On Thursday, the United Kingdom’s component of the 2014 European Parliament Election is scheduled to be held, coinciding with the Local Elections in England and Northern Ireland. In anticipation, the media has paid significant attention to the potential success of UKIP as the issue of EU membership once again dominates the political landscape. It seems that the mercurial rise of Nigel Farage as UKIP’s bullish leader will effectively polarize the British electorate. However, as interesting as it would be to discuss the rise of UKIP as the new major player in British politics, this piece attempts to shine a light on some of the wider issues within the British political system. The most significant problem we have today is the feeling of disillusionment felt towards the political establishment by a vast quantity of the electorate. Indeed, for me, a major factor behind UKIP’s recent success can be explained by the ability of Farage to tap into popular frustration with the political elite.
Having addressed the fact that we, as the British public, feel disillusioned with our politicians, it is now important to attempt to explain why. It almost seems too easy to say that our politicians are out of touch but on wider consideration, it is an unavoidable fact. The established system in Britain seems to be an immovable object. The House of Lords, for example, as Britain’s second chamber, has the power to make or block laws and challenge the actions of the Government. Yet, none of its members are elected! Lords are appointed and can even occupy positions in the Cabinet but are in no way answerable to the British electorate. This system has been in operation for centuries but the fact that it remains to exist in 2014 is frankly staggering. The Lords is in dire need of reform but the issue is often sidelined to maintain the status quo. For me, this puts into perspective just how much of a farce the 2011 Referendum on the Alternative Vote was. Why bother attempting to make the already democratic House of Commons more representative of the electorate when we have a second chamber entirely comprised of unelected peers? The AV referendum was simply a token gesture attempting to display a Government intent on reform. Yet, in reality, it was widely expected to fail and has been used since as a way of falsely suggesting that the British public is happy with the current state of affairs. We are not.
Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that our politicians are out of touch but it certainly would not be unfair to suggest that they have their priorities wrong. Modern politicians are obsessed with “the grey vote”. Just to make this point clear, there is nothing wrong with the Government providing for the elderly and I am not by any means suggesting otherwise. The problem arises when we consider why the Government are so keen to do so. It is actually very simple; the older you are, the more likely you are to vote. As an MP, it would make perfect sense to try to appeal to “the grey vote” because it would greatly increase your chances of re-election. When the Coalition was faced with the difficult decision of where to cut the national budget, cutting pensions was completely out of the question. Controversial as it was, increasing tuition fees was a far more viable option despite the fact that tuition accounts for a far smaller part of the budget. The Government was prepared to bite the bullet and take the criticism for raising tuition fees because the implications of losing popularity amongst young people would possibly not cost them re-election. Had the Government cut funding to the elderly, the chances of re-election would be very slim indeed. This may come across as cynical but it really is that simple. The obsession with re-election distorts everything. For example, HS2 has been billed as a great project set to modernize Britain. It has been used by several politicians as a way of displaying what an apparently magnificent job they are doing. However, the plans have seemingly been blocked at every corner through a combination of incompetence and nimbyism. Meanwhile, Britain’s existing railway system is on the brink of over-capacity and has been described as being decades behind Western Europe. Services in the North of England in particular are in dire need of investment. The priorities are all wrong, politicians do whatever necessary to gain re-election and nothing else matters.
When George Osborne read out his budget earlier this year he declared that it was a “budget for savers” while offering a package of help for pensioners. Upon hearing this, I was struck immediately by a sense of being ignored as a member of this society. Indeed, I find myself thoroughly uninspired by any of the major parties and sadly do not get the impression that this feeling is unique. This sentiment must surely be a major factor behind UKIP’s recent rise; the British public are fed up with the established political parties and have turned to a party on the fringe to express their frustration. This widely held sense of disillusionment is worrying. However, although we have recognized a significant problem here, it is a different question entirely to suggest what can be done about it. In fairness to politicians it is the system that is flawed; they simply operate within that system. Possible solutions I would suggest would be to reform the House of Lords into an elected second chamber and limit Members of Parliament to serving only one term. However, if it is the system that is flawed and politicians gain power and thrive within that system, are we really to expect Parliament to sign its own death warrant?