One of the delphian truths of modern democracy is that voter perceptions are often far removed from ground realities: ‘Liberals’ draw their lineage from a founder and first prime minister, Viscount Palmerston, who was a manifestly illiberal gun-boat diplomat and pure-blooded imperialist; successive Whig and Labour governments have an enduring record of entrenching protectionism and cronyism, from Victorian Opium Wars, to the safeguarding of 21st Century tobacco interests; whilst Edmund Burke, the progressive founding father of modern Conservative philosophy, was a century ahead of his time in his tireless championing of human rights, with more recent Conservative governments democratising home ownership, undermining City cliques, and legalising gay marriage.
The distortionary reality of policy cycles – as opposed to the contiguity of political cycles – further skews professed or alleged administrative legacy: Margaret Thatcher is still blamed for the deferred symptoms of the Britain inherited from her predecessors, whilst the recently dissolved coalition government will long be tainted by the after-effects – and painstaking correction – of Labour’s ruinous patronage of public finances.
In the same vein, the widespread use of food banks is synchronically used to vilify ‘heartless Tory’ polity, despite first proliferating during Tony Blair’s second and third, and Gordon Brown’s first terms.
Today’s food bank ignominy is a perpetuation of Britain’s Blair-Brown endowment, as well as the product of a now organised food bank sector better equipped to relieve long-established demand: the number of people fed by the Trussell Trust itself grew almost by almost 2,200% between 2005-6 and 2010-11.
Similarly, Mervyn King’s much politicised references to the greatest long-term fall in living standards and household incomes quoted research which measured data as of 2010. Again, this reality had virtually nothing to do with the policies of the coalition government.
Making a spectacle of the misery of others is objectionable in any instance, but much more so when those supposedly predisposed to the economically excluded lack the integrity (or acumen) to accept that their own worldview has long been foundational to the existential indignity of millions: alarming affirmations of Labour-induced poverty – which the SNP and Green Party are hell-bent on re-embedding – are reflected in the pronounced, almost anatomical deprivation in long-held Labour constituencies.
Whilst a structural cost-of-living crisis can seldom be reversed within five years, average wages and disposable household income have noticeably increased within a few years of the coalition government assuming office, whilst core and food inflation have conspicuously fallen.
Legally enforceable employment contracts with no stipulated minimum hours of work have long been a lifeline for millions of students, single parents, the elderly and social carers. They also provide marginalised, low-skill workers on-the-job training and a stepping stone to better employability. Only 2.3% of Britain’s workforce use such contracts, with one-third of them – or c.0.8% of the working population – wanting more hours per week.
If, as Ed Miliband implies asudden, all such contracts were borne of malevolent intent, he should also explain his uncharacteristic reticence when their usage doubled between 2004 and 2011. It was, yet again, the coalition government’s prohibition of the exploitative exclusivity clause – witlessly sanctified by three previous Labour administrations – that marked a more sincere and propitious political intervention.
David Cameron and Vince Cable’s meek defence of them notwithstanding, flexible contracts are broadly accepted as a critical income facilitator for almost a million Brits; whilst exploitation by some unscrupulous employers must be attenuated, grandstanding on the issue not only betrays a perfunctory appreciation of the low-skill economy, but is also offensively disingenuous.
Equally, whilst Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood or Nigel Farage’s pre-election approaches to immigration have been honourably consistent with their broader political philosophies, it is again Miliband’s that has been nothing short of repulsive. In replicating Gordon Brown’s nauseating 2010 pre-election script, his sudden, distastefully heightened proclamations – and mugs – on immigration equate to a brand of reprobate dog whistle politics discarded decades ago by most conscientious politicians.
Lest we forget, it is Labour that has existentially pandered to minorities, turning a blind eye to outrageous practices within their own constituencies: many of the worst cases of societal disharmony, paedophilia and child grooming have happened in Labour constituencies and wards. Votes, evidently, matter more than values.
Such reflexive appeasement politics – which polarises, segregates and vitiates British society – is the product of an unintuitively destructive volte-farce from a post-war Labour Party which entrenched racist attitudes and social schisms by playing ‘working-class’ Britons against first generation African, Caribbean and Asian immigrants.
More than insulting the intelligence of all Brits, this philistine political expediency also serves to debase, dehumanise and disenfranchise minorities: millions of decent, law-abiding and proud British Muslims would not have to absorb the social backlash or relative incapacity borne of Labour’s recklessly opportunistic tolerance of pockets – now palisades – of ghettoisation and radicalisation.
A far more honourable – and constructive – approach would be of a consistent and balanced narrative on immigration reform, irrespective of elections: it was Margaret Thatcher who evoked Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ philosophy to co-opt ethnic minorities into mainstream British life, John Major who judiciously insisted that British policies must be ‘colour blind’, and David Cameron who has habitually dignified the contributions of erstwhile migrants, whilst simultaneously, and consistently, making the legitimate case for immigration reform.
The pathological lust to propitiate voters with lazy, easy and feel-good assurances that pander to clannish instincts – whether of creed, club, or constituency – rather than to win them over with hard-won arguments that place nation and community first, reveals the heartbeat, pulse and calibre of those who seek our votes. Similarly, eagle-eyed guardianship of the national treasury and feckless profligacy are each important statements of intent: one elevates nation-building and the security of future generations above short-term politics, the other predicates power before propriety, credo over conscience, and ballot above Britain.
Whilst still far removed from the transcendental nobility of Edmund Burke, the fact that a handful of ‘Eton toffs’ may be better qualified to serve the interests of low-wage earners, impoverished children and small businesses should not be clouded by the frailties of political prejudice. Nor should acceptance that the ‘nasty party’ has recently made prime ministers of a grocer’s daughter and a rejected would-be bus conductor, fought for the dignity of gays and accorded genuine respect to ethnic minorities.
Conceding that these truths may be testament to a devotedly compassionate philosophical core might also prove invaluable when bequeathing electoral custody of the nation’s destiny. Whilst the Conservatives must do far more to crush the degeneracy of Britain’s Cromwellian-Walpolean excess-economy, lessen the transitionary blows from ‘welfare state’ to ‘welfare society’, and at least try to learn the art of communicating with an exasperated nation, it also behoves Britain’s voters to recognise that our suffrage in May 2015, more than ever, cannot be distilled through the tribalistic prism of political predilection, but through fastidious rationalisation of who is best equipped to nurture the country’s systems and serve her most vulnerable – not merely for five years, but for generations to come.
Abhaey Singh is a social investor, youth mentor and the founder of the The Indian Debating Union. His promotion of ‘Values-Based Leadership’ and public service has been acclaimed internationally, and he advises governments and charitable organisations in an honorary capacity.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE: