Commons people don’t speak for common people
After the local elections, the handful of people in Britain who still take an interest in party politics – a few hacks, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Ed Miliband’s mum – started hotly debating what the results revealed.
Was the hike in Labour’s fortunes a sign that Britons have had a gut-full of Cameron’s posh-boy austerity and want ‘social democracy’? Was the drubbing received by the Tories evidence that they should stop banging on about stuff like gay marriage and talk about horses and hounds instead, in order to re-engage their old blue-rinse backers?
Are the LibDems a spent force, or is it possible they will recuperate once they’ve driven a stake into Nick Clegg’s heart and buried him beneath 40 tonnes of concrete?
Those were the questions on the lips of the inhabitants of the Westminster Bubble. Desperate to decipher what message the electorate was trying to send to the political class, these politicos pored over the results and carefully totted up the ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’. Which is a bit like watching a massive car crash and then having a heated debate about the skidmarks left on the zebra crossing.
To follow these elections with polite chats about what policies the parties should pursue next is to overlook the fact that the elections were a metaphorical pile-up for the entire political class, a disaster for all of them, from Cameron to Miliband to all those political hacks whose overexcitement about the elections was matched only by the public’s indifference to them.
There were no winners, only losers. The elections revealed, in glorious Technicolor, the utter isolation of the political class, and the fact that the vast majority of Britons have now switched off from politics to do something less boring instead. Lots of people are talking about the ‘gains’ made by Labour. “Labour deserves to be cock-a-hoop,” said an excitable Polly Toynbee.
This only shows how desperate Labour supporters are for some good news. Because, in truth, even Labour’s vote, despite being the highest of the three main parties, revealed the crisis of legitimacy now swirling around the political class.
The reason Labour should apparently be cock-a-hoop is that it got 39 per cent of the vote. Sounds half-decent. But bear in mind that overall turnout was a measly 32 per cent. Do the maths and it turns out Labour was voted for by just 12.5 per cent of all eligible voters. To put it another way, 87.5 per cent of us – otherwise known as ‘the mass of society’ – did not vote for Labour.
The Tories and the LibDems fared far worse. Mash together their percentage of the vote with the overall turnout, and, for shame, the Tories were voted for by only 9.9 per cent of the electorate and the LibDems by just 5.1 per cent.
This is extraordinary. Think about it. In these elections, 90 per cent of the electorate did not vote Tory, and 95 per cent did not vote LibDem. And yet these two parties govern Britain. Has there ever before been a government that has enjoyed such a paltry, insignificant mandate from The People?
All the unending commentary about what the voters were trying to say to the political class overlooks the fact that the vast majority chose to say nothing at all.
In total, 68 per cent of the eligible electorate stayed home. They gave the entire political clique – the parties, their local representatives, their policy proposals – the cold shoulder.
By far the largest force in British politics today is not conservatism or socialism or liberalism, but meh-ism – the public’s point-blank refusal to take modern politicans seriously.
The easy explanation for this state of affairs is to say that the public is apathetic, that they’re too lethargic to peel themselves off their sofas to go out and vote. In truth, the problem is not the public’s unwillingness to engage, but the political class’ failure to give us anything of substance to engage with.
It is their dumbing down of politics, their replacement of ideology with personality, the fact that there is now not a cigarette paper’s difference between the main parties’ political agendas, which has made people switch off.
The people have deduced, pretty wisely, that politics is increasingly something done by Them, by tiny cliques of well-connected movers and shakers, and has little to do with Us, the man or woman in the street.
What these elections revealed is that Britain is now governed by an oligarchy, by cut-off sects of mutual back-scratchers and PR men who are as far removed from the populace as it is humanly possible to get.