Five ways to make our politics more effective – Patrick Mercer

ON Boxing Day I don’t expect anyone wants another cleverer-than-thou column, another checklist of everything that’s gone wrong in the past months.

How can Boris Johnson improve trust in politics in 2021?

And a further dose of tinsel thin bon homie would be about as welcome as those plague- carrying trains that arrived in Leeds from London last Saturday, I imagine.

So, knowing that I’m quite 
safe from ever being required to do any of the difficult stuff I’m about to propose, here’s my (smug) suggestions for how we might improve our politics.

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First, much of my time in 
the Army was spent in places where democracy had been defeated or broken down: I can’t help but feel that my own country is on the brink of the same. Churchill reckoned that democracy was neither perfect nor all-wise, but it was the best hope we had.

Did Boris Johnson's failure to sack his aide Dominic Cummings for breaking the lockdown undermine trust in politics in 2020?

Well, we voted to leave 
the EU, the deed is now done and politicians from Nicola Sturgeon to those who promised to uphold the will of the people in their election literature must swallow their dislike and stop last-ditch attempts to thwart it. More prevarication, more duplicity simply sneers at what the electorate has said.

Next, trust has got to be grabbed back by the Government. In an age of single issue media and politics, Brexit has mutated into the Covid crisis and both have been marked by hesitation, indecision and U- turns. I remember how much my soldiers hated irresolution and how my former constituents seemed to prefer a clear stand on issues.

That’s why, with no obvious end to the current hysteria in sight, I’d single out the phrase “we must be led by the science”.

No, a government must 
be led by its own instincts based upon balanced judgment. Harking back to my last point, that’s why we, the people, gave our current leaders a huge mandate to steer us through crises, not to abrogate responsibility to unelected ‘experts’ who sit snugly behind safe salaries and pensions with no worries about their own businesses and savings.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer still needs to prove himself, argues Patrick Mercer.

And we must be sure that our own constituency MP will be able to do his or her job. I know No 10 will deny it, but the Prime Minister told the Commons that to cancel Christmas would be ‘inhuman’ and then waited three days until MPs were safely stood down so they couldn’t vote against it! Emasculating our own representatives like that is intolerable.

Our MPs would find it easier to do a better job, though, if this Government tried to take control of events rather constantly seeming to be reacting to them.

Here’s one example: when Tier 4 was imposed on London, wasn’t it wholly predictable 
that hosts of people would crowd onto trains and export their bugs? Matt Hancock’s fury would have been better used on planning to control the infections that have now been smuggled out.

My next hope is that Sir Keir Starmer’s party will start to act like an Opposition. I sat on the other side of the Chamber from Tony Blair’s government for several years and concluded that Lord Derby’s maxim that Oppositions should oppose everything and propose nothing was immoral.

No, we’ve had enough of Labour’s abstentions: our country will be better served by simply agreeing with the Government or not.

We cannot depend upon groups of Tory rebels and an increasingly strident press to impose checks and balances on those in power.

Democracy needs thoughtful, vocal antagonists who are prepared to call for unpopular but proper measures. At least there’s a glimmer of hope in Labour’s demand that Parliament should be recalled.

Similarly, politics might improve if pundits and the media use our prized freedom of speech more evenhandedly.

I’m not talking about ‘cancel culture’ or BLM – these belong to the fringes and have a right to make their views heard – I mean the talking heads, the ‘influencers’, who constantly peddle a particular agenda, but an agenda which they’re happy to defy themselves.

Two examples stick out, especially to me. First, Neil Ferguson who urged that we stick to lockdown strictures and then Sky’s Kay Burley who was so critical of Dominic Cummings for breaking them.

But both did what they
 liked, were found out and discredited yet, with staggering hypocrisy, Prof Ferguson is now back on the airwaves whilst I have every confidence that Ms Burley (whose been suspended on full pay, mark you) soon will be.

Lastly, we’ll get more 
effective politics if those 
who speak in public can 
learn once more how to debate with respect for one another’s views.

Whether it’s a function of social media where statements tend to be eye-catchingly angry, I don’t know, but it’s another aspect of freedom of speech.

Look at Prime Minister’s Questions which are risibly furious whilst ‘no-platforming’ is increasingly widespread.

Britain prides itself that it’s a ‘developed’ society. Isn’t the mark of such a society the ability to disagree without rancour and accept the verdict of the majority with grace and courtesy?

Patrick Mercer is a former Conservative MP for Newark.

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