Politics and politicians have never been popular, nor are they destined to be any time in the immediate future. That’s a disappointing but inevitable fact of life, and one hardened by the expenses scandal on top of the malfeasance, sleaze and general all-purpose promise breaking of generations of politicians.
(Actually – that’s unfair. The vast majority of politicians are diligent, dedicated and work incredibly hard to serve their constituents. But it only takes one bad apple, and Parliament usually contains more than a handful of rotten ones at any one time.)
But if we’re to aspire to, perhaps, politics being less hated, or even – I’m a dreamer – being respected as a means of changing our country, then there are some ways in which we do our politics that are going to have to change. Those changes will need to be legion – politics is broken in a pretty fundamental way – but today has thrown up two perfect examples, let’s call them “pettiness” and “jiggery pokery” of what needs to be eliminated.
Both sound minor, but both are deadly serious.
First – pettiness. Ed Balls has suggested a perfectly reasonable way in which the debate about Britain’s economy could be improved come election time. Each party (with more than 5% of seats in parliament) would have their manifesto audited by the OBR, so there would be an independent estimate made of the impact of each economic plan. We’d begin to have an idea of which plan might produce more growth, which would lower unemployment and which would pay down the deficit quickest.
Considering the economy is likely to be the battleground on which the next election will be fought, having a better informed electorate sounds pretty damn reasonable and uncontroversial. Tory MP and Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Andrew Tyrie backs such a plan.
But George Osborne opposes it. Out of pettiness. Because he wants to go into the next election attacking Labour’s taxation and spending plans as “reckless” whether they actually are or not. He doesn’t want the electorate to be voting based on fact or independent opinion, he wants the campaign instead to be waged over unverified attacks and politically biased assertion. And that’s his prerogative, of course – it’s how elections are usually fought – but such pettiness is just one reason why the British people have begun to turn their backs on the political process.
There’s an opportunity for the public to be better informed about something as fiendishly complicated as the economy – something which defines their lives – yet Osborne won’t have it, for party political reasons. Petty.
Meanwhile, over in the Lords, another example of the kind of behaviour that leaves the public crossing the road to avoid politicians was taking place, this time over Social Care. After months of the government proclaiming that no-one will have to sell their homes to pay for their care and that their care costs will be capped at £72,000, it suddenly turns out that isn’t true. At all. Many older people will have to use other savings and assets before they’re even entitled to help, by selling their jewellery perhaps or pawning their heirlooms.
Can you imagine how terrifying this whole mess of a debate must be for them? You’ve been told that the government were working on a plan that would allow you to enter care without losing your home – and now it turns out it was the some of mealy-mouthed tricksy not-quite-true bollocks that the public have come to know – expect even – from our politicians.
Is it any wonder that voting levels are down, that trust in politics is through the floor and faith in the power of government to change Britain is on the wane, when the government won’t allow proper debate about our politics, and plays games with the lives of older people?
Shame on them – but shame on Labour too, because sometimes we’re tricksy too (10p tax rate anyone?) and we’re as much to blame for the way people have been turned off politics as the other lot. And pretending otherwise is exactly the kind of not-quite-true behaviour that puts Joe Public right off his breakfast.
A plague on all our houses. And a plague that we – all of us in politics – have to start cleaning up. Quickly. Because there’s an election coming – and the people are (justifiably) angry.