This is my piece in todays Argus – let us challenge More of the Same in our political system: In the current period of reflection as the general election campaign ends and the vote takes place and we find out what the true result is, it seems as though public opinion has been changing. Whatever the outcome of the election, speaking to people around the UK the reputation of Sussex has been impacted significantly by the growth of the Sussex Progressive Alliance. Rightly or wrongly this is seen to have been centred on Brighton and Hove and the willingness of certain parties to withdraw candidates here and elsewhere has raised many questions about the way in which campaigns are fought. There is a cost to parties withdrawing candidates from the election due to the way in which funding from the public purse is handed out to parties in opposition. By fighting fewer seats, they will receive less ‘short money’ which is a high price for them to pay. The reason for tactical campaigning is primarily caused by our antiquated first past the post system which the Conservative party actually want to extend to Mayoral and PCC elections. First Past the Post is a system that rewards dominant parties and so it is no surprise that they want to extend its provision, what is fascinating is that they begin the paragraph in their manifesto stating “we will continue to modernise and improve…” and then they promise to extend FPTP and abolish the fixed term parliament act. The party is not called Conservative for nothing!
In the lull before the result is announced it seems easier to think outside of the box. This time next week by usual standards we should have a new Government in post. That said in 2010 the discussions needed to form a coalition changed the usual electoral timescale and some of us are hoping for a similar outcome with perhaps a different set of actors now. This is despite the fact that as I write Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to contemplate any form of pact or deal if there is a hung parliament. The leaders debate was both a big news story and also a rather tired way of engaging people at the same time. The failure to attend by Theresa May did not prevent the Tories from participating, and so the dynamic was largely what one would expect from putting 7 people on a stage and asking them to outshine one another. The reality is that we need to find creative ways of understanding more than the sound of voices and visual impact made by these people. Jeremy Corbyn who himself only agreed to participating in the debate at lunchtime on the day in question has refused to be drawn on pacts or agreements, but if the televised debate was crafted in a way that enabled a level of thinking outside the box, the possibility of the public seeing how certain party leaders would perform if forced to work together might spur on some voters to change the box they put their cross in. It would have been interesting for instance to see what the outcome of discussions that involved Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas, Angus Robertson and Leanne Wood in finding common ground amongst their parties and indeed the areas of difference. In the next Parliament these four parties have the potential to hold a great deal of influence if they work together along with any Independents and other small parties. It is perhaps time for us to look for a new less adversarial way of viewing politics and for these parties to lead the way in a more constructive way of creating legislation. That really would be a way of modernising and improving our political structures.
On the theme of adversarial politics I had the privilege of chairing a hustings event ten days ago organised by YMCA Downslink Group and One Church. It was a great event that was targeted at young people and people from other marginalised communities in Brighton and Hove. As well as allowing time for the candidates to address the room as a whole and speak from the front we also ensured that there was an opportunity for those present to have informal small group discussions with each of the candidates. The lack of a Conservative representative was disappointing but the impact of changing the focus from an Us and Them to small groups where everyone got a chance to speak and be heard by the candidates pointed towards a form of politics which if translated into the national picture could lead to different outcomes from those that the adversarial debating chamber in the Palace of Westminster achieves. The need to hear all voices and to extend, not limit the way in which opinions are counted is vital as we attempt to move democracy out of the 19th Century. This is particularly true if the Tories do win on Thursday as they have made it abundantly clear they won’t lower the voting age.