ANALYSIS: Politics isn’t boring. But contemporary politicians, paymasters, and media electoral coverage conspire to make it more boring than a termite on steroids

Why Britain’s main Parties are committing slow suicide

Peter Jukes noted on Twitter yesterday that a famous commentator on Westminster is ‘bored by the election’. Justifiably, Jukes asked whether the columnist should bear any of the blame. If you watch the coverage on Sky – even more so on the BBC News channel – you can see why the author of fine books about the hacking scandal thinks it’s a chicken and egg thing. I don’t watch TV election news any more, because of this sort of mularkey:

Interviewee: …and so you see, we must pay more attention to what’s going on in ClubMed, bec…

Anchor: ….I’m sorry Mr Twizzlestick, we’re going to have to cut you short there because the Prime Minister’s car has just arrived in Downing Street, and so we’re going over live right away….what’s the news there Perry?

Roving Reporter: ….WILL YOU FOR FUCK’S SAKE GET THAT FAT WOMAN OUT OF THE, SORRY? OH, RIGHT,…haha, well as you join us here live in Downing Street, the PM is pulling over at Number Ten after an exhausting morning with Cobra and then an analysis session with the Chancellor, so let’s watch now as he gets out of the car….

Anchor: I must say, he’s looking very fresh and up for it….

RR: Yes, absolutely, and you can see there that he’s opened the door himself and is stepping onto the pavement where he’s now waving to the crowds here….I’m just getting a little closer, good morning Prime Minister, Peregrine Fingers, BBCNews, can you tell the viewers, have you been for Number Twos yet today…?

However, I have to say that in my view, the chicken is the political system and the unreacting silent egg is the result of its unwise sexual intercourse with the corporatocracy. The ‘popularity’ of the two main Parties – and the system itself – is now winding down so quickly, in the real world it would be wound up…without the money both Parties get from interest groups and rich donors keeping it (and them) afloat.

In the early 1950s, the Conservative party had 2.8 million members, and the Labour party 1 million. But Labour could also call upon several million TUC members donating indirectly through their Union bosses. Today, the Tories have just 60,000 fully paid-up members, Labour maybe 70,000 tops…and the Trades Unions were decimated under Thatcher – a trend which (naturally) Blair didn’t reverse.

Both the Greens and Ukip are catching them up fast: the Green Party is now the fastest-growing Party in the UK, having gone from 27,500 to 42,300 in the last year alone; and of course Ukip is still doing well at 42,000. But the SNP is the biggest Party by members in the UK – at 93,000 – and the LibDEms (traditionally a Party of local activists) remain the only UK Party that has been at a fairly steady 40,000 plus since it was formed.

I have two insights to offer on these figures. The first is that the activist Parties with something new and exciting to say attract more members. Whether one agrees with their view or not, this suggests very strongly that it isn’t politics that’s boring – it’s the stranglehold of the bickering duopoly who never have anything radical as an idea on offer that people might find attractive….and the growing certainty amongst many voters that they don’t GAF about the ordinary UK citizen. To state the blindingly obvious, Ukip would never have got off the ground without that strength of feeling. (Ukip is now attracting more Labour deserters than the Conservatives).

My second observation is that, when viewed by relative Party membership, the ridiculously unrepresentative and pro-oligarchy voting system we have in Britain comes into very sharp focus indeed. It is of course a debatable issue as to whether votes cast out of habit are worth more or less than strength of feeling against injustice. It seems constitutionally obvious at first that electoral support should rule the roost. But should it? What about (a) the disenfranchisement of those who would vote ‘None of the above’ (b) the bribes available via policy and budgets to ‘buy’ votes (c) the tiny amount of thought applied to the vote by habitual supporters, and (d) last but not least, doubts about the sobriety of those who vote in General Elections?

I first raised that last point in 2010, and since then Britain has become home to an even more steadily-drinking population. While both previous administrations have been playing the tune that shows alcohol consumption per capita falling by 14% in the UK, that basis is meaningless: some people drink 1 sherry a year at Christmas, some drink five times the recommended limit every day. Binge drinking among the young has dropped hugely – but dangerously steady, more-than-healthy drinking has gone up amongst the over 50s.

The lie is given to the per capita figures by other compelling stats: in the last decade, alcohol-related primary hospital admissions have risen by 41%, and alcohol-related secondary admissions have risen by 176%. Binge drinking twice a year never killed anyone: but steady drinking kills the most: 78% of all deaths from liver disease do not involve drink-dependent abusers.

Based on the stats of those who drink at lunchtime and in the early evening on the way home, it remains a statistical near-certainty that roughly 1 in 14 voters is anything from tipsy to plastered when they enter the polling booth. That might not seem like much, but it’s 7% of the electorate; most elections since the War have been decided on a far smaller percentage than that.

In my experience, most activist wonks are not among those I’d choose to have lunch with, but even so, with more new ideas and more real choice, more people would vote if they thought their Party stood a chance. FPTP voting systems discourage that view…and thus support oligarchies. I think, as I get older, that there is a far better case for other criteria beyond votes alone going into the mix we call ‘representation’: given that most of us aren’t represented at all in contemporary British politics, this idea is far more likely to do good than harm.

Perhaps I digress: whether they like it or not, Westminster MPs are less and less popular, trusted or exciting than they used to be. Another dimension for judgement is PMQs. Here, the research offers a startlingly obvious clue.

Qualitative research shows that many people assume the PMQs bunfight is how Parliament works all the time. When told that it isn’t, they’re usually either sceptical or amazed: “Why in God’s name would they want to show off their worst side on live television?” A spin doctor’s response to that would be “The ratings darling, the ratings…it’s good television”, but that really isn’t any kind of answer: it would be be an odd client that approved a 30-second TV commercial showing his brand to be largely unfit for purpose.

In a quantitative audit last year, only 5% disagreed with the statement ‘there is too much Party political point-scoring instead of answering the question’. 67% of respondents thought the Prime Minister evasive at PMQs. A third of all those interviewed said PMQs actively put them off politics, and three times as many (48%) thought MPs behaved unprofessionally during the sessions. Seven out of eight people disagreed with the statement that PMQs ‘made them proud’ of Parliament.

While these findings don’t surprise me one jot, they are nevertheless a dataset of which our legislators should be ashamed. But that’s the thing with MPs: their behaviour in the Chamber is shameful, and their corrupt misuse of power for their own ends shameless. It is therefore piddling in a force 9 gale to expect anything good whatsoever to emerge from “shaming them”

For the record, just to conclude, contacts in the advertising business tell me that ‘regular’ weekly ratings for PMQs almost never exceed 3% of the population.

That said, somebody should be giving the Conservative Party thorough analyses of these data – rather than the sloppy preparation one has come to expect from both Camerlot and the Ed Miller Band – because they do not look encouraging at all when it comes to the Party’s future.

Conservative Party membership is massively skewed to the 60+ age group. But while 54% of all Brits claim to have viewed some part of PMQs in the last year, the figure amongst 18-24 year olds is a mere 35%. In my youth, it would’ve been the other way round. Baroness Thatcher’s theory that depoliticising the young was “a good thing” may turn out to have been a bad idea…even for the Tories. The Conservative Party is now the fastest-declining political Party in the UK. So it is perhaps not surprising that, the less representative it became – and the least likely to attract the money of ordinary citizens – the more it has come to depend upon cuddling up to the dubious devotees of neoliberal social theory and Bourse economics. As the bankrobber said when asked by the Judge why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is, your Honour”.

The Future for the Labour Party has an equal potential to be bleak. If Scotland does secede from the Union, Labour will instantly lose 41 seats. But if the SNP’s high ratings in relation to the May elections are anything to go by, they’ll lose thirty of them anyway. Power in what might one day soon be England – or no power at all once the Scots leave (and their Westminster MPs cease to exist). That isn’t so much a rock and a hard place as a dead-end and a cul-de-sac.

I see a number of potential horrors in these and other scenarios. In particular:

* The more the large UK Parties bleed to death in terms of support, the bigger the temptation will be (as global fiscal and economic collapse approaches) to declare some kind of spurious state of emergency sufficient to hide their lack of democratic mandate….backed up by force: be it water cannon or an EU army.

* Equally – if and when all things eurozone unravel – the more Ukip’s influence will grow. The Conservative Party has already been hijacked by the fundamentalists like Hunt, Hammond, May, Gove and David: a deal with Ukip might perhaps airlift us out of an EU disaster…only to land on Planet Boris. And on that world, neither the Rule of Law or equality before it are a consideration.

There is but one element of the 2015 British General Election about which one can now be sure: confusion. This will be the result because:

1. Effectively, the two major Parties are like banks being bailed out: they can continue ad nauseam with their own minority bubble agendas, with nothing to fear.

2. Half the population won’t vote. As to why, see 1. above.

3. Britain as a Kingdom is not united, and Europe is not a Union in any meaningful sense.

4. Apathy on a wide scale has broken out, because young voters especially are cynical about the chances for real change.

5. ‘Professional politician’ is an Orwellian term that has come to mean ‘amateurism fuelled by inexperience of mainstream real life’.

6. There is far too much bent money swilling around inside the political process.

7. There is far too little emphasis in our education system on being an active member of the community with the discernment to question received truths.

Yesterday at The Slog: Why the future is no guide to the past

27 thoughts on “ANALYSIS: Politics isn’t boring. But contemporary politicians, paymasters, and media electoral coverage conspire to make it more boring than a termite on steroids

  1. In addition, the combined share of the popular vote of the ‘big two; at General Elections is in slow but steady decline.

    2010 66.6%
    2005 67.6%
    2001 72.4%
    1997 73.9%
    1992 76.3%
    1987 73.0%
    1983 70.0%
    1979 80.8%
    1974 75.0%
    1974 75.1%

    etc etc etc

    As it stands, this years General Election will probably see the ‘big two’ drop below 65%.

    This is almost certainly because both have moved into the centre ground and compressed it, thus pushing more and more people to the fringes.

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  2. If you are in a Conservative/Labour/LibDem stronghold your votes are wasted, the only votes that count under the FPTP system are in the marginal seats.

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  3. 1970 89.5%
    1966 89.9%
    1964 87.5%
    1959 93.2%
    1955 96.1%
    1951 96.8%
    1950 86.1%
    1945 83.9%

    Incidentally, since the end of WW2 at least (and possibly since three and more party politics began), no party has ever got above 48.8% of the popular vote, nor above around 42% of the total registered electorate.

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  4. I accept that this is anecdotal, but you may find it interesting.
    A couple of sisters I know very well, (late 40’s) were out in town with their father ( late 70’s). They were collared by pollsters who were trying to gauge the voting intent of the three of them. Father is a strong and vociferous ( I’ve been Labour all my life), kind of chap. All three said they would be voting Labour.
    I know for a fact from conversations with the sisters that they intend to vote Ukip. They have [unprompted], put forward very direct grievances against the Labour party which are not being addressed by Milliband, and they find the Ukip message more acceptable to remedy those grievances . The broad feeling is that *since Blair*, there has been NO working man’s party in existence to vote for anymore. And this is evident in that whichever green benches you look at, it is a ‘sea’ of posh boys from Eton and Oxford who have never done a day’s work outside Westminster.
    Here’s the thing.
    Ukip have been so demonised *by just about everybody*, that many voters are actually fearful of acknowledging (in front of family and friends), that they are looking to vote Ukip. The sisters had no intention of stirring the wrath of their long time Labour supporting Dad in front of him.
    In the privacy of a ballot booth, I am convinced that a great deal more folk will put their mark against Ukip than pollsters imagine, even though they will do it secretly, and likely deny any affinity to Ukip later ? There are indeed a lot of apathetic voters out there, but there are also a lot of very angry people, who despise the smug ‘red/blue binary’ metropolis SE based establishment.
    I think there are going to be a lot more ‘pitchforks’ than the pollsters have accounted for?

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  5. Oops! looks as though the pressure from Brussels to adopt PR will have some beneficial effect. Never thought I would write a syllable in favour of the EURSS.

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  6. When I was young and foolish I was against PR on the grounds that it made government weak. Now I realise that the weaker a government is, the more difficult passing legislation is, and consequently the less of it there is, the better off we are. Of course it is now far too late, we are already ridiculously over-governed and over-legislated. Worse we are primarily governed by regulation rather than statute. It does not help that that government operates not in the public interest but in the interests of its stakeholders, a list in which the general public make no appearance, on the one hand and in the interests of an eventual World Government on the other.

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  7. Very true Indigo. The conversations I have with my white working class neighbours/friends (pro UKIP/Le Pen etc) and the middle class liberals I work with are stark. I know when push comes to economic shove I know which group would be the most reliable.
    People do care about things that are important and will vote. Look at the million people who signed a petition to “free Jeremy Clarkson”.

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  8. So the polls aren’t worth a toss?

    This sort of person – that says they are voting for an ‘acceptable’ party when in fact they intend to vote for one they feel embarassed about admitting to, are referred to by pollsters as ”shy-tory’ or ‘shy-UKIP’ etc. It’s one of the reasons why the tories traditionally do better on the day than polls taken the day before suggest and Labour the exact opposite.

    Sample ‘weighting’ by the pollsters removes some of the error, but UKIP are very much an unknown quantity as this is the first time they have put a concerted effort in at a GE. Some behind the scenes polling suggests that although nationally they are around 14%, because they are largely irrelevant in Scotland, Northern Ireland and most of Wales – and with the ‘shy-UKIP’ factor, they could possibly be running at around 19% in just England.

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  9. I.A.T.L.
    In answer to your question above. Last May the EU elections were under PR, and the council elections on the same election day were FPTP. Ukip created shock waves in both elections [which shocked even the pollsters !]. Ask any LibDem.? After those elections, Ukip voters have scented blood. They know that they can and are, making a difference.
    Most Ukip voters ( including me), would be horrified at the thought of a Ukip government. But fortunately, that is not going to happen. This is about tugging the ‘establishment leash’, to put the fear of God into them, and let them know we’re still here, that we’re very pissed off, and want *true democracy* back, not the establishment red/blue musical chairs that they have forced upon us for two decades?

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  10. I did this out of interest. If we abolished the House of Lords and made the current Commons system (constituency) the new Upper House and introduced a PR based Lower House of 500 Senators based on Regional PR (the only fair way) then that would equate to England 420 seats, Scotland 45 seats, Wales 25 seats & NI 10 seats. Their regional allocations by party, based on the 2010 GE, using the standard 5% cut-off would be somewhere around

    England*, C 180, L 130, LD 110
    Scotland C 8, L 19, LD 9, SNP 9
    Wales C 7, L 9, LD 5. PC 4
    NI SF 3, DUP 3, SDLP 2 UCU 2.

    That would make a 500 seat Senate C195, L158, LD 124, SNP 9, PC 4, SF 3, DUP 3, SDLP 2, UCU 2

    *(you could go even further and regionalise England to give an even better balance)

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  11. Oh but politics has to be boring … the punter turns away as the politican puts their hand in your pocket once more and as it turns out not always grabbing coins in some instances. Boredom along with reality TV is the biggest distraction going making it “all the easier to thieve from you”.

    In their economic game as the money people have in relative terms compared to the size of the economy and with so little of it sloshing around “there thieving behaviour becomes more noticeable”. A single penny on the floor, if taken it’s gone a million pennys steal a penny nobody in fact notices.

    Simple summation …

    We have a seriously contracted economy, very little real growth where every penny can be counted because their are so few and the behaviour of the elitist criminals is blindingly obvious that they resort to boring you to sleep.

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  12. Can’t agree IATL. While there are is any form of political party system your vote will not count, not in any meaningful way at least.

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  13. We have a seriously contracted economy, very little real growth where every penny can be counted because their are so few and the behaviour of the elitist criminals is blindingly obvious that they resort to boring you to sleep.

    Is it not the case that because of demographics and a few other things, we actually have to grow at 2.6% just to stand still and anything less than that is actually a decline.

    In short, we have been declining for years and will continue to do so until beyond 2020 at the earliest.

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  14. Who would want to be a member of any party?
    They are all getting worse, any party that has pushed for PR and ‘list’ candidates should be banned for being undemocratic.
    Both Labour and Tory Central Offices are imposing candidates on the local branches. We are getting further and further away from ever having decent candidates at elections. They will soon make it impossible to stand as an independent.
    Don’t be surprised if voter turnout drops to 40%, and the people start to think of using other means

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  15. Yep!.Proportional Representation.Did wonders for Hitler (check it out),& before him,for Lenin,Great idea.!.Now,about those gas chambers/shots in the back of the neck……

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  16. No!.Your vote does NOT count,because the party that you vote for can put up ANYONE on it’s list & you can’t get them removed,because they are part of the party & are loyal to the party.That’s why professional politicians love PR.They can spend all their lives being politicians & never have to answer for the consequence of their bad decisions.Because the PARTY will cover for them.

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  17. As my wife’s grandfather used to say…”If your vote was worth anything, they wouldn’t give it to you”
    Here in NZ, we have PR voting (MMP) – 2 votes, one for the electorate MP, and one for the party. Over 5% of the party votes guarantees a seat. Usually works – coalition governments, slows the sods down, but, last election, the ruling party scared the stupid electorate so much, those that voted put them in with an overall majority!!! (voter turnout lowest since 1890!)

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  18. Spare a minute if you do bother to vote…….
    The ‘administrators’ note down the number of your ballot paper to your name….
    Ergo – it is NOT a secret ballot, as your vote can be recovered from the archives if the ‘authorities’ believe that you have an agenda, and need to build a case against you.
    QED.
    ps I don’t vote for corrupt monkeys, incompetent muppets or jackboot fascists, so I don’t vote.
    So the people get what they voted for at the end of the day.

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  19. Instead of standing on their own principles both parties have tried to take the middle ground. They have become over reliant on focus groups telling them their policies instead of actively campaigning. In ‘safe’ seats no one will come near you. UKIP on the right and SNP on the left are surplanting the parties. A warning from history, the Liberals, prior to their current debacle torpedoing election hopes, had been the major opposition party. When the Labour Party became organised, had policies that resonated with voters, the Liberals were finished. Both Conservative and Labour could find themselves being annihilated between this GE and the next. And would that be a bad thing?

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  20. Pingback: John Ward – Analysis : Politics Isn’t Boring. But Contemporary Politicians, Paymasters, And Media Electoral Coverage Conspire To Make It More Boring Than A Termite On Steroids – 23 March 2015 | Lucas 2012 Infos

  21. Pingback: John Ward – Sketch : Fear, Loathing & Media Ignorance In Berlin – 24 March 2015 | Lucas 2012 Infos

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