2010: The Politics of (In)difference and Similarity

Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.

I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.

Cynicism comes naturally after that.

2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking –  although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.

I’m not going to rehash all of last year’s chaos in mind-numbing and spirit-crushing detail, but if you’ve been living in a cave for the last twelve months (and, let’s face it, these days that does sound more and more like an attractive option, as well as probably the cheapest), just be glad that you missed some vintage examples of the kind of truly dreadful political chaos that is guaranteed to give politicians an even worse name than the one they’ve (collectively) already got.

These were less political highlights than the lowest of all lowlights. The breathtaking greed, hubris, and ignorance of ordinary people’s ordinary lives revealed by the MP’s expenses saga (and saga it truly was; Norse mythology has nothing on the endless media dissection of duck islands, moat cleaning, porn films, mock Tudor beams, ‘flipping’ second homes and leaked redacted expenses forms that the nation was treated to for much of the summer of 2009) all but destroyed any remaining trust in politicians and the British political system, and resulted in Michael Martin becoming the first Speaker of the House of Commons to be forced out of office since the 17th century.

Then, of course, to add insult to injury (and partly as a result of the total collapse of the Labour vote after the political farce that was Expensesgate), the deeply unpleasant Nick Griffin of the racist BNP managed to get himself and his equally distasteful colleague Andrew Brons elected to the European parliament in June, followed by a hugely controversial appearance by Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time in October.

The resulting shitstorm provoked less of a political debate and more of an undignified shouting match over what was to be done about the unprecedented electoral success of Britain’s far right and the abysmal state of MPs’ expenses. And, of course, the net result of all this hysterical yelling was… precisely nothing at all. Yet, anyway.

Just like the results of the recent outcry over taxpayers’ money funding bankers’ bonuses.

But, in this General Election year, all the mainstream parties are, as usual, claiming to have the solutions, despite the fact that they are all at the root of the problem in the first place. The Tories, for example,  frequently bang on about ‘Broken Britain’ – a phenomenon which, it must be noted, has its roots in the Thatcherite governments of the 1980s – without acknowledging that it is the political classes who are still the most broken of all.

Except that this fact can no longer be hidden after 2009’s revelations, which publicly demonstrated that all sides of the political divide are equally broken, and equally unconcerned about society’s real problems.

And with a General Election in the offing, all the major political parties should be genuinely concerned about what will happen when the nation goes to the ballot box – and the nation should also be genuinely concerned with what will happen on election day, especially as the spectre of a hung parliament looms large over the possible results this time round.

Despite Gordon Brown’s desperate attempts at placating the nation by dangling the possibility of voting reform in front of us, the reaction to Tony Blair‘s evidence at the Chilcot Inquiry demonstrates how New Labour has lost the electorate.

So who to vote for? An impossible question to answer. Whoever is victorious come election day, it is unlikely we’ll see the expenses system reformed (much), or any likelihood of troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan (let alone peace), or even resolution to any of the myriad problems facing ordinary Britons in their day-to-day lives.

And the net result of this blurring of party policy boundaries is a lack of options and democratic choice for the already fed up British electorate. As a friend of mine recently and quite rightly pointed out: “Voting isn’t gonna be easy this spring”.

It’s no wonder turnouts have dropped when, to the average person, all the candidates appear to have shiny new and suspiciously similar policies and, instead of actually campaigning, seem to spend their time thinking up even bitchier, more vicious ways to discredit their opponents.

I fully expect last month’s rather pathetic attempt by the Tory blogosphere to unseat the Labour MP Kerry McCarthy to be just the start of a protracted inter-party cat fight that will only escalate as the election gets ever closer.

Political satire (such as the rather amusing MyDavidCameron.com website) is one thing, but vindictive, moral-free political bitching – which isn’t just limited to the Tories, by any stretch of the imagination – is entirely unwelcome, pointless and absolutely counter-productive.

The run-up to an election turns Westminster into the political equivalent of the school playground. I can just see it now: young Nick Clegg complaining to the Parliament dinner ladies about those nasty big boys Brown and Cameron who have been saying mean things about his mum, and Nick Griffin being sent to Coventry by the entire school.

The one thing we can guarantee about 2010 is that it will and it won’t be predictable. And if that sounds like a cop out, that’s probably because it is. I’m trying my hardest not to think about what will happen come the election, because, more than ever, this time round any result will be a truly ill-starred one for Britain and the British people.

We really don’t have a viable alternative to the current New Labour disaster zone of a government – because, in the end, this glaring lack comes down to Westminster’s increasingly desperate and counterproductive reliance on the politics of (in)difference and similarity.

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