British politics is now characterised by endless noise. It is a fake battleground of loud bangs, sudden flashes of light, thick, choking eruptions of smoke, and a terrain of glooping mud through which we must trudge, never knowing, seeing, in what direction we are heading. Front lines move inches at excessive toll.
For politics has become a permanent election/referendum campaign in which no actual governing has happened since 2016. That we now have a vote date in December doesn’t necessarily change that. The odds are that it’ll merely prolong the stalemate.
But we can’t go on like this. There are too many urgent questions that can’t wait until we’ve sorted out who is going to occupy No.10 for a couple of years, or less. Brexit, of course, that maggoty corpse of a mandate, needs to be interred, but the state itself, and its capacity to make and deliver policies upon which people’s lives depend, needs to be nursed back into health. And somewhere in this mess stirs the answer. But it won’t be where all the noise is now.
That noise is intemperate, viciously partisan, short-termist, highly aggressive, and almost entirely focussed upon the wrong things in the wrong ways.
Is the electorate equally up for all out war? You’d certainly think so, if the surly audiences of Question Time, the raging phone-in shriekers, and spittle-flecked vox poppers are any guide. It’s a wonder we’re not installing flame throwers in the front garden, and hiring wolves to patrol the streets.
But we’re not. When Mark Francois claimed that the country would “explode” if we hadn’t left the EU by 31st October, I’m sure he probably believed it. Certainly more than his leader ever desired a a deathbed in a ditch. I write this on 1st November, and, from what I can see, the bins got emptied this morning, the buses still run down the High Street, and the odd jogger is still braving the rain. Nothing “exploded” at midnight .
There are just under 46 million voters in the UK. That number has been declining, fractionally, but a recent surge in people seeking to go on the electoral roll may have made a difference in the last few weeks. 17.4 million voted to leave the EU in 2016, though the age profile of those voters suggests that the number is now smaller, but even if it is the same, that’s little over a third of eligible voters. It’s hard to believe that even 10% of that number are angry enough to “explode”, as if they were, they’d have been able to mount marches of the size of those staged by the non-combustible Remainers.
The point is, the noise is coming from very few people, but it has the assistance of the ear-splitting amplification system that is the British media.
That includes pollsters. Polls are growing ever less reliable. This is not so much through partisanship, though clients may commission polls for slanted reasons, but because polls are political players, influencing opinion as much as they record it. That’s possibly even more true for focus groups, which turn people into lab rats. I saw a report last week of an experiment in which rats were taught to drive tiny perspex vehicles. Rodent Top Gear is entertaining, but it’s not what rats do in their natural habitat. Ditto voters.
So let’s look not at where all the noise is coming from – politicians, media, and the ecosphere of politics – and concentrate instead upon the 45.7m.
Most of them do not live along the M62 corridor. Few live in Workington. Under 62,000 live in Gareth Snell’s Stoke-on-Trent constituency. The seaside towns of the east coast of England are not vast metropolises. Older white men without degrees are numerous, it is true, but there are still more women.
Women, I suspect, will be the source of change. Not city school-run mums in Range Rovers, nor Millenial tech entrepreneurs, nor shiny haired vegan vloggers on Instagram, nor any of the stereotypes of modern womanhood visible to politicians and advertisers. It’ll be Brenda from Bristol and her friends.
All across the UK there are women, often unglamorously middle aged, who are holding communities together. They are volunteers in libraries, or the minimum waged managers of charity shops in small towns, or those running food banks, or whose hard earned OU degrees have given them thankless administrative jobs keeping half-dead local services going.
These women are ‘doers’. They know how to run things, how to manage tiny budgets, how to care for the people and things around them. They’ve become adept at managing bureaucracy, of getting social care for dependents, or assessments for children with special needs. They know what difference functioning government makes, and what harm underfunded government does by commission or omission. They could well hold the key to this election.
So don’t get distracted by the noise, enraged by the deliberate provocations, and look instead at those in whom the Westminster machine sees nothing of interest. If this election is to resolve anything, it will be because a party manages to speak to those people, especially the women.