Saturday, 25 April 2015

Has Cameron Ruined Politics?

A lot of people assume Britain's political disillusionment stems from Tony Blair's New Labour project. For example, Peter Oborne says "something went horribly wrong with British politics in the 1990s. The modernisers drained the meaning out of political engagement". Certainly, Blair was slick, and his Iraq lies did incredible damage to public trust. But maybe it's the Cameron era - not the Blair era - which really ruined British politics.

1. Cameron's Era Is The Era Of Uniquely Negative Politics

Most governments in postwar Britain have had a mission. Atlee built the welfare state; Macmillan carried on with massive Keynesian housebuilding projects. When Thatcher came to power, although her slogan was "Labour Isn't Working" - this wasn't all she had to say. She was quick to offer and promote an alternative solution: freemarket neoliberalism. Then Tony Blair swept to power with a similar, new vision: neoliberalism fused with welfarism. A neoliberalism with a bit of heart. We'd still let corporations trample all over you with grindingly low pay. But we'd give you tax credits to make up for it.

But Cameron is rare in that he has offered us no positive vision. He has instead offered us only criticisms of others. No other PM would make criticism of his predecessors his main message throughout an entire 5-year government. No other PM would think "There Is No Alternative" is an encouraging and vote-winning slogan. No other PM would still be shrieking in the 2015 debates that "there was no money left" in 2010. No other PM would have used his final speech in Downing Street to fire shots at Labour again, saying he is "turning the country round" after the Labour chaos. Any other Prime Minister would be talking about where we were going by now, not just ranting about how bad it had been. No other Prime Minister would have used the same speech to attack an imaginary "economic chaos" under Miliband. No other political campaign would have made the top EIGHT out of EIGHT stories on its website ALL about the terror posed by the SNP - and forget to include any of their own actual policies.

Cameron is the UK's first entirely negative politician. It seems to have had some effects...

2. Cameron's Era Is The Era Of Woeful Cynicism

63% of us think they will "say anything to get to power".

3. Cameron's Era Is The Era Of Small Parties

In 1984, only 2% of people supported a party other than the big three: Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. . By the late 1990s, it averaged around 4-5% of people. By December 2005, when Cameron took over as Conservative leader, it was at 7%.

Then, under Cameron - as he preached that There Is No Alternative - millions more have decided that there should be an alternative. As the graph shows, the proportion now supporting a non-mainstream party has soared to 27% last June, and 24% now. 

Rise in support for parties other than Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Source: Guardian/ICM

4. Cameron's Era Is The Era When No Party Is Popular Enough To Win

Partly because of the rise of small parties, the Cameron era is the also era of coalition governments. Don't mistake this as a sign of increasing dialogue - it is a result of the fact people are so cynical and negative about politics that not one single party can get as much support as even John Major got. 

All the non-mainstream parties - UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the Trade Union and Socialist Congress (who field 130 cadidates) and Yorkshire First (fielding 14 candidates) and Socialist Labour (fielding 8 candidates in Wales) - present themselves as radical alternatives to the traditional politics. That's why they produce posters like this:

Surprisingly, 4 out of 5 UKIP voters think that the gap between the richest and poorest should be the government's top priority - and the fact they produce these posters - strongly suggests that the rise of small parties is an anti-establishment movement, one borne out of the prevailing disillusionment that the right-wing press have so carefully fostered. The graph above could be interpreted as a crude measure of increasing disengagement, dissatisfaction and disillusionment. It represents the failure of any party to gain substantial support. This is the decade of mass lowering of satisfaction with the status quo. 

It's hard not to wonder if it has something to do with the man so negative he uses "There Is No Alternative" as his inspiring slogan.

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