Elizabeth Peacock: Our political system failing those it is supposed to serve

David Cameron with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
David Cameron with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
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HAVING recently re-assessed my political positioning across the last 30 years to write an autobiography evaluating the successes and failures of the Thatcher and Major years, I have come to the opinion that British politics will have to change.

Our major parties are heading for difficulties and urgently need to rethink their policies and attitudes. The major objective in writing my book was to create a family archive explaining my distinctly different political approach, how this was accepted in the Thatcher/Major era and how it might be appropriate today.

This review confirmed that our current political system, its parties and their management of Parliament is failing the very people they were established to serve. People who are politically aware note that an undercurrent of failure is developing prompting voters to look elsewhere for government.

The successes of BNP at the last European election in Yorkshire and the Humber demonstrated this and the current rise and rise of Ukip emphasises this, with no lasting response from the traditional parties.

This developing demand for change requires the people’s views to be heard. In general, the public have little interest in politics and have no time for politicians and Parliament. This is understandable following the recent problems at Westminster, such as the expenses nonsense.

Parliament does not help itself when we see on TV the sparse attendance for the debates in the House of Commons and the poor quality of contribution. This raises the question is our legislation getting the detailed attention it needs? This apparent failure is giving the newer parties the opportunity to succeed, and they will grab it.

At present, the newer parties do not have the background or personnel to be effective on their own, but change is in the air as they are seen to be reflecting the views of the people.

Our traditional political approach has to be re-shaped to give the British people what they are demanding. This, I believe, is ‘Common Sense Politics’ which is achieved by taking a more direct view of public opinion and reacting to reflect that opinion.

I describe my brand of politics as ‘Common Sense Conservatism’. I developed this style at the beginning of my political career saying I would vote for issues that I knew my electors wanted and that I would oppose those that were not in their interest.

This attitude proved a recipe for rebellion and controversy at Westminster as it was neither left wing nor right wing. It was independent and different, and it certainly got me into difficulty with my opposition to party and government policies.

I still follow this simple philosophy with its requirement that all issues are subjected to a ‘common sense test’. Modern Britain and its population seems to want this sort of style and will support politicians who answer their questions in a direct common sense manner, regardless of party politics. They are clearly indicating that if they do not get change they 
will vote elsewhere, hence the rise of Ukip.

Politicians need to measure the views of the people with greater diligence and then fight for their implementation.

Over the years, I have never understood why many MPs – when elected – do not then reflect their voters’ opinions.

One extreme example of this is the availability of the death penalty for murder which gets positive support from the public, but is never supported by our elected representatives.

On a less dramatic note, most people have a list of issues that they consider are not being properly addressed.

At present, this starts with a demand for firmer immigration control, better targeting of welfare support, a complete overall of our place in Europe and an assurance that Europe and its judges cannot interfere with British affairs. There is no lack of debate on these matters; however, public opinion is demanding action which the public believes it will get from the newer parties. Clearly, things have to change within the establishment.

Immigration and the control of welfare payments to immigrants have to be tackled even if our present commitments within Europe make this difficult. Britain has over the years welcomed immigrants, but there has to be a limit and the view in the street is this limit has now been reached. This will undoubtedly cause conflict with our friends in Europe, but so be it. We have to be hard nosed and deal with the issues.

The reality that welfare takes the greatest slice of tax has at last hit home and reform now needs to meet expectations. We must have welfare provision for those in need, but it has to be fairly balanced between the tax- payer and those in difficulties. The view is that this balance is not in place and needs refinement and a sensitive shift.

I suspect the majority of us would support Britain in Europe so long as we manage our own affairs without interference in our law making and way of life. The British people appear comfortable with a trading Europe of independent states but will no longer tolerate central control from Brussels or elsewhere. Politicians who do not address these issues will suffer at the polls.

In a recent article, the political journalist Matthew D’Ancona stated that Conservative party modernisers had recognised the need for change, but concluded that too many Tories still find it hard to think beyond the tribal stockade. I am certain that we could say similar things about the Labour and Liberal Democrats.

A ‘Common Sense Politics’ league table of our present political leaders would create debate. David Cameron, somewhat overshadowed by Chancellor George Osborne, has good ideas but seems to lack Thatcherite drive to implementation. Ed Miliband is trying, but with a high school debating society style which will always raise the question how much better would it have been with brother David, who I know and admire. Nick Clegg seems to start ‘from the pit lane’ as he does not have the common touch and could be better suited as a European Commissioner than a member of Her Majesty’s Government – time will tell.

This leaves Nigel Farage heading the table because he has got the people’s message, but his party, Ukip, has no real power and little infrastructure to effect lasting change. His positive ideas are likely to win the European election but come the 2015 general election all he can achieve is to put the wrong Miliband into Downing Street.

British politics needs change to satisfy electors and truly reflect the nations’ opinions. Those who will not will surely fail.

• Elizabeth Peacock was the Conservative MP for Batley and Spen from 1983 until 1997. Her memoir, A Yorkshire Lass at the Court of Thatcher, has just been published by Pen and Sword Politics, price £25.