Thursday, October 11, 2007

In Other News... (Updated)

The day after Cameron's "unscripted" conference speech, I concluded a post on public disaffection with party politics with these words:
Gordon Brown is hardly an innocent bystander in this. More on that in another post.
In the days since, 10 Downing Street has been redecorated in the colour of its occupant and there's an electric fan in desperate need of a clean. The post I intended to write no longer seems necessary. Brown's attempts to portray himself as above party politics while politicking like Tony Blair on heat were always going to lead to disaster and so they have. His antics even put me in the invidious position of having to agree with Michael Howard yesterday. I feel dirty...

But Howard's point (on Wednesday's Newsnight) was unarguable. No-one, and I do mean no-one, believed Brown's excuses for not calling an election. Let's not mince words. Brown was lying to the British people. No-one likes to be lied too, not least when the lie is so obvious as to suggests that the liar thinks you're a gullible fool. Labour mouthpieces might try to downplay the significance of this moment but that'll only make it worse. It was a major misjudgement.

In fact, it could have been the moment when Brown lost any chance of wining an election but for the fact that Cameron is not entirely honest either. See his "I've not got a script" claim for further details.

What's needed, clearly, is a thorough and expensive review to analyse the reasons why the public feels such large levels of disaffection and distrust towards our politicians. This review will need to come up ways to encourage people to think of politicians as contestants on Big Brother. It should also put forward a number of gimmicks which will make it easier for people to vote. Ideally, it will recommend that people should be able to vote without engaging their brain in the process in any way whatsoever...

We deserve better than this.


Unity has written an interesting post which addresses another segment on Newsnight last night. This related to a documentary which asked politicians to support a bill which would make their lies a criminal offence. I should say that I hadn't seen this part of the programme when I wrote the above because we only get the first 30 minutes of Newsnight up here before cutting away to Newsnight Scotland.

(As an aside, I like Newsnight Scotland but not the fact that the two broadcasts overlap. I missed, for example, Paxman's famously amusing attempts at the weather until I read about them on the interwebs.)

I have now watched the segment and have to say that the proposal to make political lies criminal offences is very silly indeed. It would lead to all sorts of politically motivated court cases from anyone and everyone and it's hard to see how the judicial system could fail to be politicised if this were ever to become law. It's a non-starter.

My own view is that a fundamental reform of the voting system is what's required. The FPTP system creates a closed market in which choices are few and quality is low. It is small "c" conservative in nature so it is very difficult for the public to hold politicians to account in any real way or to express their desire for real change, especially when the two potential parties of government are equally unscrupulous in their politics. There is very little incentive for either party to significantly improve their standing among the general public. All they need to do to win power is to appear to be a little bit less horrid than their rivals in the eyes of a few hundred thousand people in marginal consistencies.

It is a quite perverted state of affairs. Abolishing the closed shop of the FPTP system is essential if there is to be even a chance of "A New Politics" developing in this country. The problem, of course, is that it is exclusively that same closed shop which has the power to open it up. It's going to take an extraordinary campaign to persuade a majority of MPs to vote for something which will open them up to increased competition. In fact, it'd be like persuading them to act like a herd of Ameglian Major Cows. Maybe Deep Thought could do it* but even it would be pushed.

In the meantime, in the absence of the second greatest computer of all time (fictional) designed by a race of pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent beings disguised a mice (also fictional) and in the further absence of enough MPs who genuinely put democracy and country above career and party (all too real), nothing will really change. The long slow erosion of trust in politicians and the decline in participation and engagement in the democratic process will continue.

This will (and already does) have real world consequences. "Respect Agendas" launched by those who have themselves squandered any respect them might once have commanded are doomed to failure. Laws passed by people whose moral authority is considered highly suspect will become more and more difficult to enforce. And the government's initial inability to halt the Northern Rock crisis was a sign of things to come. Falling turnouts and growing distrust and disillusionment with our politicians is of more than academic interest.

Almost every political speech these days contains at least five gadzillion uses of the word "change". Let's have it then.

* The Omnicognate Neutron Wrangler could argue all four legs off an Arcturan Megadonkey, but only Deep Thought could persuade it to go for a walk afterwards. I'm a bit of a fan of Douglas Adams. I thought I'd mention it because it might not be obvious...

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