The three main parties go to great lengths to convince us that they are totally different and that only they have the ability to look after the country properly. The Tories have traditionally told us that they will promote efficient small government and minimise the tax burden, the Labour party tell us they will provide for the weak and protect public services and the Liberal Democrats tell us they will protect the rights of the individual. Seems ideal: we have a Capitalist party, a Socialist party and a Liberal party. What more could we possibly ask for?
However if we take a closer look we find that not only are they prepared to sacrifice their principles at the drop of a hat, but that they will also adopt identical policies if they think it will help win votes. Our hard won democracy is therefore reduced to what goodies each party offers. At the same time the more difficult issues are collectively ignored whilst we are being bribed with our own money.
Labour: Well-meaning but a certain route to destruction
The Labour party is rooted in a public sector mentality: well-meaning and virtuous ideas which are self-defeating. Its activists want to see more spending on health, education and welfare. They want higher salaries for public sector workers and more rights in the workplace. Above all, they want to tax the rich and redistribute resources to the poor. All of which probably seems like a good idea to large number of people. However, it simply doesn’t work and inevitably results in the poorest sections of the community being even worse off.
Tony Blair was careful not to advocate this route but he allowed Gordon Brown to accomplish it by stealth: a bit more tax here, a bit more regulation there, all tempered with empty promises to reform the public sector. Above all, the architects of New Labour understand power. The immediate electoral benefits of such policies matter far more to them than the implications for our economy or our society in years to come. Mr Blair adopted the same attitude to the European Union: the personal kudos he gained by going along with his fellow European leaders far outweighed the economic decline and loss of self-government that such plans inevitably entail.
The ‘Old’ Labour of the activist base and the ‘New’ Labour of Blair and Brown thus lead to the same place. On the surface the Labour message is appealing but if we are genuinely concerned about the future of our country and its people we need to face people with reality rather than empty promises.
We will become a third-rate economy with a dysfunctional society and a shell of a government unless we look beyond New Labour spin. Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan in the 1950s claimed that we had “never had it so good” at the very time that we were first starting to fall behind our competitors. Labour spin-masters are now simply copying what their Tory predecessors started.
The Conservatives: An equally certain route to decline
The Conservative party has become ever more inclined to adopt the fashions of the day, especially so under David Cameron. Their shallow politics and faux environmentalism may play well in the media but they will never address the far-reaching changes that our society needs. Despite espousing values that resonate with people on many issues, history shows that the Conservatives will always compromise our future for political gain.
After the war the Conservatives persevered with Labour’s welfare agenda, resulting in so-called ‘Butskellism’ (named after the consensual views of the Conservative minister Rab Butler and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell). The seeds of the three day week, the 1970s stagflation, the IMF crisis and the ‘Winter of Discontent’ were all sown in the welfare state policies of the post-war era. In the post-Suez tunnel vision that afflicted British foreign policy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Tories saw ‘Europe’ as the answer to our problems. While the Conservative party has sometimes been critical of the EU it was they who took us into the EEC and subsequently signed the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. Now Mr Cameron brushes the issue under the carpet.
During Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister complacency and state corporatism was finally challenged. However, many social problems were not addressed and the Conservative establishment soon reasserted itself. In recent years the party has reverted to its post-war role of accepting the apparent consensus and promising not to stray too far from it.
In short, the Conservatives will tax as much as Labour but claim to spend the money more wisely. In other words, they will continue along the same path of decline.
The Liberal Democrats: Oh Dear!
And what can we say of the Liberal Democrats, except that they are certainly not liberals and are quite unconvincing as democrats. They cannot be compared to the classical liberals of the nineteenth century who believed in a progressive and free society built on shared values, self-restraint and personal responsibility. Today’s so-called liberals feed on the group rights culture alongside a high tax and spend philosophy that pays lip service to economic viability. Their plans to raise taxes and environmental levies would cause yet more damage enterprise whilst failing to tackle the enormous and unsustainable public sector. Not only does parliamentary democracy not figure highly in their plans, Westminster would almost be irrelevant in the Liberal Democrat world of multi-layers of government doing the bidding of the EU and the UN. If the Liberal Democrats ever became anything more than a protest vote, then they would undoubtedly cause great damage.
The present choice for the voter is indeed a poor one. All three parties have polished their vote catching skills at the expense of principled leadership and each party, in its own way, has given in to the view that Britain is now, and will remain, an irrelevance in the bigger picture. None of the parties can stop our decline and none of the parties can help us measure up to world class economies.
So who is to blame?
Although here is growing distrust of politicians, it is matched in equal measure by apathy and self-interest. Voter turnout may be falling but this does not prevent the usual suspects from using the same old tricks to win elections. Although many people realise that the unremitting breakdown in our self-reliance, our skills and our society cannot continue indefinitely, a significant number apparently could not care less. At the end of the day we can hardly criticise politicians for using spin if it continues to work for them. Despite our obvious decline, we have totally failed to hold our politicians to account. It will only be when we demand to told the plain truth that politicians will be compelled to put their cards on the table.
Until then we will indeed be stuck with Hobson's Choice.