Distracted Minds

A cynic might suggest that David Cameron is probably delighted to have to deal with a campaign for Scottish independence, a row with Argentina over the Falklands, and howls of outrage about his plans to transform the NHS in England.

Every time he jumps into a debate on any of these topics he is not talking about the economy.

Likewise, last year’s war in Libya, outrage on his own backbenches about Europe, excitement about royal weddings and jubilees, and the upcoming diversionary fantasia of the Olympics have all captured national attention.

Labour has a “plan for jobs” which involves a £2bn tax on bank bonuses to be spent on affordable homes and employment for 100,000 young people, plus a temporary reversal of the VAT cut.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has improved his batting average at Prime Minister’s Questions since the start of the year, and Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna is one of the most interesting figures in the Commons, but I do not sense that recession-battered families are looking at their party with eyes bright with hope.

The economy is no longer viewed as a machine with clearly marked levers that an elected politician can pull. Rather, we look at economic trends with the same rapt horror with which our ancestors watched lunar eclipses.

The downturn and recession has killed banks, felled governments, and brought Rome and Athens to the brink of social disaster.

Voters know it would be ludicrous to pin all the blame for Britain’s miserable economic state on the decisions of Gordon Brown’s Government; but the flip-side is they do not look to any party for salvation.

Rather, just as hungry serfs once watched wintry fields and dreamt of spring, there is the vague hope that the same mysterious forces which sent the economy into the tail-spin will send happier days.

Rows over the Human Rights Act, changes to public sector bureaucracy and train lines can excite greater passions than sheets of statistics which document social misery.

On a bleak day in Britain, a return to full employment can seem as unlikely a concept as a Beatles reunion tour. But radicals emerge in every generation who articulate hopes and fears and present a vision for change – whether it be Bevan or Thatcher, the Chartists or the Tea Party, frustrations do not bubble for long before change-makers emerge.

This is real politics and it is a dangerous game. There is pain at the heart of the UK and if the political class fails to represent those who are suffering there is the real risk, for better or for worse, they will be swept aside.

A Thursday Column.

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