How not to run a political party

Warning, the below is a rant. Feel free to ignore it 🙂

So IDS is out, and the Conservative party are having their fourth leadership election in eight years. Nicely done. I don’t know enough about the candidates to make any kind of judgement as to their abilities (although I bet we’ll see that Michael Howard / Jeremy Paxman clip shown a fair few times in the coming weeks) but it seems likely that after two youngish leaders they will elect someone older and “more experienced”. The problem with this is that they’ll most likely be anti-europe, anti-gay and generally projecting exactly the same image the conservatives have been for the past twenty years. A commentator on the extended 6 o’clock news this evening said “the world has moved on, but the conservatives haven’t”, and that’s arguably true, but hides what I think is a deeper problem, not just with the conservatives but with politics in general.

This is one of my things. The sniping that removed IDS from the leadership has all been for the same reason: “we think we have a better chance of winning the next general election without him as leader”. My argument would be that while a leader has to project an image, people are more bothered about what you’re actually going to do when in power. Everything is about ‘removing the labour party’ and ‘getting back into power’ and that’s not the point. Surely they should be trying to do the best they can in coming up with ways to run the country, instead of the petty, childish behaviour that puts so many of us off politics altogether. The labour party are often no better. Ministers often spend far too much time telling saying how much better their policies are than the tories, rather than explaining exactly how they’ll help in the grand scheme of things. Case in point: public transport.

Conservatives: Public transport is no better now than when you came into power. You’re crap
Labour: Well you sucked more, we’re having to clean up your mess
Conservatives: No, you’re just rubbish
Labour: No, you were.
Conservatives: Well, you smell
Labour: Well you go like this [sticks fingers in ears and skips around house of commons with tongue sticking out]

Ignoring the last two lines, the only way for anyone to have any opinion on public transport is whether you happen to be a labour supporter or a conservative supporter, there’s no evidence for either side, just vast amounts of commons time devoted to pointless insults.

The behaviour of MPs in the house of commons is below the level acceptable of children at school. Yelling out in agreement; stamping of feet; trying to drown people out; booing for goodness sake. Most people my age take no interest in politics, their opinion of politicians being only just above that of black-widow spiders. This sucks for many reasons.

Children today are the best educated and most well-informed of any generation, yet they are being put off politics because of the behaviour of politicians. Politics is interesting, anyone who’s watched a West Wing can tell you that, but all the ridiculous attachments obscure the importance. When an important issue comes along, like the Iraq war for example, it’s far easier to incite ill-informed people into action by using the dislike of politicians as a lever. I’m not trying to give any opinion on the war, but I heard friends of mine saying how much they hated George Bush, and how sorry they felt for Saddam Hussein. There was no attempt to back this up, it was just the Way Things Are. A man responsible for the deaths of over a million people is more worthy of respect than the President of the US. Whether you agree with the war or not, this is not the behaviour of intelligent people. A dislike of politicians means a lack of interest in politics. A lack of interest in politics leads to a lack of understanding of the reasons behind the way the world works. Complex issues are reduced to single sentence soundbites, on the basis of which people decide their opinion. “What do you think of a european constitution?” “The US has a constitution, and I don’t like the US, so I say no”. “What do you think of the war?” “Innocent people die in wars, and I think George Bush is thick, so I don’t agree with it”. There has to be an understanding of issues before people can give opinions on them. A melodrama-obsessed media doesn’t help. But I digress.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for IDS. He was elected leader, yet had to endure months of behind-the-scenes backstabbing. They even went after his wife to get at him, for crying out loud. He was not removed because of his policies but because he wan’t charismatic enough (incidentally, what’s the point of being elected by a countrywide vote of conservative party members when you can be removed by a MPs confidence vote?). He did nothing wrong other than be himself. Had they attacked his policies, it would have been more reasonable, but they did not. To think that the tories accuse labour of being image-obsessed.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think politicians are stupid. The vast majority I’m sure are very intelligent people, it’s just the method of doing things that I don’t agree with. Politics is a fascinating and important thing. It should be something worthy of study at school, something we all want to play a part in (if you need convincing, try reading some of Tony Blair’s speeches – whether you agree with him or not the issues raised will make you think). Going after the man rather than the policies has not only sent the conservatives even lower on the popularity scale, it has served to make politics seem even more derisory to the young.

Yeah, I know I can be called naive for wanting the squabbling to stop, but I prefer to think of it as hopeful.