IS this it? One week into the general election campaign and I foresee only one clearcut winner – the apathy party.
This is already gearing up to be the most vindictive battle in living memory. David Cameron’s warning that there are just four months to shore up the economic recovery was followed by Ed Miliband effectively saying that there was a similar amount of time to save the NHS.
And so it has gone on – whether it be the Tories being presumptuous over the budget deficit being cut in half or Labour’s false claim that health funding could return to levels last seen in the 1930s. Is anyone any the wiser? No.
Like so many of you, I’m heartily sick of national politicians talking to each other, and trying to score cheap and cynical points, rather than speaking and engaging with the vast country that exists beyond the confines of the so-called ‘Westminster village’. No wonder Ukip is so appealing to some.
I’m also waiting to hear the big ideas for this day in four months time when the election will, thankfully, be over and the votes counted. Which party is going to seize the initiative and set out a positive vision which inspires entrepreneurs and go-getters to invest their energy, and expertise, into creating the jobs of tomorrow?
Which politician is going to admit that post-16 education needs to be totally overhauled for those teenagers who do not undertake A-levels? These, after all, will be the next generation of welfare claimants unless this skills shortfall is addressed.
And when are the main parties going to realise that their constant bashing of the NHS is likely to deter young people from training to become the next generation of doctors and nurses?
These are just three examples but they are indicative of the extent to which soundbite politics is shortchanging the British electorate who have a right to expect a more positive outlook from their prospective leaders than the brouhaha of the past week.
The politicians only have themselves to blame if turnout does not exceed the 65.1 per cent which was recorded last time around. Even though every vote will count in an election which is too close to call, they should be going all out to woo the one-third of people who did not exercise their democratic right in 2010.
What makes this negative campaign so frustrating is that there are some pre-existing notions that still have the potential to prompt a serious discussion about the future wellbeing of this great country rather than Britain being run down by the carping.
I know Tony Blair is a name of derision because of his now apparent culpability over Iraq, but he did make a profound point on the steps of 10 Downing Street following his third election win in 2005 when he signalled a desire to “bring back a proper sense of respect in our schools, in our communities, in our towns and our villages”.
Though Britain has certainly become more respectful in the past decade of war veterans, and the Armed Forces, the ‘Respect’ agenda – first identified by The Yorkshire Post in January 2005 – has not percolated through to everyday life. Selfishness and a lack of appreciation of others is still rampant – there was one headmistress who is having to impose a swearing ban at her school on parents dropping off, and collecting, their children.
The problem, observed former minister Michael Meacher, is that “the Blairite brand is now utterly toxic” and “almost everything New Labour touched has turned to dross”.
All that has happened is that the word ‘respect’ has been hijacked by English football to mask the serial failings of the Premier League prima donnas (and managers) who continue to set such a poor example.
It’s the same with David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda. He did strike a chord with many when he spoke about a desire to empower communities and for a return to civic values – whether it be helping deliver ‘meals on wheels’ or greater neighbourliness in streets.
The Tory leader was right. Britain is becoming a nation of strangers – many people are in blissful ignorance of the names of their neighbours and so on – but the notion was quickly consigned to history when it was suggested that the ‘Big Society’ was a substitute for the services cut by councils out of financial necessity.
The shame is that the themes of ‘Respect’ and the ‘Big Society’ are as relevant today as they were when they were first championed by Mr Blair and Mr Cameron. What has happened to civility? What can be done to persuade members of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ brigade to become active citizens in their local communities?
Though I realise that these are secondary to the national campaign being waged over the economy, NHS, immigration and Europe, they are the type of themes that politicians should not be afraid to champion – especially if they wish to engage with the undecideds who have the power to determine whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband is handed the keys to 10 Downing Street.
For, while the arguments on the economy, NHS and Europe have already been heard, not enough is being said about the values and policies which can define a society. It’s time for that debate to begin if voters are to have a positive reason to go to the polls on May 7.