I was lucky. I first voted in 1997. I was part of the revolution that finally demolished the 18 years (almost my entire lifetime) of Tory rule. I even went to a Blair rally! I didn’t sing along to Things Can Only Get Better but I held the coats of those who did. And I have a signed copy. Democracy felt good, felt real, felt necessary. There was fear in the Tory eyes, mine was the only Labour poster in a uni hall of residence full of Tory public school boys… And we won! My poster stayed up for ages. And will we ever forget the face of Portillo?
It’s never been quite the same since. Tony Blair stole the Tory policies and New Labour never looked back. Without a real difference in ethos or ideology between the parties, it was all on the charisma of the leaders and the art of communication. For all his faults, Blair won that battle hands down. He still would. And now…?
Finally it seems there is a difference. First Labour launched their manifesto. I think it was about economics and deficits but I was bored. Brown does not have charisma. Then the Tories launched theirs, and something happened. I heard something different. It’s not about charisma, Cameron is about as vacuous as the power station he launched the manifesto at. It is about ideology.
They want to ‘empower communities’, they want us ‘the people’ to be more responsible for our own government. It’s the classic party division. It’s an ideological difference, an ethos. Remember those? Blair sacrificed ideology to gain power, and Labour have managed to hold on since, claiming to be for the ‘working people’ but really hoovering up the all-important middle-class votes. Now, in the absence of policies that are much different, the Tories have rediscovered ideology.
Ideology is what makes politics interesting. Ideology is what should drive policies, not the other way around. At least with an ideology you and I can argue until the cows come home about how things should or shouldn’t be done in general, because we can do that. What most of us can’t do is argue about whether Capital Gains Tax should go up or down. Because most of us don’t know what it is.
So, finally, we can talk about the election. Winston Churchill said that democracy is a terrible system of governance, but the best one there is. So, do you think local people should have more say in local policies? That means you, by the way – do you actually want more say, will you actually volunteer to help run things or get involved, or is it a good thing for ‘other’ people? I certainly know there aren’t people queuing up to be school governors, Scout leaders, local councillors… Call me cynical, but just as an aside, isn’t this ‘community’ that Cameron trusts to be empowered the same ‘broken Britain’ full of scroungers, illegal immigrants and yoofs on ASBO’s that he always goes on about?
I think the 6 weeks of election indifference just got a little more interesting. We should not be indifferent to ideologies. We should have different ideologies. We should believe in different ideologies. We should believe in ideologies that benefit the poorest people in society, which may not be us. Societies should be judged on how they treat their poorest members. So, which ideology is it?
Postscript: see St Aiden to Abbey Manor blog for what the three main leaders have to say to Christian voters…
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