As a young politics student, it is the standard cause to believe that apathy has gripped the nation. We are taught this in textbook after textbook, being reinforced come election day when the turnout is once again disappointing. However, this narrative has become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and one which we all must step away from.
People aren’t apathetic about politics, or political parties. Indeed, the general populace remains as politically active as ever before. On issues from immigration, to security, to the economy, and the NHS,; everyone has a view, and most are even willing to share it. The real problem seems to be the illusion that the political parties are the same. It wasn’t always so, not long ago there was a deep ideological battle in British politics. The right versus the left, the working man versus the super-rich, good versus evil, and competence versus collapse. These titanic battles, made the parties seem like polar opposites. The parties went through a period of assimilation. Labour, after their third election defeat, decided that change was needed. The Conservatives were rather the same. After 2005, they knew they needed a change to survive.
However, the parties are now very much different. The period of assimilation is over, and while they both fight for the centre ground, they have radically different views on how to win these votes. The fiscal spending plans of the Conservatives and Labour are tens of billions apart. It is now not only a question of how much they spend, but on where the parties spend their money. Miliband believes the centre has shifted to a critique of rampant capitalism. The Conservatives believe people want responsible government.
Labour’s transformation from centrist party, from the left, began well before Labour’s election winning juggernaut, Tony Blair, came onto the scene. Indeed, moving to the centre was an idea pioneered by previous leader Neil Kinnock. He was the man who hired Alastair Campbell, he was the man who professionalised the media side of the Labour Party, and he was the man who launched the policy review in 1987, which questioned the left wing policies of a party which was electorally bankrupt. He was the man who challenged Tony Benn, the left wing of the party, and eventually helped change the face of the party for decades to come. Blair, with his ‘third way’ politics, the abolition of clause 4, merely cemented this change and adopted a party-wide strategy. It was good for over a decade, until the financial crash of 2008 destroyed, rightly or wrongly, their economic credibility.
The Conservatives decided that a radical change was needed in 2005. While Labour’s majority shrunk in 2001, and in 2005, the Conservatives didn’t effectively challenge Labour’ electoral dominance. Even in 2005, was well after the beginning of the Iraq war, the popularity of which was reaching catastrophic levels. Boris Johnson’s book, while mainly about his constituency activities, also talks about the desperation of the Conservative party. Michael Howard’s campaign centred on immigration, and he couldn’t get rid of the stereotype of the ‘nasty’ party. This is something which still remains.
In 2005, the Conservatives elected David Cameron, the antithesis to Michael Howard. Cameron was young, vibrant, and energetic when compared to Michael Howard being older. Cameron had modern ideas on what Conservatism actually was. He was socially progressive, for instance, he believed in gay marriage, and has long advocated for the Big Society. Michael Howard was all for civil partnerships, even allowing for a free vote on the civil partnerships bill in 2004. However, gay marriage was a step too far. David Cameron hasn’t had such a divisive attitude on immigration, although more recently he has adopted a more traditional conservative attitude.
People aren’t apathetic; they just want to see that clear divide again. While it is staring them in the face, they cannot see it. The rhetoric is different, rather than talking in simple, bold terms, Miliband and Cameron speak in parliamentary jargon. If the parties want to win their supporters back, they need to simplify their message. They need to reconnect themselves with the people. Only then will they realise the potential of this representative democracy, and its people hungry for a cause.
By Sam Mace, Senior Writer for Daily Political View.
Twitter: ( @thoughtgenerate)