Don’t mention the election

If any of the parties had a message to make us sit up and take notice, they would be shouting it from the rooftops now.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

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It is not just the UK countryside that is quieter than expected this Easter. An eerie silence hangs over the world of politics, too. It is a silence that speaks volumes about what we can expect once Labour is re-elected.

Ever since prime minister Tony Blair announced that the general election would be held on 7 June, instead of the long-expected date of 3 May, it seems that nobody wants to talk about election issues. It is almost as if a judge had barred the parties and the press from discussing the election in public.

Instead of canvassing for votes this weekend, the politicians are traipsing around the countryside declaring their support for farming and tourism, all insisting that their concern is to defeat foot-and-mouth, not their opponents. Meanwhile, billboards around Britain carry Labour and Tory posters that were booked in advance for the election that never was, silent symbols of a phoney war that now look like makeshift defences erected for an invasion that never came.

In the weeks before Blair announced his postponement, there was a feverish debate about the election. But only, as spiked pointed out, about when it should be held. There was little mention of what such a contest between the political parties might actually be about, no sign of anything like competing visions of Britain’s future. It appears that, once the hot issue of the election date had been resolved, nobody had anything left to say.

The politicians look upon voters like little children, easily distracted and even more easily bored. They do not want to exhaust our short attention spans. So they are trying to avoid raising politics until the election campaign proper kicks off, as if political life was a school lesson that begins and ends when the bell rings.

Of course, this approach makes it obvious that, even once the campaign starts, they will still have nothing to say that is worth hearing. No politician would keep brilliant policies up their sleeve for a month. If they had a message to make us sit up and take notice, they would be shouting it from the rooftops now. Their silence suggests that we can expect an election campaign filled with initiatives, but bereft of ideas.

And after the election, to paraphrase New Labour, things can only get worse. The Blair team is now talking about bringing ‘new talent’ into its second-term government, to implement a bold and radical agenda that will be less obsessed with the media. Yet there has been precious little sign of such talent, or of any bold thinking, since New Labour was elected in 1997.

The notion that New Labour has been waiting four years to reveal its star performers and radical vision is a nonsense. The next Blair cabinet is likely to be made up of even more faceless placemen, announcing round after round of ever-more meaningless action zones, league tables, taskforces, tsars and reviews, intruding further still into every corner of society’s life.

One of Blair’s defensive responses to accusations of inertia is that Margaret Thatcher did not do all that much in her first term, and that the Tory government of the 1980s only really got radical after she was re-elected. There is some truth in the first part of that. Even the groundbreaking popular initiatives of Thatcher’s second term, however, like large-scale privatisation of public utilities, were adopted more by accident than by design. Are we supposed to sit around twiddling our thumbs while we wait to see what accidental initiatives Blair collides with over the next few years?

How about having some proper debate now about the best way ahead to the good society, before we really do get so bored that we fall asleep and miss the election campaign altogether?

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Topics Politics


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