“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” Yeats
The one clear message of this dismal election campaign has been that, whatever we may think of David Cameron, Ed Miliband has only confirmed that he is less fitted to be a prime minister than any other party leader in history. At least the dotty Michael Foot could be a powerful orator. But in every respect Mr Miliband is just embarrassingly inadequate. Most Sunday Telegraph readers will know that, if we were to wake up next Friday to hear that he was heading for No 10, we would have a sickening sense that something terrifying had happened to our country,
The ultimate reason why our politics have degenerated to such a dispiriting pass that more people than ever before have no idea which way to vote – 40 per cent according to one poll – is the way both our major parties have, in the past 20 years, tried to reinvent themselves, alienating many of their old natural supporters. Labour did it, initially with great success, under Tony Blair. But by blurring over the moral lines, with his invasion of Iraq, his courting of the dodgier forms of capitalism and much else, his “New Labour” became a party so removed from its idealistic roots that many of its supporters no longer knew what it stood for.
Similarly, Mr Cameron set out to create a “Not the Conservative Party”, deliberately turning its back – from naive “greenery” to opposing grammar schools – on all the values which had traditionally defined Conservatism. Ignored and affronted Tories left in droves (when I recently learned that a quarter of our local Tory association resigned over gay marriage alone, I was told that this had lost another constituency party half its members).
Into the vacuum left by this wooing of some imaginary “centre ground” poured Ukip on the Right, Greens on the Left and, most significantly, the nationalists in Scotland, making this election less predictable than any one can recall.
Actually, I had the “sickening sense that something terrifying had happened to our country” way back on 1 July 2007.
But aside from that, I broadly agree with Christopher Booker’s assessment above. The main parties have lost their way. They no longer really stand for anything.
And when political parties no longer really stand for anything, they just get blown whichever way the wind blows. And the weather is now being made by people who have very clear ideas of the sort of world they want. e.g. the healthist zealots in the WHO and Tobacco Control, Islamic fundamentalists, etc, etc.
After all, if you don’t really believe in anything, you’re very likely to surrender to the beliefs of people who really do believe in something, however mad it might be (e.g. the “threat” posed by secondhand tobacco smoke or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere).
I don’t think that David Cameron really believes in anything. So he just climbs on passing bandwagons, and adopts other people’s causes or policies. Environmentalism. Antismoking. Gay marriage.
I think that David Cameron really only wanted to be
head boy Prime Minister of Great Britain like he wanted to be head boy of Eton. It was a feather in his cap.
It’s not that Ed Miliband is any better. I think the only reason Ed Miliband wants to be Prime Minister is so that he can tell his brother, “I told you so!” I’ve forgotten what his brother was called (Mike? Pete?), but Pete was a high-flyer in the Labour party, and even tipped as a future leader, until Ed came along and stole it all from him. After which he stormed out of politics in a huff.
I don’t think Ed Miliband believes in anything either. His father was a Marxist, so he’s probably got a streak of that running in his veins. No, what he believes is probably just the opposite of what brother Pete believes, much like Peter Hitchens’ beliefs were simply the opposite of his late brother Christopher’s beliefs.
And Nick Clegg doesn’t believe in anything either, of course.
They’re all empty suits. They’re all hollow men. And they all follow the same political fashions, which they divine using focus groups. I bet Winston Churchill never used focus groups.
When people don’t really believe in anything, they won’t fight for or against anything. And they’ll be easily defeated by anyone who is prepared to fight for something. And so the empty suits are easily bulldozed by determined pressure groups (or terrorists). They have no means of resisting them. If you shout loud enough, you’ll get what you want from them – because they won’t shout back.
And all the emerging fringe parties that Booker identifies are made up of a variety of true believers in one cause or other. They’re made up of people who believe in something. And it’s probably something of a heady experience to believe in nothing much one day, and to have acquired a comprehensive set of new beliefs the next day. It’s a conversion experience.
What Greens believe is (in my view) rather nonsensical and self-defeating (closing down industrial civilisation). But they do at least believe in something.
And I wonder to what extent Scottish Nationalism grows from revulsion at all the hollow men in distant Westminster. And since the hollow men are almost all English, revulsion at them easily becomes revulsion for the English, which in turn easily translates into Scottish Nationalism. All the hollow mainstream parties are in headlong retreat in Scotland.
It may well be that the Scots are simply leading the way, and the English and Welsh will soon share their disenchantment with the Westminster political class, and if not at this General Election, then the next one, we’ll see a collapse in support for the mainstream parties across England like we’re now seeing in Scotland.
It’s potentially a very dangerous situation – a sort of vacuum – in which anyone with sufficient belief and determination can attract followers – rather like Mussolini or Hitler, who emerged out of a similar disenchanted era.