The opening piece on last nights Newsnight picked up on a theme that had been running all day on the BBC, we are 15 months from a General Election. The Conservative Party has been making statements about spending plans for 2016/17 and beyond, but these statements amount to little more than explaining in very broad terms that they will put right the mess left to them by the previous administration, but until they know what that mess looks like, they really can’t say any more, except that all of the pain will be borne by people on benefits. Their coalition partners are meanwhile telling us that the pain (however deep that will be) needs to be spread evenly throughout society as a whole. Meanwhile Labour are explaining that they will do things very differently than the coalition ‘partners’, but because the Conservatives have not articulated their plans and because we are 15 months away from an election, it is impossible for them to explain what that difference looks like. On Newsnight, the reflective programme of the day, one might hope for a bit more than the other programmes had managed. Jeremy did give a good grilling to Sajid Javid MP for the Government and a bit less of one to Chris Leslie MP for Labour. Then there was a panel, and we had Daniel Finklestein, a Conservative Peer, John McTernan an ex-Labour advisor and Linda Jack a Lib Dem Activist. The panel then discussed what the two men had just said and what the parties had been saying during the day and most of it amounted to very little new or fresh ideas.
I was pleased to watch the piece, in part because my Linda Jack is a friend and I wanted to hear what she had to say. She proved that things were changing when she began her comments with a statement that she agreed with Nick Clegg (first for a long time), and unlike the others was able to articulate a story about those on benefits from her own personal experience. That at least is something we need more of in our Political discourse. However everything else was as though we were looking back to the last election, not looking forward to the next one. The parties need no help in getting their messages out. They do after all get £7M of our money each year to enable that to happen. What about the unknown and unexpected factors. What about the things that are possible, but not necessarily predictable? Clearly the role of UKIP and the Greens is part of that unknown. However it is clear that Politics is changing, or at least that plenty of people are calling for change. If one woman and 4 men, one of whom is from a non white ethnic background are the way that Newsnight want to portray the options for the future, its not a future I want to embrace. I guess at least one outcome was that at least as far as the three parties are concerned, it will probably be business as usual if they are given the same leading roles that they have been given before.
While I was watching the programme and listening to the voices, I flicked through some emails, including one from another friend, someone who like me is not one of the 1% of the UK population who is a member of a political party. It is worth noting that if the programme last night was about the future election, the 5 people in the studio represent only the members of parties that will be bidding for our votes. They were there to talk about what their parties would do if elected. It is only British convention that gives them a voice in excess of the 1% of the people who they actually represent, and denies any to the 99% of people who they don’t represent. My friends email was a link to a New Year message from a charity called NESTA who were making 14 predictions for 2014. One of their predictions comes from Brenton Caffin and that is that we are about to see the emergence of “The crowdsourced politician”. According to Mr Caffin, this year we’ll see the rise of the crowdsourced independent parliamentary candidate. This is not merely wishful thinking or daydreaming on Mr Caffins part, but rather an understanding of what is happening in other Western Democracies. In this case a link to our Antipodean cousins down under. It speaks about local communities working together to decide what they want for their local area and then searching around for suitable candidates, before working to get them elected. At a stroke, the Political Parties become limited to suggesting ideas and issues for the local people to consider, and presumably fighting all the harder in communities where the crowdsourcing approach is not working. I commend it to the House!