We’re about half way through the general election campaign. The manifestos—plush aspirational documents--are published, though few I suspect will read them, party election broadcasts appear each evening, most of the television debates are over and there’s wall-to-wall coverage on the news programmes with every nuance of what is being said debated and re-debated by the pundits. It’s almost as if the election campaign is panning out in a parallel universe—yes, it’s that uninspiring. In fact, despite being billed as the most important election ‘for a generation’, I think it’s the most uninspiring campaign that I’ve watched since 1975. Even the momentously boring 1992 election, notable only for John Major literally taking to a soap box and Neil Kinnock embarrassingly celebrating too early in Sheffield, was more interesting. Now it could be that I’m being slightly premature and that the public will become really engaged with the campaign as 7 May approaches but, at present, there’s little indication that this will be the case.
There are various reasons for this. There is a widespread belief—though whether it is true is questionable—that it doesn’t actually matter which party/parties form the government as there’s really little difference between the Conservatives and Labour, it will be politics as usual. We will still have austerity policies. People also don’t think that politicians are telling the truth or rather being economical with it particularly over taxation. They remember being told that the Conservatives had no intention of increasing VAT in 2010 and then, once they were in power they did precisely that. Their justification was that, as they hadn’t seen the books, they didn’t know how bad things were. For the Lib-Dems, the albatross of tuition fees has hung around their necks since 2012 and will almost certainly contribute to their standing or rather lack of it in the polls after 7 May. Apart from UKIP, all the parties have been quiet about immigration and membership of the EU, but these are issues on which the public, particularly in areas where immigration is high, have very strong views.
Yesterday I received my postal vote containing, not only local and national ballot papers, but a local referendum about increasing the amount of money collected through Council Tax to fund policing. Though I’m opposed to this—for me it’s the responsibility of those in power to operate, as I do, within their budgets—but at least it’s an honest and transparent approach to taxation. What this election ought to be about, and it’s the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens that have got it right, is whether as a country we are prepared to pay for things like the NHS and ‘living’ pensions through higher taxation. You cannot have an effective ‘welfare state’ without being prepared to pay for it. The problem is that people don’t trust government, of whatever political persuasion, to spend our money effectively. There’s also the danger, and the police referendum exemplifies this, that if the money runs out you just ask the people for more. Therein lies the problem and the primary reason why the campaign has yet to take off.