Neil McNicholas: The knockabout falls flat in Punch and Judy politics

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THE following is intended to be non-partisan. It applies equally to any – and all – political parties, though it may not start out sounding that way.

It is hard to escape the reality of which party handed over the reins of power to the current Government and also handed over the now infamous memo “there’s no money left”.

The incoming administration inherited a nightmare financial legacy and was immediately tasked with trying to get this country’s economy back on its feet.

And who is now most vocal not only in its criticism of how that process is being handled, but also has all sorts of wonderful ideas on how it should be being done?

None other than the very same party responsible for the mess we are in.

Do they honestly think we have forgotten already?

The current economic debate has probably done more than anything in recent memory to highlight the immaturity and nonsensical nature of the political process we call opposition. It was no doubt intended to provide a series of checks and balances to prevent the party in power doing whatever it wanted simply because it could. The process of opposition is meant to ensure that it can’t.

Previously, we had no idea what went on in Parliament, but since the introduction of television cameras in the House, we now have every opportunity to witness what goes on and sometimes it’s a real embarrassment.

Quite apart from the shattered reputation that was the fallout from the recent expenses scandal, the conduct of business in the House does nothing to counter our cynicism.

Given how much research and development goes into the design and of new cars, especially the aerodynamics, you would think that by now all the manufacturers would have all come up with the same single and best design – but no.

It’s the same with politics. Yes, there are always going to be policy differences between parties, but you would think there would be considerable common ground when it comes to what is best for the country.

Surely there can’t be all that many different versions of what is best and yet that seems to be the case because whatever one party comes up with, the others always disagree. There is always criticism of what the party in power is doing – always, no matter what it is.

Imagine for one moment a “Prime Minister’s Questions” session when there weren’t any questions or when the Leader of the Opposition stood up and said “We totally agree with what you have said and what you are doing” or even “We agree with 75 per cent of what you are doing so let’s get together on the remaining 25 per cent for the good of the country”. Some hope!

It’s as if the Opposition has to disagree – that dissension is compulsory. But is that really necessary? Yes, within the bounds of checks and balances, let the Opposition query and question if that is called for, but it seems that the Opposition sees their raison d’être as objecting to everything and finding fault with everything that the party in power says or plans to do.

It is surely impossible for everything that a party says or does to be wrong and therefore, for the good of the country – and especially in a situation as deep and threatening as the current economic crisis – why isn’t there more co-operation, more coalition (in a general sense), more common ground for the common good?

Instead the political process is more like a Punch and Judy show (is anyone entertained by all that abuse and those awful voices? And it’s the same with Punch and Judy!)

Everyone knows the story, everyone knows what’s going to happen, it’s the same thing every performance.

Things happen because it’s what’s expected, it’s the tradition, that’s how it is, it’s Punch and Judy. And that’s how it seems to be in Parliament also.

No matter what the party in power says or does, the Opposition will always disagree, will always argue, will always criticise, because – right or wrong – that’s what they do, that’s the tradition, that’s what’s expected. It’s just all so childish.

In the current economic climate, no one knows whether the coalition has got its policies right or not because we’ve never been in this situation before. On the other hand if the Opposition’s policies were right, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

And so, with so much uncertainty around, why aren’t our politicians pulling together more, finding common ground for the common good?

Instead they play out the endless, and all too often fruitless, Punch and and Judy routine of “I knock you down and you get up, and then you knock me down and I get up”.

Politicians: we don’t have time for knockabout politics and neither should you. No one is entertained, no one is amused, and you are in danger not only of losing the plot, but also of losing your audience.