Friday, September 24, 2010

Autumn, the Start of the Political Year

I always feel that autumn ushers in the new political year. The serious parties hold their conferences and elected parliamentarians return to work after a lengthy break from mithering, lecturing and dreaming up new ways to tax us.

As well as conferences autumn sees serious local election candidates preparing their latest newsletters and hitting the campaign trail, ready for elections the following May. Even after promising themselves to start campaigning straight after the previous May elections, most leave it until autumn to begin.

Of course the cocky, or maybe naive candidates begin their May election campaigns in April, then blame everybody but themselves when they fail to get elected. But that happens in many cases and is one of the reasons why people complain that they only hear from politicians when they want a vote.

Having my birthday in October I've lost count of the number of birthdays spent at party conferences or other political events. I even spent my 21st birthday en route to the Tory conference drinking Newcastle Brown Ale. But this year will be different. I'll be joining Nikki Sinclaire MEP at her EU membership referendum fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Manchester on Tuesday 28 September, if you would like to join us it's at Central Hall, Oldham Street at 7-00pm. Then, for the foreseeable future that's it, no meetings planned, no conferences to attend and certainly no election campaigns to fight. After over 30 years in politics I need a breather.

My disillusionment started setting in about five years ago. While I've met some fantastic people in politics I estimate that for every one person that reaches a high position in a party, there are probably about three who I would rather not touch with a bargepole. It seems to be a higher concentration in smaller parties for some reason, perhaps small parties attract obsessives. And I speak after spending the last ten years in UKIP then the Libertarian Party. Remember, throughout the expenses scandal little was said of two smaller party MEPs who actually went to jail, Tom Wise and Ashley Mote.

But the electorate aren't blameless in the shambles that is current politics. I have personally leafletted streets for months and months only to have residents claim to have received nothing for years. There are millions of people who moan but don't vote. People who are so incredibly angry about a local issue that you organise a protest, and the usual half a dozen turn up but the moaners stay at home watching Corrie and moaning.

Then there are the party members who turn up to every meeting, especially if there is food and drink around, but are nowhere to be seen when there is real work to be done. But they talk the talk and usually slag off the people that actually get off their arses and do something.

Of course our system works against truly representative democracy, you only have to look at the Frankenstein monster that seized power after May 6th. Even with pots of money smaller parties find it virtually impossible to break through the three party system. Look at the money James Goldsmith threw at the Referendum Party in 1997. So Caroline Lucas was elected in May for the Green Party. But her being elected in Brighton was a bit like George Galloway being elected in Bethnal Green. Hardly typical constituencies. And her great statement to date as an MP? She wants MPs to job share. Wow.

Smaller parties increasingly demand some form of proportional representation. But cynics like me often wonder if they would be so much in favour of PR if they could win an election under the current FPTP system. Or are they genuinely anxious that all parties, even the BNP, get proportional representation in the House of Commons?

Maybe part of the problem is that the line between pressure group and political party has become blurred. The Greens and the environment, UKIP and the EU, BNP and immigration, English Democrats and an English parliament and so on. But the overwhelming majority of people don't vote on a single issue, so they have very limited electoral success. But instead of accepting that, they increasingly campaign for PR, blaming the system for their own failures perhaps.

If we get PR that is likely to create new problems. The smaller parties will still only get a handful of seats, but months and months of haggling could follow general elections with no party having a clear majority. More and more compromise during negotiations could lead to even fewer voters getting something near what they voted for than under the current FPTP system.

The real question that needs asking about PR is whether we want the current system of representative democracy, where governments are formed on the number of representatives elected by electors voting in groups known as constituencies, or would we prefer the numbers to be divvied up on the basis of percentages? Once people have made their minds up on that, then a proper debate can begin about our form of representative democracy.

Either way I see nothing but increasing disillusionment with our democracy, and the smaller parties may find that when the light of electoral success shines on them, the public like what they see even less than they like the big three parties.

Maybe the future for those of us disillusioned with party politics is to campaign within pressure groups to influence the current three big parties. Only time will tell.


Young Mr. Brown said...

Have you decided to leave the Libertarian Party, then?

Gregg said...

No I'm not leaving, just stepping down as Party Chairman and taking a break from active politics.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Good to hear that you are not leaving. And I'm sure every normal person needs a break from active politics once in a while.

Anonymous said...

"I have personally leafletted streets for months and months only to have residents claim to have received nothing for years."

Interesting comment Gregg because my complaint is that I've had too many leaflets over the years and not enough dialogue. I've even been gardening when a prospective candidate has walked past me and stuffed a leaflet through my letterbox without uttering a word.
In fact in 32 years of having the vote no candidate of any hue has ever knocked on my door and asked me to vote for them or canvassed my view on local or national issues.

Gregg said...

That's very kind Young Mr Brown.

Anonymous-I personally knocked on over two thirds of the doors in my ward and didn't just tell them what I stood for, but listened to what they wanted.

The problem is that too few people get involved now to canvass a whole ward let alone a whole constituency. If a few more people stopped whinging and got involved things might change, but I doubt that will happen.

Furthermore in four years on my local council only two people ever got in touch with me as a result of my regular ward newsletters. It takes two.

Don't forget all but a very small number of people involved in politics are volunteers. But it gets fewer as they get slagged off more more by the armchair/keyboard warriors.

By the way, did you say: "Excuse me, I'd like a word" to your prospective candidate? Indeed, was it actually the candidate or somebody who had only volunteered to leaflet because he/she lacked the confidence to knock on doors?

And my line you quoted tells you that I not only leafletted but knocked on doors.