Shouting from the rooftops of Accrington

The problem of a disinterested electorate has been a longstanding and somewhat irritating problem for the big three political parties for the last few years. It’s not actually a new phenomenon – the voting percent began to fall in 1992 when John Major was given a mandate to allow the Tories to govern for five more years. The voting percent fell again in 1997, then 2001, then 2005. That, in short, means this problem of an increasingly apathetic public has been with us for at the very least 16 years. It’s also not as if it’s ignored by the mainstream journalist or writer – Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain (a book well worth having on your bookshelf, incidentally) describes the recent 63 years as the triumph of shopping over politics. He might have a point, but I’d change the wording. My English teachers always used to say – and still do say – that giving conclusions in opening paragraphs is a bad idea, but I’ll leave aside their hallowed advice to give my opinion. The last 63 years have been a time in the UK where Liberalism has accidentally managed to change everything, despite the Liberal Party (then the Alliance, then the LibDems) being consistently on the fringe of British politics. Deregulation of the financial markets? That began with Wilson and ended with Thatcher. Legalisation of abortion, homosexuality and the easement of divorce regulation? That’s all down to Roy Jenkins in his time in the Home Office under Wilson. Home Rule for Scotland and Wales? Thank you, Tony Blair (Although it’s more thanks to Neil Kinnock, the policy in question being one of the very few of his big policies that stuck into the centrism of New Labour); We, as Liberal Democrats, are no longer fighting for Liberalism, at least as our major policies. We’re fighting to defend them. And that issue is something that really incites the electorate.

The problem with a disinterested electorate is that they don’t care for issues like Liberalism or Socialism anymore. If they truly care about anything political it is often the money in their pocket, the car in their garage and the food in their fridge that really drags them out to vote. And these have been good to them for many years now, and a country without major problems is a country where, so often, democracy becomes sidelined as a lesser-sequined brother of Strictly Come Dancing takes over, one where major parties are more interested in being in power than actually doing anything whilst there. The LibDems are, sadly, especially guilty of this. Clegg said he knew where we are headed at Conference, and we’re headed for Government. But, crucially, we cannot do this on the backs of dishonest, “dirty” campaigns, or paper-thin policies, or celebrity. The electorate, largely thanks to a negative and analytical press, is no longer stupid. We can’t afford to appear as the third party of stupidity. We are the party of smart people, not rich people. We’re the party of forward thinking, not looking back, ever nervous, at our electors. We are the party that people want in government, if only they could be bothered to vote for us. We need to spread our message more.

Now for something completely different. Accrington is a place that is increasingly becoming guilty of apathy. I know the youth here – more as one who knows about venomous snakes than anything else – and I know that increasingly it is becoming apparent, year by year, that everybody who is in power or who wants to be in power is, to be blunt, an idiot. We’ve had eleven years of New Labour, and we have precious little to show for it. Before that, we had eighteen years of the Tories, and we have had precious little to show for that either. People are resigned to the fact that the Establishment – not the parties – will always be in power. Accrington is such a typical northern town in many ways, and this is one of them. We’re angry, yes, but we’re angry at the entire system which, again and again, has sidelined little towns, little businesses, and little people. And that’s leading towards the obvious dangers, and less obvious ones. Civil disorder is one thing, and isn’t helped by a lack of visible actual police on the streets. But social disorder is far, far worse. And that’s why I’m concerned for Accrington, a town that is so typical of British multiculturalism – there’s the normal British populace, then there is the British Asian contingency, and the Polish community. And I’m worried about social disorder making lives hard for those latter two. Race means nothing to me other than a nice conversation topic and maybe a different religion to learn about. That’s not the common attitude within Britain.

So to wind everything up. Ultimately, the people of Accrington feel far further away from Westminster than they actually are, same as many other towns in the north. And we, as Liberal Democrats, need to turn around and make these dissolute people say “Hey, let’s vote for a better establishment.” The policies are for others to decide, but I think that we need to make them, and we need to shout them from the rooftops.