Parties are changing. Peripheral parties considered as serious alternatives has meant the mainstream establishment has had to buckle their belt and hold on to what little partisan support they have left. As 2014 draws to a close it appears to have been the year that British party politics changed forever. Moreover, it has been the year where, conversely, the anti-political mood has boiled over the surface.
On the Right, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has had a cracking 2014. Gaining hundreds of councillors up and down the country in the May 2014 local elections, topping the polls in two by-elections and winning the May 2014 European Elections. On the Left, the Greens are attracting the young, well-educated, often Labour voters that abandoned the party after 2010.
As we move to the centre the Liberal Democrats have lost substantial support as a result of their policies as part of the coalition government. The political narrative of the coalition has been on a Conservative plan to reduce the deficit concealing the social liberalism of the Liberal Democrats and their record in government. The Conservatives in contrast have begun the process of economic recovery, or at least they claim to have. The economy is on the up, right!? Unemployment is down! Borrowing is down! And the deficit is down! But there is a problem. The British public are not feeling the ‘feel good’ factor that the Conservatives so desperately need to increase their vote share and size of their majority in time for the General Election next May.
There is perceived to be no great difference between the mainstream political parties. Britain’s experience of the first post-war coalition government didn’t help. The Liberal Democrats (or as I like to call them the yellow invertebrates) broke their number one pledge on scrapping tuition fees, only to treble them while snuggling up the Tories. This has given the impression that the major three parties will do anything to get into number 10.
The declining function of the political party can also partly explain the rise of the anti-politics mood and anti-system parties like UKIP. A party’s function is to provide the link between the citizen and the state. Whoever we elect, what difference will it make to me?
There has been a recent interesting development in West European politics which goes on to state that the Social Democrats are standing on their last leg. The state is no longer credited to provide social good on the scale it once did in the 20th century. The Social Democrats have come to accept the benefits of the free market, albeit regulating it for social improvement. Therefore, from Left to Right the British public ask themselves what difference is there in political parties if both agree upon the fundamental belief that social good ought to be provided by the mechanism of the free market?
We can change Britain together. I see it that the Labour party offers a message of hope in what the Conservative party call ‘an age of austerity’. The Conservatives have made ruthless cuts and risk the health of front-line public services. While this Conservative led government have given a tax break for the few at the top, 13 million people are in poverty. One where there is no hope, one where there is little to aspire to and one where there is little opportunity to get one. This isn’t right. Britain doesn’t have to be this way. Despite the media bashing the leadership of the Labour Party, Labour offers a real alternative to the way we govern in Britain. Ever since the 2008 financial crash the standards of living has fallen and wages have not kept up with rates of inflation. Millions of people in Britain are on low pay. That is why we in the Labour party want to increase the minimum wage to £8.00 per hour and introduce the living wage. It shouldn’t be the case that a person has to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. We will reduce the deficit fairly every year until we have balanced the books in a way that does not put public services at jeopardy. We will reverse the spare room subsidy and put a cap on energy prices until 2017. Britain deserves better.
Too many Britain is unaffordable. At the moment Britain works for the privileged few at the top while the many bear the burden of the government’s careless austerity programme. In my eyes there is a definitive choice to be had come May 2015. It’s the choice between a fairer and more just Britain, and one where the many struggle to make Britain work for them. Achieving this however is no simple task. It requires people just like you and me to vote. Hundreds of thousands of students could risk not being able to vote next May as a result of the changes in electoral registration. Therefore I urge you to register, vote and turnout. Make it the case that your voice is heard. I like to think that I have briefly illustrated that there is a difference between the mainstream British political parties and in the process putting to bed the idea that all British political parties and self-serving and blind to the bread and butter issues that many of us encounter. In May 2015 there is choice to be had. We can change Britain together.
By Alex Sargeson