Westminster Sees Red and Plays the Blues

Parliament escaped the 2009 expenses scandal without angry crowds torching Westminster but there is a sense politics remains broken.

UK Labour leader Ed Miliband was in Wales at the weekend with a message that his party had to change and open up to the public. He said that in the past big decisions had been taken by “less than six” people on “a sofa in Whitehall”.
Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has chaired a review of party structures and with unblinking clarity his consultation document describes how the party lost touch with millions of voters.

The Conservatives are also aware that radical change is needed if the party is ever going to win an outright majority – though members may disagree strongly as to whether the solution is a shift to the left or right.

Christopher Shale, a friend of the Prime Minister who died at the Glastonbury festival, had prepared a memo in which he warned there was “no reason to join” the party and “lots of reasons not to.”

In the immediate term, we are likely to see even greater concentration on the handful of hyper-marginal seats where Westminster elections can be won and lost. David Cameron and Ed Miliband may regret the disconnect that exists between their parties and the wider electorate but unless there is a coup – and Labour does not go in for ejecting leaders mid-term – it is all but certain one of these men will become Prime Minister.

Mr Miliband has yet to set the world alight but successive seasons of strikes, library closures, and disintegrating pavements may be enough to convince voters it is time for a change. While he lacks Mr Cameron’s visceral delight in the challenge of charming a room full of strangers, he has the rare ability among politicians to listen to questions and engage thoughtfully; several years spent touring WIs, colleges, local radio stations and the like may be enough to build a public rapport.

But in each of the two main parties there is a hunger for a connection with the “common good” and a purpose in politics which goes beyond election-winning. Both the so-called Red Tories and the followers of “Blue Labour” want to rekindle excitement about community – the notion that we want healthier and happier neighbourhoods and not just bigger TVs in burglar-proof living rooms.

A search for values and not just votes is underway, the like of which we have not seen for at least a generation. This transcends the left-right division and shows that while our politics may not yet be repaired, there is great cause for hope.

A Thursday column

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