Public must use this election to escape mediocrity

Peter Stead argues that the public must intervene to claim this General Election as their own

As the General Election of 2010 is announced we are promised excitement, uncertainty and irresolution.  This is all very new territory, not least because that old 20th Century, that had seemed to go on for ever, suddenly seems very distant.  Surely now, for Britain as a whole and Wales in particular, we must ensure that a new political era is allowed to dawn.  To fudge this election would condemn us to decades, and possibly a century of mediocrity and decrepitude.

Already one can detect many of the die-hard politicos slipping back into the mindsets of the last century.  There are Labour stalwarts and trade unionists who want every election to be a re-run of 1945.  They are deaf to all the evidence that suggests that it is impossible suddenly to conjure up a fully employed well-paid labour force or to maintain an expensive welfare state and free health service in the absence of that phenomenon.  Similarly all those who resort to the rhetoric of Macmillan, Wilson, Heath and Thatcher will find it difficult to connect with any of the immediate problems at hand.

There are some hand-down strands of 20th Century thought that strike a few chords.  In 1997 the electorate quite rightly spotted what was relevant and valuable in New Labour but that breakthrough was squandered by Blair’s ego, wars and economic slight of hand.  Similarly, given the moral collapse of Westminster and the failure of global banking, Celtic Nationalism is now more clearly an option than at any previous election.  In the past electors often voted Nationalist for cultural rather than economic reasons.  Now those parties have a chance to suggest convincingly that the building blocks of a new economy have to be assembled locally.

At the British level the election will be dominated by personalities and economic one-upmanship and the media, looming larger than ever before, will inevitably exploit those narratives for all their worth.  But we must all intervene to claim this election as our own.  The expenses saga and the economic crisis have released us all from all party loyalties and allowed us for the first time to examine the real state of our nation and its communities.  Quite bluntly, we need to generate wealth.  We need first to assume individual responsibility for that and then go on to ask what provision is being made for investment in the personnel and technology that will guarantee an economy and society that allows fulfilment.

Our politicians have been found wanting and that is partly our fault.  We have taken too much for granted. In an election we are allowed to pass judgement on our representatives, but in 2010 we are on trial ourselves.  British and Welsh politics will only become more relevant and enter a new century if we the electors insist on complicating the political debate.  Every voter must ensure that in each constituency the best candidate is returned.  It will then be every MPs job to convey the urgency of our message.  There must be more to this election than entertainment and the machismo of broadcasters.

Peter Stead is a writer, broadcaster and cultural historian

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