Why are journalists (TV or press) so poor at asking UK politicians the right questions? Sometimes it takes a forum like ‘Question Time’ on TV, for voters themselves to ask the right questions to the politicians on the panel. Even then, the politician has to represent all the views and ministerial portfolios of their party, in a quick two minute answer.
General Election Result
From the General Election result in the UK on Friday 9th June, two things were very clear if you look past the spin. Firstly, the country is incredibly divided – witness the 2 main parties respective vote shares. And the resulting number of marginal seats all over Britain.
And secondly, a 7 week electoral campaign period was worse than no campaign at all. Clearly, no party had enough time to deeply communicate its ideas, policies and vision for the UK to the voters. Following a 7 week campaign and the carrot of free tuition fees (under Labour), British youth turned out in record numbers to vote – the record turn-out being a victory for democracy. But did the youth really understand what they were voting for, being novices on; the election process, the party policies and the globally inter-dependent World we now find ourselves in. The same could be said about many veteran voters.
The basic electoral system in the UK needs to switch to a proportional representation system, instead of the first-past-the-post. After all, if it’s good enough for a Brexit referendum and local government elections, it ought to be good enough for general elections too. Some examples of the problem: (1) The SNP at the 2015 general election polled roughly 50% of the vote, but gained 56 of 59 seats! Equally UKIP gained about 4M votes (80% of the population of Scotland) but only 1 seat in the UK parliament.
More generally, people’s vote in a safe seat with a huge margin, is essentially worthless. However, their vote, if it happens to be in a highly marginal seat, is massively influential.
U-turns in office
Politicians need to formulate clever and effective policies that fix big problems and are easy to communicate to voters. Once formulated, the party in office shouldn’t then be doing U-turns on those promises.
If any kind of coalition government is formed, U turns are inevitable, in order for coalition compromises to be reached. The best chance of avoiding coalition outcomes (policy U turns) is to have proportional representation.
Where’s the honesty in the debate?
The level of honest debate in UK politics needs to massively increase, if we are to heal the social divisions and cure people’s cynicism of politicians. In life outside politics, you can’t make sensible decisions based on lies. So why do voters tolerate so much spin from politicians, on something as important as running the country?
Politicians don’t create jobs, except indirectly in state-owned enterprises and government departments. Even then, they take no enterprise risk and put no personal investment into those enterprises. Politicians lie in taking the credit for job creation and what’s worse, take the public’s appreciation away from business start ups, large businesses and not for profit employers – the ones creating tax receipts, jobs & futures for the citizens. Maybe we need a series of fines that politicians have to pay personally (to charities or food banks) when they are caught out in a lie?
Honest debate isn’t just about avoiding lies. It’s also about making realistic assumptions. Can any party realistically govern in a hung parliament situation, let alone negotiate Brexit? How much tax can really be collected from the super rich? How much can social services be cut, before the social fabric is lost forever? Are some benefits better provided by charities. rather than by central government (charities are apolitical and experts at grant making)? Is trying to create a balanced annual budget by trimming public spending (often labelled as austerity) inherently evil and uncaring, or is the problem more about the taxes collected not getting through to the people who need it most? Can nationalised utilities and local bodies really run things like companies and schools better for the voters? Can a free health system with massive staff shortages cope without some kind of rationing of its services? Can a home country really become independent and still expect to side-step their share of the national debt/keep the Barnet formula subsidy/keep using the old currency? Will massive public borrowing for big infrastructure projects really pay off tenfold? How likely is it that workers ,will move to other parts of the country where the job vacancies are?
A final thought. The World is growing more complex and more inter-connected far faster than political systems and career politicians can adjust to those changes. As the complexity rises, voters go to the polls armed with less and less understanding of what they are really voting for – they focus on party values rather than manifesto implications.
The only real solution to that trend is voters choosing to educate themselves on; economics, global trade, technology, law and international trade.