August 2, 2022 7.00 pm

John Marriott: What happened to our political system?

Can opposition parties bring about the change they want?

It’s quite a while since I ventured an opinion on The Lincolnite. Besides Barry Turner’s heroic occasional mansplaining it would appear that, for many residents of the county, politics is an indulgence they wish to avoid.

Given all the problems we are facing at present, who can blame them? Changing the world isn’t something on which many folks appear to be keen at the moment. In any case, as far as Lincolnshire is concerned, business as usual appears to be business as usual.

With the possible exception of Lincoln City, there appear even now to be slim pickings for any political party other than the Conservatives in any of the county’s seven parliamentary constituencies, especially now that UKIP’s work appears to have been done.

As someone, who grew up in the 1960s I suppose I take my political credo from the words of the late Bobby Kennedy, the younger brother of JFK and, like him, the victim of an assassin’s bullet: “Some men (remember, ladies, his words were uttered some sixty years ago) see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not”.

Since the Tory government took us out of the EU, much has changed in our lives. Brexit has finally happened, although it is clearly far from ‘done’. COVID has been confronted but is still with us at present in a less harmful form, Boris Johnson has been defenestrated and now our new PM is about to be chosen by around 160,000 Tory Party members, considerably less than the 14 million (just over 43%), who ‘chose’ their PM in the 2019 General Election. The turnout then was a tad over 63%. So you do the maths and work out what actual support that party and its Leader got nearly four years ago. (I reckon it was around 31% of the whole electorate).

So we have, in percentage terms, a government with the support of under a third of those entitled to vote, making decisions on our behalf with no apparent forward plan other than to cut taxes and blame Johnny Foreigner for all our present difficulties. To cap it all, we are about to have yet another new Prime Minister, whose mandate to govern is based on their ability to woo the faithful. As Mr Spock might have said to Captain Kirk; “It’s politics, Jim; but not as we know it”.

In theory, as Barry Turner has written before, we actually go to the polls in a General Election to choose a Member of Parliament. However, I would bet that most people prefer to think that they are voting for a party to form a government. Many also identify that party with a single person, hence the current beauty contest being played out for the benefit of Tory Party members.

I agree with Barry that it’s time we stopped trying to ape the USA in pretending we have a presidential system, because we don’t. However isn’t it also about time that we developed a political system, which reflects modern needs rather than those of the 19th century? I’ve made it clear in previous articles what I think we need to do to drag our politics kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I’m not going to go over old ground again.

I suppose, when the next General Election comes round (which ought to be sooner rather than later, especially now the Fixed Term Parliament Act is no more), the choice for most people would traditionally be between the Conservatives and Labour. The answer to a Tory government being a Labour government makes about as much sense to me as the recent quote from a spokesperson for the Nation Rifle Association in the US that; “The answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Yes, of course the Labour Party has to be a major player in an anti Tory riposte; but not, to use another NRA analogy, “the whole shooting match”. That for me and I reckon for many other pragmatic voters is the dilemma for all the non Tory parties. How do you make your vote count in a system weighted against pluralism, where people still crave black and white when we live in a multi coloured world?

Please don’t base your judgement on coalition government just on what happened between 2010 and 2015. Despite the Cameron/Clegg government’s faults, given what came afterwards, if I were asked to choose which half of the decade I would be prepared to relive, it certainly wouldn’t be the second half!

Individually, the opposition parties would find it hard to bring about change, even if they sought to do so; but, working constructively together, they might just be able to do it. They miserably failed the unity test in 2019. Will they learn the lesson for next time, or will the largest minority, whether blue or red, prove triumphant again?

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.