Sunday, May 06, 2012

Boris, Charisma and an Overblown Fuss Amongst Tories

I do sometimes wonder whether it is a good trend that intelligent and able political minds head into the world of the media, leaving grunt politics to those of a distinctly more mediocre cast.  Thus, in the aftermath of the local elections - key point, a very low turnout all round - we get nonsense in hot air from elected representatives, mainly Tory backbenchers, and some genuinely illuminating commentary from media commentators. 

Tory backbenchers - or at least a noisy few - were amongst the worst offenders.  A lethal combination of them and the right-wing sounding board that is the website Conservative Home served to create the impression of a Tory crisis, echoed now by nearly all media reports and headlined by this morning's Telegraph.  Yet, of course, if this is a crisis (and yes, it was hardly a great day for the Tories) then it is as much about the absolute dis-connection by the average voter from all of the political parties as it is about the present government's failure to instil confidence in their own economic medicine.  Two out of three voters - on average, it was worse in some areas - failed to take the time out required on Thursday to register their verdict on the body politic.  That is a travesty.  At a time of economic depression it cannot be interpreted in any way as expressing some sort of ambient satisfaction with politics.  Far more realistically, it expresses a belief that politicians are not even worth the effort of voting against.  The celebrity  contest in London may have bucked the electoral trend by returning Boris Johnson, but it certainly didn't see any great increase in voter turnout - at 38%, it was as dismal in London as elsewhere.

But of course, the results that we do have were bad for the Tories.  They were worse for the Liberal Democrats, who publicly managed a far more sober and untied front than the hysterical Conservatives (as Andrew Rawnsley noted in his Sunday commentary).  There was plenty of nonsense from Tory circles about the need for a return to 'authentic', right-wing policies (as if there is anything authentically Conservative about the mantra of the classically liberal New Right), even about the possibility that the gay marriage proposals affected their support.  Bilge.  Utter bilge.  It will be worth dealing with the Tory problem in a separate post, but for the moment the vigorous response by former MP Jerry Hayes on Dale and Company to this nonsense can be recommended as an on the money piece.  There was precious little politics involved in Boris' win and plenty of personality; partly the nature of a direct personal contest such as the mayoralty.  There are few lessons for the Tories to take from it, although those few have at least been well laid out by the eloquent pen of Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph.  As well as noting the need for David Cameron to acquire a bit more jollity and sunshine, a la Boris, and a little less of the assumption that he simply deserves to be where he is, D'Ancona also took a well aimed swipe at the bleating tribe of Tory MPs.  I love his comment about elections providing a bit of 'event glamour' that temporarily give otherwise innocuous representatives the right to say anything and have it treated as wisdom.

Elections are the great contests of democracy and deserve prominent coverage.  But when that coverage is reduced to a collective hysteria from those players who should surely have a more intelligent approach, you begin to get a hint as to why the electorate - the viewers - are turning off in such large numbers.

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