Bernard Ingham: Who should we elect as MPs on May 7?

Many younger people say they are not going to vote, but contracting out of the democratic process will not solve the nation's problems.
Many younger people say they are not going to vote, but contracting out of the democratic process will not solve the nation's problems.
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THIS is make-your-mind-up time. Just five weeks left. Who are you going to vote for – and why – in the general election?

Leaving aside the diehards, this can be an awkward question.

However much we may deplore it, our politicians reflect society as a whole. Off and on, its standards have been falling since the 1960s. Voters are just as much responsible for this as MPs.

If the student who recently interviewed me is a reliable reporter, stacks of youngsters are going to duck answering it.

They just won’t bother to vote – not even to spoil their ballot paper with
those immortal words “none of the above”.

He spoke of a remarkable apathy that, give or take the odd college fanatic, I have heard from others.

Contracting out will not solve the nation’s problems.

But is apathy any wonder when even those qualified to judge – such as retired political journalists I met in the House of Commons last week – claim the current crop of national politicians is the weakest we have known?

It is difficult to defend them after Iraq, the budget deficit, the politicisation of the government machine, the election of John Bercow as Speaker, their pre-occupation with short term presentation, dancing to TV’s tune, the expenses scandal and immigration. (Let us leave talk of unproven old paedophile rings to the conspiracy theorists).

They – and their predecessors – have certainly allowed the national Parliament to be usurped by Brussels and the telly to drain power out of the Palace of Westminster on to Palace Green,
where it has proceeded to reduce the nation’s attention span to that of a butterfly.

All this is compounded by a stream of hasty promises in response to events 
and an apparent inability to translate their beliefs into a political philosophy from which their programme for 
the nation’s betterment naturally 
flows.

We are left with the bawl and shout of Prime Minister’s Questions and the modern equivalent of the stocks – show-trial examinations of bosses and officials by Select Committees.

It may make good television, but it does not elevate our politics.

You can see the abstentionists’ point of view. Why vote for those responsible for this mess?

This is, of course, pure hypocrisy.

However much we may deplore it, our politicians reflect society as a whole. Off and on, its standards have been falling since the 1960s.

Voters are just as much responsible for this as MPs. What is more, activist voters select the candidates for us.

It is a pity that their handiwork has not produced MPs who set a better example.

I doubt whether this is because increasing numbers of them have “never done a proper job”, moving effortlessly from student politics to Parliament. It would, however, be better if we had more MPs with experience of life and no ambition, like the retired colonels of old, beyond the backbenches..

But the idea of voting only for candidates over 40 strikes me as youthist – ie discriminatory – and probably futile. Some people never mature.

So, for whom – and why – are you going to vote? An objective, self-interested patriot can have no doubt.

It must be for the party, as distinct from the person, which could form a government on its own and is most likely to improve the nation’s economy and make it as secure as possible in a dangerous world.

Here, it has to be said that David Cameron’s coalition has not done badly.

But what happens if you have no confidence in the intelligence and character of the candidate of your preferred party choice or don’t trust his or her leaders?

Alternatively what do you do as a Tory, for example, in Frank Field’s Labour Birkenhead or Kate Hoey’s Labour Vauxhall? As a Labour voter in Penrith and the Borders, what do you do when the sitting MP is the independent-minded former diplomat Rory Stewart who heads the Defence Select Committee?

This is a tough question when the polls suggest another hung Parliament where every MP with a party label will count towards eligibility to form a government We could do without another coalition – in other words, we need a decisive result producing a government with nowhere to hide.

Ideally, what we want is an exemplary parliamentary representative, an effective, responsible government and a strong opposition to keep it on its toes.

If you know how to engineer that in our democracy, you are a better man than me, Gunga Din.

You will get no help from television “debates” which are a mere extension of TV’s urge to entertain.

But that is no reason for anyone to contract out or dodge awkward questions. This is your country and it needs your clear judgment – and no coalitions. You have five weeks to decide which side your bread’s buttered.