SEVEN DAYS LEFT.
I’ve been hugely busy with stuff outside politics (which makes my retirement in around a week’s time even more pressing), interviewing Alexander McCall Smith – the author behind the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novels -sipping tea from a china cup in the vestry of a rural church. The experience was so soothing, so lovely – like meeting a genial hybrid of Michael Horden and Roald Dahl – for a while the whole election slipped away.
Luckily, the guest reporter who covered the last two hustings, Tom Roberts, has sent me a good piece of editorial on his view of the election, what politicians don’t say and why we’re all a little bit to blame…
As a quick game the other day I walked down the high street and asked people to sum up politicians in one word. This may have been a mistake. Several hours later as I climbed out from under the heap of four letter words, that I would be remiss to print here, I believe I found our consensus.
In the words of one woman who didn’t even need to slow down her mobility scooter to give an opinion: “LIARS! THE WHOLE BUNCH OF ‘EM.” As she drove off into the distance at an astonishingly slow pace I considered her accusation. The sad reality is, she might have a point.
Politicians broadly speaking (that means not you Mr Shapps) are not what we would normally consider liars, they are rarely silver tongued figures spinning a web of untruths designed to entice the electorate (admittedly Blair is an exception). Instead politicians become liars by omission, telling us we can have it all and rarely mentioning the downsides. This almost always becomes more obvious in the run up to the election where we see manifestos promising we will reach the stars without mentioning the cost of the rocket.
An example that is consistently brought up (usually by me) is the Conservative welfare cuts. These we have been told stand at £12bn but where they come from is anyone’s guess. We can assume, given the ludicrous extension of right to buy that this will be from hoped housing benefit reductions but this is far from certain. In fact it raises the question of why I have to guess where these cuts are coming from at all, surely we should be told.
To go broader, recently the IFS released its report on the manifesto promises, unsurprisingly no party got a passing grade. The Conservatives fared worst with a £30bn gap between their predictions and their promises, Labour, despite its new claims of fiscal responsibility saw a £1bn gap. Meanwhile the SNP, the largest party promising an end to austerity, have delivered a more austere budget than Labour. How are we supposed to make an informed judgement in this environment when the rhetoric runs counter to the facts?
The simple answer is we can’t. This country’s unceasingly negative attitude towards its politicians is fuelled by the fact we can never be sure what we’re voting for. Whilst every party promises the world and fails to deliver we will continue to see
people flee major parties to instead cast a protest vote, beyond all else this is what’s driven the rise of UKIP.
UKIP however, despite claims to the contrary suffers from many of the same issues, in their manifesto which they proudly tell us is “cost certified.” They have assumed EU trade remains a constant despite our exit, a claim that is dubious at best. A recent review put the figure as high as £244bn.
However, all this blame cannot simply be thrown at the feet of Politicians, tempting as that may be. We have to accept that the electorate has fed this behaviour. In the social media age of sound bites and click-bait it’s easy to get suckered in to listing off the benefits and hiding the costs. For the best example yet we can look back a few years at Cleggmania.
Nick Clegg promised us free tuition fees, cuts to tax for the poorest, and a fairer economy. These promises turned the Lib Dems from a protest vote into a political power but also sowed the seeds of its collapse. It turns out, it’s easy to promise everything when you don’t think you’ll win. It’s far harder to deliver it.
It says a lot that the leaders with the highest approval ratings have all never held power.
So how do we solve this? That too is difficult, but the easiest solution is to get involved. We can’t hold Cameron or Miliband to justify their largesse as they are kept safely tucked away from such questions. So instead we have to challenge our local politicians, boring as that may be. So please, go forth, attend your hustings, and to channel the spirit of Paddy Ashdown: “Let the bastards have it.”
Since I wrote this there’s been some exciting news, Danny Alexander has returned to the Lib Dems. After becoming infamous within his party for going “native” having spent his time in the treasury becoming slowly more enamored with Tory fiscal policy to the extent that the Lib Dem Glee Club (something else I can’t believe exists) sang a song about it….Oh, Danny boy. Oh for God’s sakes. The other day however he rediscovered something long lost in the world of the Lib Dems: a spine. Following the conservatives constant refusal to say where cuts will come from he decided to point out how costly they could be: £1650 and up for the average working family, an aggressive limit on child benefit, and complete removal of support for the parents of teenagers. Well found, Danny-Boy! TOM ROBERTS