The decline of the politician: What we can learn from Cash for Cameron
British politics at the moment is in a complete state of disarray. I often don’t know whether to collapse laughing or cry endlessly whilst ripping my hair out.
It’s not just about the cuts to our system being generously dished out by the coalition government, or the unceremonious stripping of our NHS, or the botched budget that takes from the old to give to the rich. I am also referring to the un-ethical behaviour of all our politicians, left, right and centre.
As news broke of the cash for access scandal on Sunday morning I think few people were genuinely surprised by the revelations. Sad proof of how the British public has become used to political dishonour. What got under my skin the most during the fallout of the story exposed by Sunday Times journalists was the reaction of ministers in Parliament.
As Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, addressed the House yesterday afternoon, I had to strain my ears to hear what he was saying over the strange four year old garbling that seemed to be emanating from his mouth. The Conservatives lost no time in making two main arguments: “yours was worsestest than ours” and “well you get trade union funding, which is worser”. Or something along those lines.
The main issue at stake here isn’t whether the Labour cash for policy scandal was ‘worse’ and it is unsettling that the best defence that grown up elected government officials can come up with is “you did it first”. It is completely unacceptable that a government in power cannot or will not offer substantial answers to the questions being posed about something as serious as party funding.
In spite of this, a good point could be heard echoing amongst the poor excuses being thrown about yesterday. Parties have become too comfortable with big donations and have subsequently lost touch with the ordinary people they are supposedly representing. It is no coincidence, therefore, that membership numbers have declined and that a growing part of the population no longer feel an immediate affinity to any party.
Policies and events in recent years have undoubtedly had a massive role to play in this. People have found other ways of being involved in policy decision-making that don’t involve the political parties. However there are some other points to be made here:
Firstly, and most importantly, people are disillusioned with the behaviour of politicians. Politics in the UK is nastier and more personal than it has ever been. It is has become normal to hear one MP badmouthing another MP outside of Parliament’s walls (not that personal jibes are acceptable within those walls either, mind). Politicians degrade themselves by engaging in tittle-tattle, on the radio, in the papers; and using the appearance of the opposition leader against him has become legitimate practice, apparently. This kind of behaviour is what you would expect to find in a school playground not an elected government.
Secondly, parties no longer strive to really connect to their electorate. Who even knows what their MP or local council members look like anymore? I think I may have caught a glimpse of David Lammy in Tottenham once, about thirteen years ago or so, but he has definitely never been on my doorstep.
All the parties need to go back to the basics and really get out there. Bring back door-to-door campaigning in full vigour, hold regular events in local town halls, make themselves more accessible and tangible.
The points of access to politicians at the moment exist on the premise that people are already interested (or that they can afford to pay). Something needs to be done to increase the number of people involved in this country’s politics and this in turn could provide a solution to the party funding question on everyone’s lips today.
The responsibility of a political party is first and foremost to represent and mirror its electorate. The political parties in the UK are fundamentally failing to do this and disgracing their names as they continue to fall short, to the point where us ordinary folk no longer want anything to do with them.