Politicians Partying Like It’s 1992
Back in the early 90s, during public distaste for the poll tax, Tory Home Secretary Ken Baker was heckled in the street by protesters while on a political engagement. Employing his smuggest grin – Baker was, of course, famously lampooned by Spitting Image as a slug because smug was his stock-in trade – he pointed at those booing him and said to the attendant TV media “look at them, just look at them!”. His point was to show how pathetic he thought the protesters’ opinions were in the most condescending manner possible, even while the country was almost unified against his government’s policy.
After the 1992 general election, when the Tories were famously rescued from defeat by Kinnock’s last-minute Sheffield grandstanding and John Major’s soapbox man-of-the-people image, I remember Kenneth Baker emerging from Tory HQ in Smith Square in the early hours of the morning and saying “we have listened, we understand” or some such platitudes.
They did to some extent. Major’s government scrapped the poll tax and replaced it with council tax – albeit at a level more than double the rates system that had gone before it (the confusion and lack of transparent comparison had led councils to spend like they’d never been able to before). However, nothing much else changed and the 1997 election saw the Tories swept from office by a landslide. The problem with the Tories was far more deep-seated than the poll tax, they just didn’t recognise it.
Of course, this was back when voters truly believed they had a clear choice. We really thought it would make a difference if we voted for Thatcher or Kinnock; for Major or Blair.
Since then, though, we’ve had our civil liberties systematically stripped away by Blair and a period of boom years where the state had cash to inflate the public sector by a phenomenal degree. Government protected itself from criticism with quangos and state-paid sock puppets which pretended to act on behalf of the people, and its “investment” in state authorities installed nodding dogs in every municipality up and down the country at our expense. During all of this, the EU claimed more and more of the powers over legislation previously decided in Westminster as one directive after another rendered UK politicians fairly redundant in many areas (in my industry for example, transport, in the past 15 years all but one area of regulations – one involving external vehicle lighting – that we are to adhere to is now by order of an EU directive which replaced UK legislation and expanded on it massively).
However, the number of politicians in our country didn’t change, neither did the huge number of spin doctors, advisers, quangos, fake charities, tax-sponging lobbyists, and other bodies whose existence – and the salaries of those within them – relied on regulation and legislation (in fact, they increased and spawned newer versions of themselves).
Fewer and fewer areas for Westminster to lord over us, coupled with a huge state machine designed to regulate in those fewer areas, has led to a toxic situation where these forces are focussed on an ever-decreasing low hanging fruit. An avalanche of political correctness was spawned to control what we think and say; health and safety became an industry all of its own to dictate how we work, rest and play to sometimes absurd levels; and social engineering has evolved rapidly to tell us what we can eat, drink and smoke. Common sense and tolerance died a sad slow death.
In 2010, a lot of voters had had quite enough of this and the diminishing few who continue to vote gave the politicians one last chance. We were promised the Great Repeal Bill, which didn’t materialise; a “bonfire of the quangos”, which left intact those who actually harm the public; and a red tape challenge which has not noticeably improved anyone’s everyday life. Meanwhile, we have seen new legislation brought in which has united both Daily Mail and Guardian readers in condemnation of career politicians, but still they press on.
The last chance then became, for hundreds of thousands, the last straw.
UKIP have just scared the bejeesus out of the three main parties but I see echoes of 1992 in the ensuing reaction. Labour say they need to reconnect with the working man, we can be sure they won’t; the Tories see UKIP as a reason why they must urgently renegotiate with Europe, but that’s only part of the problem; while the Lib Dems seem to think that they’re doing brilliantly!
They all say – just like Ken Baker in 1992 – that they understand, that they are listening. Cameron says that his party “share our frustrations”, but they really don’t while they keep ignoring their backbenchers who actually do. Miliband says his party is “making progress” and must “answer the call for change”, but they won’t. They will, instead, carry on nagging and dictating to us about what we choose to consume while their Welsh counterparts continue to try to ban e-cigs. The vulgar, illiberal Lib Dems will do the same because they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
The life experiences of everyone in this country have been diminished for a very long time now because career politicians simply can’t stop meddling, and the only people who don’t seem to have noticed are the career politicians themselves. The EU meddles – as it is a regulatory machine specifically designed to do just that – but the UK government has been doing extra meddling in its ever-expanding spare time and we have all had enough of it.
Never mind the threat of Ukip, the electorate has been consumed with anger and alienated for years
I can, with some confidence, tell you who represents the majority of people in this week’s elections. No one. Most people will not vote. For all the headlines and hoo-ha of the political/media class, the big story is not Ukip and whether Farage worships Satan in a smoking jacket. The real issue is that people neither know what they are supposed to be voting for, nor see any point in doing so.
They can address immigration and offer a referendum on the EU if they like, but it won’t cure the underlying cancer of a political elite blithely ignoring the public and – just like Ken Baker 20 odd years ago – considering their views as irrelevant. This superior attitude to the people who pay their wages will carry on the moment they next step through the doors at Westminster and Whitehall.
Back in the 90s, the answer to Tory Baker’s arrogant dismissal of the public and his party’s failure to change attitude was to vote for Labour. Now, it seems, the public believe that the only answer to arrogant paternalism from the main established parties is to vote UKIP.
Is it really too much to expect our elected leaders to leave us alone to live our lives as we see fit within the law; and to actually listen to us – not state-funded quangos and lobbyists – once in a while? I suspect that we will discover in the coming weeks, months and years that, yes, unfortunately it is.