OK. So let’s suppose the latest opinion polls are right. The support for the Conservatives is growing soft, we are not in for a Conservative landslide and we are heading for a hung parliament.
I think this is what I have been secretly hoping for some time.
There is certainly an appetite for change, which still has the potential to deliver a landslide. Political landslides are bad news. They certainly change the landscape, but they do so by sweeping away good and bad together. What happened with the 1997 election is that you got hundreds of new, enthusiastic, and inexperienced members who knew that they wanted to change the world, but quickly found that that is not what being an MP is about, and they did not have the tools to do it.
The frustration that many people feel with the Labour party now is that it wasted time and did not do the things immediately that they were given a mandate for. In fact they could not. The 1997 victory, like any other election victory that I have witnessed, was a very temporary coalition of people with divergent interests. If the government made “a mistake” it is that it listened and it was sensitive to the opinion of people who had lent their vote, without fully signing up to the aspirations.
The one thing that is certain about 2010 is that it will again bring in hundreds of new, enthusiastic, and inexperienced members. It could if the Conservatives get enough votes to make them believe they have a strong mandate, also be the start of a headlong rush in what I would see as the wrong direction, with Cameron not wanting to repeat the “mistake” of Blair in being too hesitant.
A lot of questions are being asked about why Cameron’s Conservatives have not “sealed the deal” with voters. From what I find on the doorstep, many people do not like the style of opposition. They do not like the constant emphasis on division, the failure to support policies which are good, and the personalisation of politics. They don’t like the “bad behaviour”.
It bothers me too. It is also a puzzle.
It is perhaps unfashionable to say so but I like politicians. I have come from being a complete outsider some 2-3 years ago, to being immersed in the detail of political decision making. I am not there as someone who influences this, but as someone who is trying to understand and help convey the things that are being done. I’ve met quite a lot of politicians now and like almost all of them. I like the fact that they are prepared to grapple with ideas that matter a lot, and which will shape our future, even though these are ideas that most ordinary people just don’t think about.
When you get beyond the annoying bearbaiting of Prime Minister’s Question time, and the set piece debates, when you get down to the detailed work that goes into Westminster Hall debates, the committees, the lords debates and the thousands of questions with which the MPs probe and question the workings of government, then you can see something different. There are many good people who know a great deal and care about the people that they serve, people who take a lot of time and trouble to get thing right.
What impresses me most about the best politicians I know is that they are very good at building co-operation. I live in a marginal constituency. My own MP has always accepted that with his constituency work he has to work with people whose political ideas may not be in accord with his own. This never matters to him. he has the skills to bring people together and help them focus on points of agreement and the practicalities of what needs to be done. It is an impressive thing to see. I would like to see this sort of skill given much greater prominence at a national level.
To my mind the best of all worlds would be a hung parliament, were we get to keep the best of the politicians we already have, there is an injection of new and enthusiastic younger members, with enough good and experienced members to guide them, where everyone recognises that there has not been a mandate to make sweeping changes, and where the emphasis has to be on working with the issues and building co-operation.
If we have a parliament that focuses energy of on co-operation rather than on setting up dividing lines, then I think we could actually get the change that people are looking for.