back to article Election losers? Our clapped-out parties

Here's an opinion you won't hear professional political experts utter today. The political parties came out worst from the election, they failed to inspire anyone, and don't really stand for anything any more. If you think this is remotely controversial, hop over to our earlier article featuring 1965 predictions of the future. …

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Wrong story

>they failed to inspire anyone

Except that turnout was higher than in past elections, so obviously some people (more than usual) were inspired. This story simply doesn't stand up to the facts.

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Grenade

Inspiration takes many forms

A lot of people went and voted because they felt that at the very least, their vote would be used. That they weren't "unengaged". That politicians blaming the public for low voter turnouts is cheap. And of course, if you live in an area where your MP has been fiddling his/her expenses (which most of us do), you certainly wanted to express an opinion on that.

The problem is, there was no box for "they're all scum" in most places. I got lucky. We had an Independent candidate running on a platform of "they're all scum, elect me and I'll actually do some work". He lost of course but then in this seat, the Tory candidate could have been dead for six months and still won. In fact, she'd probably have polled higher due to lack of irritating anyone.

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Headmaster

Pete Fail

http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm

Turnout is the Third Lowest since WW2 - lower

than 1997.

Did they let you out of Special School early today because it's Friday?

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Increase in turnout?

Mmmm up from 61.4. This for an election that was billed as one of the most important in 20 years, and has had all parties busting a nut to get their vote out and the benefit of massive increases in postal votes and the best WEB2.0 that man can devise.

Can't agree with you.

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Paris Hilton

high turnout

probably due more to x-factor/big brother etc etc effect brought on by the tv debates

it breaks my heart to admit it but the article is a fair reflection of where we are at.

we need leaders but the system is only capable of producing corrupt administrators

captain darling said it best...

looked i in my diary this morning, just one word.... "bugger"

paris, cos if we are to be arse raped and robbed by our betters then al least they coud be abit easier on the eye

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Flame

Not so sure about your conclusions

If you were right the turnout would have been miserable and it was actually very reasonable.

I am putting forward another hypothesis. The Nu Labour has succeeded. Yep. The form filling man has won. The committee man has won.

We now have a country where the vast majority of the population _WILL_ _NOT_ _TAKE_ _A_ _STAND_ and this is what this election has reflected in the most spectacular way - top to bottom. Party manifestoes are compromises, positions are compromises, voters vote in a compromise manner. Compromise and agreement of everyone throughout.

Which by the way means that this country as a country is pretty much dead.

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Megaphone

Good point

In 1984 we had the miners' strike. In 1990 we had the poll tax riots. In 1993 we had the Criminal Justice Bill demonstrations and then a spate of anti-road-building protests that started big, and then just sort of fizzled out by the time Labour were elected in 1997.

Almost nobody was protesting against the smoking ban. Even the hardest of the hardcore smokers seemed resigned to their fate. Ever more intrusive surveillance measures are simply accepted with a shrug because "it's all for our own good in the end, isn't it?"

Once upon a time, it was understood that withdrawal of labour was the only effective weapon in the workers' arsenal. You put up with the effect of strike action because you knew that the striking workers were ordinary people, just like you. Today, if any workers dare to demand to be treated a little bit better than something unpleasant found on the sole of a middle-manager's shoe, the public are sympathising with the scabs.

Sometime in the last 20 years, something has died somewhere in the British psyche.

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Crikey!

Bloody hell, Andrew - what have you been smoking? That was all completely rational and made perfect sense.

Playing devil's advocate though, is it possible that today's challenges are just that little bit smaller than those of the 50s and 60s, so the options to fix them are that much reduced, thus resulting in the limited range of ideologies found in the modern parties?

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Alert

UKIP, and 1 million voters unrepresented

>UKIP didn't build on its 2005 success

There's an interesting item buried in the results.

UKIP managed almost a million votes (3%) but won no seats at all to compensate for their leader's skydiving misfortunes.

Alliance Party got just 42,762 votes (0.1%, far far fewer votes than UKIP) yet still managed to win a seat in Parliament.

Which strongly suggests a policy of PR (Proportionate Risk: ie not doing flying stunts in the middle of an election which is loaded against you).

WARNING: Low flying politicians.

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FAIL

This is why PR is SO bad

The Alliance Party got an MP because they dealt with local issues exceptionally well. UKIP were about a national issue, and were rejected on a national level. PR would have meant that the local issues of Northern Ireland were forgotten, instead a national issue that never garnered enough local support to win a seat would have a significant say in a hung parliament (which you would perpetually get). We need local representation. If we want a country-wide vote, the only solution to that is to actually elect our prime minister. That still doesn't help a 4th or 5th place party since they will never get the largest share of the votes. Of course, a prime ministerial election (following national results for the general election) would see Cameron in number 10 already, but having lots of problems getting support in the legislature. The last thing I want to see is like the US where a lame duck president can suffer with insufficient support in either house to do anything.

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Anonymous Coward

the UK has geographical electorates...

... so how many UKIP candidates really present themselves as an /electorate/ MP, with views, opinions, and practical help in their relevant locality? How do they compare in this to the Alliance Party MP?

And, amusingly, the UKIP candidate for Bosworth was called Dutch Veldhuizen -- some kind of Dutch agent to keep the UK out of Europe, perhaps? :-)

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Wrong statistic

UKIP contested 594 seats (i.e. almost all of them), whereas Alliance are restricted to NI where there are a maximum of 18 seats (not sure if Alliance fought all of them). So you probably need to multiply the Alliance vote by 50 or so to get a comparable figure.

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UKIP didn't build on its 2005 success

Well we tried but the big problem I found when canvassing was the scaremongering of the Tories who scared folk off with " a vote for anyone but us is vote for 5 more years of Gordon Brown". I came across many UKIP supporters who held their noses and voted Tory rather than run the risk.

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Anonymous Coward

so don't vote for a Party...

.. vote for an MP.

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@AC

How are you meant to honestly vote for an MP, when you know nothing at all about the sitting MP, and even less about their potential replacements?

Todays manifestos are all written by head office - only the pictures get inserted by the local constituency.

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Easy answer

"If you were a bright young thing, why on earth would you want to join one?"

Why, to reform it, of course!

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I don't think Andrew realises.

Sir Oswald Mosley, ninety years ago, was one of the original "bright young things"

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Not clapped out Parties, but clapped out Party system.

The problem is not with the parties per se, but the Party System itself.

For the last three decades we've been told that "Strong Government" basically means that the MPs toe the Party Line and do what their leadership tells them to, with varying amounts of arm twisting from the Whips office.

Apart from introducing a system like STV where whoever is MP for a constituency actually *has* a majority of the votes, the Whip system should be abolished so all votes are *free* votes such that MPs can represent the views of their constituents to Parliament, rather than telling their consituents that this is how it is because the party leaders say so, like it or lump it.

This would mean that, especially now, no longer would a big party be able to force through any legislation it wants because there can't be sufficient opposition even if everyone else voted against it and the power will no longer be in the hands of politicians "doing deals in shady back rooms" (nor on the decks of someone's private yacht...)

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I second that plus...

I would like to see all MPs elected on their own merrits.

All MPs should vote (in parliament) for themselves (buying votes with the whip should be illegal!).

There shouldn't need to be a "party" in power, and the PM should be any of the MPs, voted for by the others.

There should be elections every year, with 1/4 of MPs changed each time, to ensure continuity and to help prevent parties from getting in and screwing around for 4 years unchecked.

Any MP doing something at the whim of someone else or especially big companies should be viewed as treason (do we still have the rope for treason, or only high treason?).

I can dream...

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Unhappy

Its obvious

that the public's political views are far more diverse than they were in say, the 50's/60's, when Labour v Tory really meant something, the Unions were large & powerful & the Tories were people like Home the Skullman. Proportional voting of one form or another is the only way to re-engage with politics. Many smaller parties deserve some seats, and the big two need their wings clipped. For all the Tories supposed hatred of big govt. they still like the idea of "strong" govt. which is exacly the same in reality. Consensus needs to be forced upon the political class, as the only way they'll ever get anything done. Also a multitude of views would break down media influence, as politics would become more about issues, than tribal support.

The problem now is that the public don't fit into a handy box. Most people are a mixture of left & right wing.views. New Tory have tried to come off fiscally conservative & socially liberal, no doubt a popular stance - but they're not really - Back To Basics, here we come (again) - in fact I fear that for many people, the Tories will actually be a distillation of the worst of New Labour & Old Tory. Ugh!

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Happy

@BristolBatchelor

I think they have most of this in US Congressional politics.

Does that sound like a system to aspire to?

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US Congressional politics

I think that if they stuck up a yardarm and hanged US Congressmen from it when they were caught taking money or other things to push certain policies, it would improve somewhat :) You could even have a rule that retrospectively looks into laws raised under payment.

But to be practical, if there are positions that give power, there will obviously be people attracted to them who shouldn't be in that position. I don't know the solution to that!

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I'd 3rd that plus...

The oldest modern democracy in the world should have the courage to get back to it's roots and remember why it's here and who it serves. By the people for the people.

PR isn't some magical bullet, and isn't nearly as innovative or comprehensive as it needs to be for true political reform.

1. Any contesting MP must have lived within 10 miles of their constituency for at least 5 years. No more prosttuting yourself around for a constituency to run in. Yes Michael Portillo - as one example I was thinking of you!

2. A new legal definition ala "perversion of the course of democracy". Just like it's "Justice" equivalent - any whip would go to prison for attempting to pervert the view of the "jury". As well as any MP knowingly voting or failing to represent (or should have reasonable established) the views of their constituents.

3. Attempting to abstain from a parliamentary vote. This is a failure to represent your constituents.

I have zero expectation that this will ever happen of course. Perhaps we could just have:

"I choose to vote for none of you - you bunch of talentless, unqualified, unimaginative old farts"

as an option at the bottom of future ballot slips that the rest of us can check on voting day.

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Or even better, we could try democracy

I like the idea of MPs being required to represent their constituents, but I think they're only a technological stand-in for people actually voting on issues (look up 'liquid democracy' for direct democracy with rapidly-changeable proxying).

What I'd like to see is:

(1) research towards provable, recountable e-voting (the systems so far aren't good enough, but perhaps there's some undiscovered arrangement of encryption and digital signature that would be)

(2) Education of the public to be ready to use (1)

This leaves the problem that the public might turn out to be collectively too stupid to run a country (especially as a lot of them will follow celebrities), but I'd be very surprised if they're worse than professional politicians. And Switzerland seems to be the nearest to an actual national-scale democracy, and they're not doing too badly, either financially or in happiness ratings. (They even had the sense to stay out of the EU, which may partly explain why they're not doing too badly in terms of finance or quality of life!)

What we've got now is just decoy democracy, and trying to get representative decisions from it is about as palatable is trying to get nutrition by eating a plastic decoy duck.

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Greens etc.

I'm not quite sure why Andrew should be surprised that the Green's share of the vote has declined. What generally happens with all these movements that are focused on one area of public policy (albeit a large part in the case of the Green party) is that the "good" bits get absorbed into mainstream parties, perhaps in a more digestible manner. A lot of green thinking has already been built into the mainstream one way or another - think catalytic converters, wind turbines, stronger environmental controls, recycling, energy efficiency and much else. What the Green party end up with is the more fundamentalist end of the movement which, by definition, is of limited use.

It's really no different from any number of other such movements. Think how Wilberforce got ant-slavery into the UK political mainstream so it became just part of the normal furniture of political life. To that you can add gay rights, anti-discrimination legislation, women's suffrage and so on. Not all of these movements tried to get direct parliamentary representation (although they had their champions).

Nope - the Green Party is a fine for the hard-core tree hugging fraternity in the New Age colony of Brighton Pavilion, but for the average person in the street, many of the policies look frankly as if they have been produced with liberal quantities of mind-altering drugs (especially if defined in Brighton) and precious little to do with rational analysis and no visible grasp on maths or real world economics.

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I...I...

...actually Agree with Andrew O.

There must be horsemen en route.

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Too true,,,

"If you were a bright young thing, why on earth would you want to join one?"

While it might be a bit bold to claim that I'm 'bright', I guess that at 26 I still qualify as a 'young thing'. In theory, I'd love to get involved in politics- I am very much engaged by the idea of performing a public service and trying to improve people's lives.

Unfortunately, I'm so utterly jaded by party politics and the current system that I'd never consider getting involved. While I'm not sure exactly what change is needed, I'd like to see a political world where it's much more possible to get elected on your own merits, and not have to sign up to some giant party whip that tells you how to vote.

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Re: This is why PR is SO bad

"PR would have meant that the local issues of Northern Ireland were forgotten"

Not if we went for AV+ like the Jenkins commission recommended when PR was assessed. You'd get MPs elected on the local issues, and then a proportional vote to top up the house to the popular vote percentages.

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Flame

or...

you'd get minority parties ruling the country forever.

FPTP clearly has faults. The problem is, they're smaller faults than PR.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh yes?

Are you sure about that?

Are you happy with every piece of legislation that's been forced though by majority parties in the past?

Are you OK with ID cards, NHS spine, biometric passports? Or, going further back to a conservative government, how about privatisation of the shipyards and BT or the legal restrictions on union powers or perhaps to original purchase of Trident?

With party voting controlled by the whips and a FPTP system you effectively get a sort of democratic dictatorship.

FPTP only works if most seats are marginal, if you live in a safe seat, but don't agree with the incumbent party then your vote is effectively worthless. Sure PR would likely mean that the wonks would get some power, but if 1% of people agree with the wonks, then that's a price you have to pay.

Of course, you could pick one of the less simplistic forms of PR too.

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title, yawn

I actually agree with you there with the single caveat that I believe it's the whipping system which is the culprit rather than FPTP per se.

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WTF?

AV+ is total rubbish and not PR

AV+ would instantly create two classes of MP - Local and Regional. They'll despise and fight each other.

It's not PR. There's no proportionality about it - it's basically the same as having Local Council and MP elections, where both the Council and the MP end up in the same room.

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Election winners.

British politics wouldn't be the same without all of the lesser candidates. i salute each and every one of them for at least standing. At least they gave it a go.

But for the real winners, i salute the people of Redditch. One less lump'o'lard in the House.

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FAIL

My view

So, the people have spoken. And they've said they have no faith in any existing party in their current form. This

election _was_ a popularity contest; what the leaders and their teams failed to realise is that none of them are popular. What was needed was someone to demonstrate strength, even if it meant making unpopular decisions. Gordon Brown perhaps could have done it, if he'd realised he had nothing to lose and was already highly unpopular. Call a bigot a bigot? Stand by it! Nick Clegg maybe, if he wasn't lumbered with a crap party. And Cameron may make a good politician, but not a good leader. How can the British people rally around any of them? It's been very telling that all their campaigns have essentially been based around "like us, please!". The less said about those daft debates the better. I find myself longing for Blair and Hague again - how bad is that?! Can the next Winston Churchill please stand up! God help Great Britain.

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Unhappy

The Bland are leading the Bland

"I find myself longing for Blair and Hague again - how bad is that?!"

Er... not that bad actually! At least they were (a) fervent charismatic supporters of (b) something you could either love or hate. Even Paddy Ashdown was a fighter (figuratively as well as literally).

Nowadays, the big three remind me of the closing lines of Animal Farm... pigs desperate to stay at the trough and who look much the same, coached in "persona" for fear of being seen as extreme and scaring off the voters.

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Say what?

That Blair was charismatic is hard to deny, but a fervent supporter of ... what, exactly? I remember remarking to an American friend in 1997 that Blair had successfully modeled himself on Bill Clinton - he had no personal convictions whatsoever apart from a very, very strong conviction that he wanted to be PM. It's weird that the first time he actually did something that wasn't just tailored to meet the requirements of Alastair Campbell's focus groups - i.e. invade Iraq - he got it monumentally wrong.

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FAIL

Only 4 countries in *all* Europe have outright majority rule

Greece was one of them.

Stop/go politics -> boom/bust economics (at least it did when the Bank of Englands monetary policy was set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Removing this from government control, and the statutory minimum wage *may* be the only good things Labor is remembered for).

Fail because as other have noted UK ballots have no "None of the above" option.

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Anonymous Coward

Simplest Reform

Politicians should be required to wear the logo(s) of their largest commercial sponsors.

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Anonymous Coward

Hung Parliament ?

Please could we start the hangings now ?

(or shooting or guillotining...)

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The real scandal

Labour does close to nothing at all to its core supporters. Around a fifth of labour votes this time around came from Scotland, who are unaffected by most of the more severe policies of the UK government since they don't affect Scotland.

In fact, if you look at the shares of seats it seems that electorates are more likely to vote Labour for the UK parliament the less the UK parliament can do to them. 35% of English seats, 65% of Welsh seats and 70% of Scottish seats.

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Boffin

@Mycho

"most of the more severe policies of the UK government ... don't affect Scotland."

Rubbish.

The second biggest embarrassment of being a Scot is that half of the country votes labour automatically every time, because they believe that Thatcher was a demon, and completely ignore the fact that they are being taken for granted by New Labour, who give Scotland nothing, particularly since the SNP came to power.

(The _biggest_ embarrassment of all is of course that Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were both Scots, originally.)

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Anonymous Coward

PR and party lists

One of the problems with some versions of PR is that they involve party lists to varying extents. I would consider that party lists would be a greater problem than FPTP, as they give even more control to the parties The parties would be able to control who gets into parliament, rather than the electorate, who can currently reject unpopular candidates that have been parachuted in by the centre.

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FAIL

Displaying your prejudices again...

"The (Labour) party always treated its core vote with contempt, housing them in rabbit hutches, expecting them to be grateful for it, and resenting them when they asked to paint the front door of the flat a different colour. A strain of puritanism in Labour's roots also resented the proles ever having any fun."

OK - I was born in 1955. In the fifties, the new towns were build, with LOADS of new council houses. They were hardly rabbit hutches. I know, I was brought up in Hemel Hempstead, living in a two-bedroom then a three-bedroom council house. A helluvan improvement for my parents over living in a single room in their parents' house.

In the sixties, there were new state schools being built, with exceptional facilities. Again, I went to one, and I visited several others. It's only over the last five to ten years that I've seen state schools again having similarly good facilities. (Oh look - it was another Labour government.)

And as for the "streak of puritanism" - that's just opinionated crap, based on nothing.

If this is what you reckon "treating their core vote with contempt" is, I'd like to see a bit more of it, personally.

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Boundary changes

Having fiddled with the constituency boundaries, Labour got a 66 seat majority in 2005 with 36% of the national vote. The Conservatives have just polled 36.1% of the vote but are 20 seats short.

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Mycho

Could it perhaps be thought that the Welsh and Scottish are getting their own back on the English by wanting to inflict another 5 years of Brown on us?

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No-one canvassed me: how many neglected voters were there?

I live in a "safe constituency".

If it hadn't been for receiving a polling card and the national coverage, I would hardly have notice there was an election at all!

I received 4 leaflets (two from one party) of which 3 were mixed with leaflets promoting local pizza suppliers: and when I got to the polling booth, I found a 4th candidate - minor party, won no seats - who hadn't even bothered with a leaflet!

I looked hard, but didn't see any campaign posters - not even one of the generic Conservative posters "Vote for Change".

I get the impression that some voters were more neglected than others - and that the electorate has done an excellent job: we don't like ANY of their manifestos, and have not voted for ANY of their manifesto bribes (can't call them policies).

Well done all!

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Linux

Local MPs should not be Party MPs - conflict of interest

I posted this the other day in the Cameron/LibDem piece (still awaiting moderation!), but I think it might sit better here:

The basic problem is that we have one vote with which to choose two entirely different things - an MP to represent our community, and a Party to run the country. This results in a party being elected to govern on the spurious basis of the number of communities that indirectly vote for it via their MPs; and in people electing MPs they do not want for fear of electing a party they want even less. We all lose.

The principle of PR is a worthy attempt to resolve this problem, but it just tinkers with the flawed existing framework. As long as constituency MPs are also party MPs the inevitable tactical voting and candidate manipulation means that even the most careful PR calculations will always be based on false figures, and the elected party invariably not the one wanted by the majority of the people.

Perhaps we should be bold and separate these two quite distinct voting requirements and give people two votes - one for their local MP and one for the governing Party. That way each constituency gets the MP that the majority of people locally want, and the country gets the ruling party that the majority of people nationally want, and neither is muddied by the other.

I have no simple vision of how this could work in practice; maintaining a separation between political parties and constituency MPs could be difficult. Perhaps we should vote for a PM/Cabinet combo to run the country, with all the constituency MPs representing the people in Opposition. Such a directly adversarial system of People v Government could be very healthy. It does seem to have the benefits of simplicity and transparency, and does clearly reflect the majority will of the people, both locally and nationally.

Who knows what might happen if the House fills up with MPs wedded to the people rather than the parties?

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FAIL

Who elects the gov, no really?

I agree with this entirely, except for the bit that suggests we shouldn't get rid of parties; I'm not so sure.

The majority of people vote with a party in mind, not out of enthusiasm for the person standing as candidate, although some MPs are undoubtedly popular for their constituency work. Except in the case of independents, candidates are selected by their party, usually by the local party organisation - although with increasing frequency the central offices will impose candidates or shortlists if they don't like the flavour of the locally selected forelock-tugger/lobby fodder. While parties may have fairly large local memberships (or not these days), left or right it is usually a small cabal of approved local(ised) fanatics at the top of the food chain who actually wield the power and influence (not to mention the purse strings); cajoling, smoothtalking or bullying the mass of members into selecting their terribly clever man/woman as candidate. In a safe seat, this person gets to be MP because people will, to quote a friend, "vote for a donkey round here if it's standing for Lab/Tory/LD" The anointed one then gets to ride the great Westminster gravy train till they drop or get a better offer from the private sector.

The number of people at the top of the local party machinery is rather small, and even within that factions will develop, each with its leader, and it is this small number who, in effect decide who the MP for the seat is. In marginal constituencies, each of two parties might have a 50-50 chance, but that merely means you double the small number selecting the MP. If you charitably suggest an average of ten people had any real influence in the choice of candidate/MP (in my local Labour party of 10 years ago it certainly wasn't that many), that gives you 6,500 people as the entire UK electorate responsible for the election of our 650 MPs. Not precisely democracy.

Even if you give the parties the benefit of the doubt and suggest the whole local party apparatus has a shout, that still leaves the other 99.5 pc of the population who are nothing more than a large and rather unattractive fig leaf for the vested interests and ideologcal nutjobs who actually choose our Parliament, which inevitably ends up as an assortment of business/law school failures or former student union leaders, now too old to be synthetically angry.

Personally, I have no doubt at all that if we want anything that actually resembles democracy we should do away with parties entirely, or at the very least reduce them to loose associations based on ideology, with no binding power and certainly no whip. Candidates should be individuals, with their spending severely limited and campaigns funded from the public purse, with business donations given the big finger - unless of course they want to pay their full taxes and/or pay into a blind central fund to pay for the democracy they currently all seem to keen to praise, yet seek to corrupt.

I doubt I'm the only one sick of being given no choice at all.

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Welcome

Vote for change

I did think it somewhat ironic that the Conservatives were the ones with the "vote for change" posters, given what their name is supposed to mean.

Given that one has been trying to claim the middle ground from the left and the other trying to claim it from the right to the point that they are now almost indistinguishable, would a Lab/Con pact be more appropriate?

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Anonymous Coward

Improvement on pre-election stuff

Regards the Greens: much of what they used to campaign for is now prime-time politics. They've done their initial job and should now try to integrate with the main parties to push their agenda.

Well done to Caroline Lucas, though.

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