I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t actually any political parties in power at the moment. Labour are in opposition, so are the SNP, the Greens, Ukip, Lib Dems and Tories.
I know the Lib Dems are in opposition, because although they have government ministers and everything, they produced an alternative budget.
I know the Tories are in opposition because although they are the largest party, they won’t stop talking about the mess Labour have made of the economy.
I know the SNP are in opposition because although they control Holyrood, they tell us we are completely controlled by the rest of the Union.
I know Ukip are in opposition because although they have more airtime than any other party, they are the silent majority who are not being listened to.
I know the Greens are in opposition because none of their policies could be implemented.
I know Labour are in opposition because, although they offer insightful critiques of those who make legislation, their policies boil down to “I won’t do it like that”.
It’s tough being a politician at the moment, and I think some of the problem is a culture within the country, fed by genuine corruption in Westminster, that politicians are The Ones To Blame.
The politicians who do well tend to be those who can stay on the side of outrage, disgust, discontent. There is no “appetite” for another LibDem coalition, says David Steel, the SNP have indicated only that they would support a labour government “vote by vote”. No-one is prepared to be in power, other than the two main parties, and they spend their time in power griping at the previous administration. What politicians are brilliant at is incisive analysis of what’s wrong. Getting anything right is a tougher call.
My Dad, who worked as a sociologist (well he called it work…) said that we have gone from being a nation of “belongers” to being a nation of “passive critics”. Somehow in the last twenty years or so, we have become a nation of disgust, whose national psyche is of discontent, outage, dissatisfaction, a culture where someone must be at fault, and it can’t be us.
We are no longer willing to use the political system to make change happen, because we have decided that it can’t, or doesn’t work. “They’re all the same”. This is basically what Russell Brand has been saying, but again his insight is only in terms of what’s wrong, not what we can do about it.
What has caused this sense of disgust, disaffection with politics? Partly, it is simply a sign of a country which is not in great mental health. We are in the dirty end of modernity, and our society is identity-less, ideology-less, faith-less, and many people simply don’t know what their purpose is or who they are. This isn’t a yearning for the past, and it is good that many of those identities and ideologies have gone, but it is true that there is a strange rootlessness about British, possibly Western culture at the moment.
That sense of what is missing is becoming more talked about in our society, which is enough to give hope, but just now, like children in a playground, we find a certain sense of relief in knowing that how we feel is not our fault – it’s someone else’s. The policians/bankers/multinationals/immigrants/Europe/Muslims/Terrorists etc. are at fault for the anxiety we feel. Blaming others doesn’t take away the sense of anxiety (actually I think it increases it), but it gives it a channel.
That discontent with politicians is because we’ve tried them all (mostly) and they don’t do what we want them to do. That’s because what we want them to do is impossible. We want them to make everything right just by us voting for them.
But they can’t. Putting a cross in a box on a piece of paper once every five years is not a great big “Reset The World To Fair” button. If that is our only contribution to community welfare, it works out at about ten seconds a year, and it’s not enough.
And the politicians know it. Which is why they all want to be in opposition.
Changing the country and the world for the better doesn’t begin or end with politicians. The reason Amazon and Starbucks get away with the tax dodges that they do is because everyone uses them. The reason banks make obscene amounts of money is because people use them to get high interest rates. That money has to come from somewhere. Until we are willing to engage in politics in those parts of our lives, politicians will always be caught between big promises and almost no ability to meet them.