a more abject display of political ineptitude than Mr Corbyn’s utter failure to handle Andrew Neil’s pointed questioning on Tuesday night. I cannot imagine that a single undecided voter will have been persuaded either by his refusal to accept that his party could have handled the anti-Semitism allegations better or by his foolish attempts to deny that people on relatively modest incomes will have to pay more in taxes if Labour come to power.

(I don’t intend to wade back into the anti-Semitism debate – I made my views clear enough in this piece sixteen months ago – but I found a great deal to agree with in this piece yesterday by Rivkah Brown.)

In the words of Philip Stephens of the Financial Times: ‘The campaign has marked out a contest between parties peddling competing fantasies and falsehoods. The sane answer as to which of the two leaders counts as fit for office of prime minister is neither of the above.’

You may think that politicians have never been held in such low regard as they are now. Certainly, if you spend too much time on social media – as I do – you will quickly come away with the impression that they are reviled and loathed more than at any time in history. So it may surprise you to learn that as long ago as August 1944, when the country was at war, fighting for its very survival, led by a coalition government under the leadership of one of Britain’s most admired statesmen, more than one-third of voters told Gallup that they believed politicians were ‘out merely for themselves.’ By 2014, that figure had risen to nearly half.

It is tempting in the current political climate to succumb to despair. If they’re all so miserably uninspiring, why on earth should we vote for any of them? Tempting it may be, but it would be a serious and dangerous mistake. The simple, unavoidable truth is that we need politicians, and if we don’t choose them, someone else will. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that there is no shortage of outside actors only too keen to meddle. (I do wonder, by the way, if the suppressed report by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee into alleged Russian interference in the UK’s politics will ever see the light of day.)

So our duty as responsible citizens is clear. Distasteful as we may find it, we will have to make a choice and cast a vote on 12 December. My advice is to take a look at the policies on offer, and at the candidates standing in your local constituency, and make a decision accordingly. There are plenty of decent, capable candidates standing – it’s just unfortunate that the two main party leaders, who inevitably are the ones who capture all the headlines, are such appalling examples of what’s on offer.

My hope is that once this election is over, someone will take it upon themselves to set in train a process that will enable us to come up with some serious suggestions aimed at mending what is clearly a broken and inadequate political system. Five years ago, after the Scottish independence referendum, I proposed a Reform Commission, which over a period of two years would hold public meetings and take evidence from voters all over the country before drawing up a package of proposals to present to parliament.

I have no confidence that any of the political parties will do it – but now that the Brexit debate has frayed old party loyalties, perhaps some of the liberated-cum-suspended ex-MPs of both main parties could find it a useful way to occupy their time.

And one last piece of advice: ignore the opinion polls. They may be right, and they may be wrong. Trouble is we won’t know until it’s too late to do anything about it.

No comments: