"Democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin.”
This was one of the main issues voiced by David Cameron as he made his long-awaited speech regarding Britain’s position in the EU just over a week ago. He expressed his desire for Britain to stay in the EU, he announced his intention to be at the forefront of negotiations over a new European settlement, but he also stated that it should be up to the British people to decide whether we remain a part of the European Union.
Yes, maybe this should be the case, but Mr Cameron has evidently handled the referendum situation as the leader of a political party and not the leader of a country. Had Cameron have acted in the best interests of his country, he would have dismissed suggestions of an EU referendum, no matter how vigorous, until a settlement, beneficial or not, had been negotiated with other European powers. Instead however, Cameron saw the growing influence of UKIP and heard the murmurings of dissent from his backbench and took a decision which he hoped would bring the deserters back on side. He began to worry and indeed realise that the economy would not recover enough by 2015, and therefore perceived that any other fractures in the party over issues such as Europe could not be afforded. As a consequence, we will have a referendum-sized question mark hanging over our economy, effectively blocking substantial investment deals until the next general election. Once again, we are hindered by a British politician placing the interests of their party before the interests of the nation.
However, even though Cameron attempted to ensure otherwise, there were many other political debating points during January. Indeed, there was a substantial victory for supporters of votes at 16 in the House of Commons, an issue which I know many members of the UK Youth Parliament passionately support, as we saw through Chante Joseph’s debut article regarding the subject. The question is however; will the proposal make it through Parliament? It seems as though MPs are outweighed by the public and the leaders of their parties in their support of votes at 16, although MPs are the only ones who have had an official vote on the subject, and one would think this surely fulfils the prime minister’s new open pursuit for democratic consent? Somehow I doubt he would view it in such terms, and it seems more and more likely that a lowering of the voting age will have to wait until comprehensive political education is introduced in schools, a policy which will certainly be progressed if the Youth Parliament are successful in their campaign for a ‘curriculum to prepare us for life’ during the next year.
Evidently, David Cameron isn’t the only politician whose New Year resolution was to alienate the public however; he seems to have also shared this goal with the leader of the Labour Party. Although, in the case of Ed Miliband, this has been as a result of something he has not done, rather than what he has done, in contrast to Mr Cameron. What Miliband hasn’t done is challenge the Prime Minister substantially over any other issues than the economy and welfare, and has even within those subjects retained the same rhetoric week after week after week. I recently attended an event where Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, argued that PMQs shouldn’t be reformed because there’s a reason why people engage with politics for a particular half an hour every week. Yes, indeed, they engage for PMQs in the hope that one week they won’t see their representatives bickering amateurishly like overgrown schoolboys, something which they hope will provide them with the strength to engage in politics more generally once more. Unfortunately however, the electorate have been let down consistently, yes it may be entertaining, but PMQs would be more engaging and I expect even more widely viewed, if the debates were more diverse, more direct, and more well respected by those inside the chamber, something which, on all counts, Miliband has failed to change during this past month.
Moving on to matters which aren’t related to lamenting about the poor performance of our politicians, but rather the work of our Commentators during the past month- I have decided for the month of January to award Backbench Article of the Month to James Wand and his article, “A Case for the EU.” Although the points raised by Wand would be fervently argued against by many, he presents his particular beliefs over the issue with a great deal of thought, coherency and passion, characteristics of debate which many politicians would be wise to follow in the coming months in relation to Europe. Furthermore, I would also like to cite the work of Oliver Blake, who, as a person who would be unable to vote even if the voting age was lowered to sixteen, constructed an exceptional piece regarding how we should tackle political stigmatism in the UK, an issue relevant to all generations at this point in time.
On this note, I want to describe to our Commentators, followers and readers alike the concept of PoliticsMatters that the site incorporates, which aims to tackle this problem of growing political disengagement. Simply, PoliticsMatters is a movement to change and improve the fundamentals of our politics by encouraging people to engage in current affairs. We cannot change our existing political situation through inaction; we need individuals to emerge to call for the changes we want to see from politicians, like more honesty, like more accountability, like more character- regardless of party political affiliation. Backbench is not only a site where current political decisions can be reviewed and discussed, but one where the future of our politics can be shaped. Yes, many of our political institutions and practices are world-leading, and many of our politicians are inspirational, but political disengagement is rife and is threatening the credibility of our democracy- we need change, and through PoliticsMatters we can make it happen. Start by adding #PoliticsMatters to your Twitter bio, and make sure you look out for new site features incorporating this concept over the coming months.
By Sam Bright