Last week a letter from a local parliamentary candidate came through my letterbox, presenting his plan “to secure a better future” for my city.
In his letter, the candidate told me of how he intended to “support local business”, “create opportunities for all” and work for a “strong society”. Below his own plan came the plan of his party, which aimed to achieve a “stronger, healthier economy”, “deliver the best schools and skills for young people” and “create more jobs”.
It is reassuring to know that our politicians are vowing to work for the benefit of their people, and candidates will, if elected, put their constituents first. Despite the good intentions of politicians, this is exactly the kind of thing that turns the public, especially young people, away from politics.
Nothing distinguished this man from other candidates. None of the ideas on the letter were justified with actual ideas and practices. I am confident that I could open a letter from a rival of this candidate, working for another party, and find the same rhetoric. In fact, I read out much of the letter to a friend, and asked her to tell me for which party the candidate stood; she said he was a member of the rival party!
What we are provided with is a vision that everyone wants – who would not ask for a stronger economy, a fairer society, excellent education? – but this vision is held by all the parties. Every party, from the Labour to Conservative, Green to British National Party, would say that they want to achieve those things. Without explaining just how these things would be achieved, and why a party advocates these measures, how can a voter decide for whom to vote? If anything this only advances the idea that the mainstream parties are all the same.
Politicians no longer seem to promote ideologies and movements. You have to look hard to find advocates of capitalism or socialism, privatisation or nationalisation, religion or secularism, that have something to do with the Houses of Parliament; instead the voices of change come from academia, newspapers and think tanks. The only solid reason for us to say, “Conservatism is the way forward”, or “Liberalism is the way forward” and so on, seems to be the good results that these ideologies will bring about. Politicians give us the impressions of a “better world” without telling us quite how they will be achieved. But if we are only told about the good results – a strong economy, a fairer society – then how do politicians expect the electorate to make a decision?
There must be more to democracy than voting for the candidate or party who promises to give the best results. Suppose you had the mystical power of glimpsing into the future; suppose further that you discovered that a National Front government would turn the country into a land of milk and honey. Would you vote for this party in the election?
Similarly, would you be happy if our prime minister was a member of the Greens, his deputy a Socialist, his treasury full of Liberal Democrats, his ministers members of the British National Party? I don’t think anyone would accept a national government quite like that. Not only would there be internal squabbles galore, but ideologically this government might change the face of the country. But what if it was suggested that this wondrous combination would definitely, without question, lead the country to prosperity and happiness? Would that sway your opinion?
I say that ideology needs to return to politics. It is never the case that the ends will always justify the means.