“Have the people given up on politics or has politics given up on them?” asks Janet Daley in today’s Sunday Telegraph. She writes at the end of the week that saw UKIP (“a party that will never form a government, and that has vilified all the plausible governing parties”) come second in Eastleigh, and a stand-up comedian ‘Beppe’ Grillo win the balance of power (a privilege he says he will not exercise) in the next government of Italy.
So why are voters moving away from the mainstream? For Daley, it’s all about choice. Or rather, the lack of it as Tories, Labour and Lib Dems converge around a mythical ‘middle ground’.
We hear a lot about the middle ground these days. As politics become more professional, more centred on the Westminster bubble and more detached from the real world, the middle ground has become a kind of holy grail for politicians and pundits.
Everyone wants to be on the middle ground, it seems. But It’s a strange-sounding place. Where ideas don’t matter, only impressions. Where nothing but consensus counts – and anything off the mainstream menu is considered unthinkable and extreme.
The middle ground is an insult to voters’ intelligence – and it’s sucking the life out of politics. If our political classes wonder why we’re staying away in droves, just consider what’s on offer on polling day. More of the same – differentiated only by the colour of the rosettes. And – as if to distract us (or keep themselves interested) – a background drone of manufactured outrage, posing and low-level scandals.
As Daley concludes (before moving onto US politics: another uninspiring example showing that every unhappy polity is unhappy in its own way): “Democratic politics is about choosing between differing political options: without significant meaningful differences between parties, the democratic process is pointless.”
So – as National Conversation pilot confirmed – if we want to rejuvenate democracy in the UK we need politicians to get off the centre ground, and give people real choices