As a kid I was quite interested in political debate and discussion. I’m no activist – I’ve never carried a placard and I only enjoy rallies if they have fast cars, but I did have fairly well-formed views on current affairs and would argue the toss until the cows came home. From being 18 right up to the General Election of 1997 I voted at every opportunity.
It was in 1997, when everyone around me was repeating the “time for change” mantra that I realised that I wasn’t going to vote. Not because I didn’t have strong views and beliefs, but because there wasn’t a single name on the ballot paper that came close to representing them. I remember driving to work and feeling quite odd that I wasn’t part of this great mood of expectation. I didn’t want New Labour in power and I equally wanted the Conservatives to lose.
Wind forward to 2009 and the European Elections. Living in Barnsley it really doesn’t make a fig of difference who you vote for so it’s quite hard to motivate yourself to bother, even if you do live 200 yards from the polling station. But although I hadn’t cast a vote in the last 15 years and I was more despairing of the political choices than ever, I was moved out of my armchair by the presence of the BNP.
The polling station is in the church next door to my daughter’s school and I took her with me to vote. As a bright and ever-so-slightly gobby six year old, she wanted to know who we wanted to win. I told her I wasn’t sure yet. We stood outside and studied the options. We went inside and studied the options. I picked up the pen and mentally ticked off all the people I couldn’t possibly vote for. In the end, I put a cross in a box. I didn’t vote BNP and so, above all else, I wasn’t the “one in six”. It was hardly a positive vote in favour of anything and I really struggled to explain it all to the wide-eyed kid who was asking me simple questions.
Since then I’ve thought a lot more about politics again. I now know a few things…
I cannot possibly vote for this Prime Minister. Brown cannot lead, cannot accept responsibility, cannot listen to the people he appoints, cannot listen to the people at all. He steadfastly refuses to be swayed by all opinion, right up to the moment where he does a total U-turn.
I cannot vote for the current Labour Party. They are steadily taking away our liberties and hiding behind the ‘war on terror’. They are spending a huge sum of money on an irrelevant nuclear deterrent, funding worthless quangos and giving jobs to GOATs, Mandelson and the rest of their ever expanding clique. New Labour has totally trashed the British political scene, undermining parliament and avoiding debate wherever possible.
I cannot vote Conservative. They have repeatedly leapt on the nearest bandwagon without any real policies or long-term vision. Their hunt for power is reminiscent of New Labour in the mid-nineties – desperately shedding any policies that look too “old Tory” whilst keeping just enough Thatcherism to keep the grass roots happy. They will win the next election because they will be effectively unopposed. I can’t say if that will be a bad thing; I don’t know what they plan to do.
I cannot vote Liberal Democrat. They have a refreshing honesty about their policies and are quite likeable. I like (wihout any deep analysis) the cut of their jib on environmental policy and I am, by nature, a ‘small L’ liberal. However, as an organisation they are hardly an inspiring machine and it’s hard to see Clegg, Cable and the other one whose name escapes me making a big impression on global politics.
So who can I vote for? The truth is, there is nobody out there for me to vote for. The centre-left has failed spectacularly when it could have achieved so much. Failure to engage in honest debates with people (and I mean real debate with real people, not courting the media and finely polishing presentations) has led New Labour into
- a phoney war, with false objectives and no exit plan
- economic meltdown which followed years of missed Treasury forecasts on growth and borrowing, not to mention endless independent comment that the economy was overblown which Gordon Brown steadfastly refused to listen to
- an expenses crisis borne from fear of open debate on MP’s earnings
- falling educational achievement (despite rising GCSE grades) due to obsession with league tables and measurement
- countless unresolved scandals – Ecclestone, cash for questions, the dodgy dossier
So now we have a pretty stark choice ahead. The far right obscenity that is the BNP or the opaque if not invisible Conservative manifesto. My personal politics are probably more ‘left wing’ than they have ever been before but the Labour party has made itself unelectable.
So, we need someone to turn the tide. Who is going to stand up and apologise for the mistakes of the past, present their ideas for the future and argue their case in the face of dissent? That’s the politics I want to see. I might disagree with you on a lot of things but you’ll probably still get my vote.