Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Mediocrity and consensus: the enemies of democracy

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EXPOSED to a relentless information blitz from the Government, I was reminded of the Animals’ 1965 hit We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Sadly, observing the dismal tableau that passes for democracy, the sentiment looks a vanishingly thin prospect.

Despite grandstanding and ineffectual point scoring, there seems nothing thicker than a cigarette paper dividing the two main political parties.

How did we arrive at this depressing juncture? It is the wearying norm to hear the lacklustre Sir Keir Starmer meekly echoing the latest Government policy. Far from seeing his fabled ‘forensic skills’ on display, the electorate have been treated to an abnegation of what a Leader of the Opposition should stand for.

This recent ‘convergence’ on policy is a debilitating and degrading process that erodes the ethos of democratic government. Until the late 80s there existed a notable divergence on policy between the Conservative and Labour parties; some contrasts were ideological, some social.

The Conservatives stood on the high ground of encouraging self-reliance, lower taxes and promoting entrepreneurship while Labour was wedded to state intervention, monolithic industries and the trade union movement.

Interestingly, the calibre of MPs at that time seemed appreciably higher than today’s crop. A number of factors might have given those legislators both substance and credibility – attributes manifestly lacking currently.

Military service is one possibility. Jim Callaghan was the last prime minister to be an armed services veteran, serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Denis Healey saw action in the Army. Whilst Margaret Thatcher did not serve herself, her commitment to the services was well documented and no doubt bolstered by Cabinet colleagues such as Peter Carrington and Airey Neave who had distinguished war records. Despite the ideological chasm that divided them, their backgrounds bestowed on that generation of politicians a world view that defined them and their beliefs.

Military service aside, in all parties there were individuals who had, for want of a better term, life experience. Whether gained from the privations of poverty or from running companies, the experience of working to make your way in life gave these MPs background, principles, beliefs – a credo that would be given respect.

The question is at what point did the political process become so dumbed down and more worryingly, the electorate so disconnected and apathetic?

It is all too easy to think that things in the past were better – this is, after all, one of the privileges of age. Yet the conspicuous callowness of today’s legislators cannot be brushed away by this assertion.

Like many transformations that are noticed with hindsight, so it is with politics. There were undoubtedly clues in the past that seemingly were inconsequential yet aggregated led us to where we are today. Change happened but was too subtle to be remarked upon.

The large-scale transformation has been easy to see. The most obvious ‘seismic’ change was the defenestration of Margaret Thatcher and the willing jettisoning of many of the basic tenets of conservatism that people took for granted. At the same time we ushered in a new political class. It was as if they had just discovered politics and that whatever went before needed denigrating. We were promised that ‘the middle way’ was the dawn of a new inclusive era,  yet we were short-changed with half-baked policies and a tsunami of mediocrity. Serious policy was subverted by sofa cabinet and headline-grabbing initiatives.

Tony Blair promised ‘education, education, education’ and delivered a phalanx of functionally illiterate adolescents. He told us we had ‘24 hours to save the NHS’ but encumbered it with the ruinously expensive PPI. His ill-fated military excursions spoke volumes about his moral compass.

By the end of Blair’s tenure the political die was well and truly cast. The voters were bystanders to a shuffling parade of mediocrity that passed through Ten Downing Street: Brown, Cameron, May and latterly Johnson. Rigorous debate and analytical thinking were cast aside in favour of soundbites and gaffes. ‘She’s just a bigoted woman’, the idiotic ‘Hug a hoodie’, the robotic ‘strong and stable’ through to ‘oven ready deal’ – the list goes on and on.

Yet, far from the public rising as one at the imbecility of it all, they seem content to sit back and ignore what is going on. What will it take to rouse them from their stupefying torpor?

Perhaps when the horror of Ed Miliband’s preposterous Climate Change Act becomes reality they will act – when they are faced with a choice between heating their homes or eating or when their cars are taken away.

The most enervating aspect of political discourse currently is that there is no credible alternative. We will go into the next general election with the same tired choices, the same tired faces, the same tired ideas.

How can we change for the better?

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Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin is a retired media executive who worked across domestic and international media.

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