And so the General Election is (almost) upon us. Sadly, in contemporary Britain the announcement of the biggest event in the political calendar is now more likely to be greeted with groans of despair than the healthy anticipation which is a necessary if not sufficient condition for a flourishing democracy.
This time around, the entire political establishment is in a dark place following the expenses debacle. The turnover of MPs is therefore likely to be high. For real refreshment, however, we need urgent reform of the electoral system. As with previous elections, the focus will once again be on the 100 or so key marginal seats where victory is essential for a parliamentary majority. The much-needed introduction of proportional representation would at least make the contest in each constituency vital. Minority and coalition government may not be common in Britain, but neither are they alien as a glance at history or Holyrood will show.
Despite what their leaders say, there are no real dividing lines between the Labour and Conservative parties. Shorn of ideological purpose, each is pragmatic and managerialist in outlook and thus practices a cynical form of ultra-expediency which is intolerant of change to the status quo. In the immediate aftermath of the revelations about the scale of abuse of the expenses system, each indulged in heady talk about electoral and parliamentary reform; manifestos have yet to be published, but don’t expect reform to be given real prominence or be taken seriously.
Equally, after the biggest economic calamity since the Great Depression, instigated by excessive greed in the financial sector, we ought in this country to be having a serious debate about redistribution of wealth. Instead, we have a bank payroll tax which is temporary and a vague promise to introduce a bank levy, unilaterally in the Tories’ case and in tandem with the rest of the world by Labour. To be fair, the Liberal Democrats have tried to promote mature discussion, but this has largely been dismissed by a hostile press.
Unfortunately, the national media’s myopic obession with cuts is crowding out talk not only about redistribution but the byzantine tax system, the power of the financial sector and the imbalance between services and manufacturing – to name only some of the economic issues.
The causes of the weakening of our democracy are multi-faceted and complicated. But one thing is very simple: if we do not exercise our right to vote, there is absolutely no prospect of improvement.