We are a fickle lot, the electorate - but not in the way you might think. When it comes to changing our mind about issues and then blaming the government for taking a stance we no longer support we are as fickle as can be. Take Iraq - back in 2003 there was mass support for the war (though also those who opposed it, granted). Now it is in the same league as admitting you’re a complete loon to saying you think Iraq has been a good idea. Or the NHS - we all moan about it and say how terrible it is, but you are risking a public lynch mob if you suggest privatising it. Yet we, as an electorate, are amazingly conservative (will a little c, of course) when it comes to voting out a government. In fact, we have only done it once in 28 years! So why is this?
Famously, it was “the Sun wot won it” back in 1992. When Alastair Campbell took over as Blair communications chief back in 1994 he felt that it was at the top of the priority list to court the press and media, Labour did the unthinkable and became best friends with Rupert Murdock. Even more amazingly, there has been the recent bed-in between Paul Dacre at the Mail and Gordon Brown. And what are the biggest issues that the press love to bang on about? The environment, the Iraq war, education, crime and now the EU constitution. Remarkably Labour have a pretty poor record on all of these areas - but it doesn’t matter because they individually have little to no baring on an election outcome and even as a group don’t bring down governments very often.
Take the environment. The Government has signed Britain up to a commitment that 20% of our energy sources will be from renewables by 2020 yet everyone knows they will fail. It is the one area they have been comprehensively beaten by the Tories, yet it has made no difference to the polls. Take the Iraq war - you would have thought that a government that has made such a cock up of a war, borderline lied about taking us there and have taken an absolute daily beating over the whole affair would be in serious trouble. The polls say otherwise. Education is another area - “education, education, education”. Yet our kids are playing truant more than ever, there are allegations that have been pretty much proved that standards have dropped and the media, once again, have given the government an absolute bashing. No change in the polls though. Crime - violent crime including gun and knife attacks are on the rise. The figures are often botched, but the pressure from the media and the public perception on the state of crime in this country has never been worse. Still no change. The government had 24 hours to save the NHS, apparently. We’ve had so many health scandals recently I don’t where to start - MTAS, £12bn computer upgrades, superbugs, the list is virtually endless. No change in the polls. And now the EU constitution and the lack of a refrendum. Everyone wants one. Even Keith Vaz, Mr Europe himself, has called for one. Brown remains tight lipped. The Tories are desperately trying to get one, the media are demanding one. Surely this should be an issue - after all it is said that 80% of our laws come from Europe. No one seems to give a damn though.
So what does it take to have a change of government? Well, I have said many time before (stealing Clinton’s old saying) it’s the economy stupid and I stand by this. It is the single biggest factor in determining an election. What hope is there for an opposition party? The country really has to fall apart before they are taken seriously. I do not think it is healthy for a party to be in power for too long. The Tories went on for at least an administration too long and I fear Labour are heading the same way. I also am very much opposed to electoral reform - our system produces strong, effective government and drowns out extremist views. But I am starting to question this now in this day and age of centre ground politics and cross party consensus. Is it time we did the unthinkable and moved towards proportional representation? It may give the major parties more room to actually come up with opposition policies. Right now Labour are safe because there is no point risking a Tory government as they have little else to say than Labour - stick with what you know, it’s the British way. If the Tories or Labour head too far back to their grass roots (right or left), they will alienate too many people and be hammered in the polls. By trying to not offend anyone, the parties are not pleasing anyone. Taking a risk is no longer worth it. Unfortunately, it is also becoming stale. Time for a radical change?