What can be done?

It is a simple question and it addresses the stalemate that characterises today’s politics, particularly in Cornwall, one so fractured and polarised that it becomes difficult to conduct any conversation about differences in political values or outlook.

My last post advertising the new Facebook cover caused some ructions. Its purpose was not to deflate or de-energise but to point out the stark fact that the Conservatives had gathered nearly half the vote in Cornwall; and that to address this challenge, people and party activists from both Liberal Democrats, MK and Green parties would have to work together.  We have a winner takes all electoral system in which the party with the most votes wins –  even if the proportion of votes is say 35 per cent. The remaining 65% of voters lose their voice. In fact the Conservatives actually increased their vote in Cornwall, even as they very nearly lost two seats.

In the end I took the Facebook cover down. There were Labour people whose voices I respected who sowed a seed of doubt. I then consulted within our progressive alliance group and while most seemed reasonably happy (they were hardly effusive), there were enough dissenting voices  to make me conclude that  yes, it could be divisive and yes, it was dis-heartening.

However the conundrum that exercises my mind is this: when you look at the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, Labour and Green – and when you also take into account the centre left values of MK, all these parties have striking policy similarities: on the NHS, the need to transition to a low carbon economy, the need for a progressive taxation to tackle inequality, the Housing crisis and so on. You dont have to look very hard or dig very deep to find this common policy ground.

So I am going to take a leap of faith and boldly assert that it is not policy differences that separate the parties.

So what is?

Trust! a profound lack of trust.  Again tell me if this is over-simplified.

In the end it wouldn’t matter if party manifestos were word-for-word the same for every policy,  starting at page 1; if it had the wrong coloured cover, that would be enough to engage in facebook spats of epic proportions. No-one believes the other side, no-one trusts the other side at all, ever.

Again, am I right? does this make sense? agree or disagree?

I have to qualify this. I am basing my comments on Facebook and Twitter engagements by party activists and supporters from all sides. This is  unlikely to be  representative of a wider public that willingly votes tactically when the occasion suits them and whose allegiance to party is fluid. They will likely be put off by harsh exchange of viewpoint; that said, I get the definite sense that political polarities are beginning to spill over into wider public debate.

So if a profound lack of trust is at the root and heart of our deeply divided party politics, how do we begin to overcome that? How do we start to rebuild a politics based on trust and respect and a willingness to listen and accommodate difference?

In Cornwall there is a particularly damaging dynamic at play between Liberal Democrats and Labour. Exchanges become so heated it is impossible to make the point that the real party we should be training our electoral guns at is the Conservatives.

We know that Liberal Democrats are paying a heavy price for their coalition government with the Conservatives – but must this be so forever? at what point do we drop historical enmities and   move away from a harsh, unforgiving,  politics to one that is visionary, inclusive and kind?

Thankfully it is not down to me to answer these questions,  it is also down to you as well To all of us. But there is a  stone that sites in the bottom of  my stomach that tells me this: even if Labour wins the next election convincingly – and that is a big ask – it will not heal the increasingly polarised divisions in our society. Our politics is slowly becoming poisoned and the counter-current to a convincing Labour victory will likely be resentment and then resistance.



7 thoughts on “What can be done?

  1. Hello Gavin. Deeply philosophical, all of this. Good for you, tackling it head on. Trust? Only part of it, I feel. There are deeply historic tribal alliances, impossible to shake free of them. How to do that would help. How to change hearts as well as minds. All my life, the UK has had ding-dong pendulum politics, and it is that we must break free from. You know the scenario, that the new government spends pots of money “putting right” what the last lot did. I have watched that happening in local government too, the wasted money just re-branding a highways department, for example, to distance it from the perceived mistakes of the previous administration. As for a solution, I believe we need to learn from outside the UK. But with the British increasingly looking inward and Brexit coming up fast, the country is looking at itself rather than outside. The Irish particularly have done a grand job, the fighting has stopped, in the Dail. In 2016 the two main parties struck a deal, and a “political ceasefire” was declared. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/29/ireland-fianna-fail-fine-gail-minority-government-enda-kenny. In Germany, there has been coalition government that works, and works well, for most of recent memory. That is, at the end of the day, what I believe the UK actually votes for. The 65% majority, should have what they vote for. This has to be done, Gavin, and I support you and all your thoughts. Are you attending the meeting on 4th September? It is open to non-members as well as members. “Cornwall Labour discuss Proportional Representation”.


    1. Yes this dong-dong pendulum politics is exacerbated by our majoritarian voting system. The binary politics of labour vs Tories with the Libdems somewhere in the middle has to change – and will change if and when we get PR. But sysem change has to be accompanied by a cultural change, a different mindset and approach to political negotiation. I think when we have pR there will be real difficulty on the part of parties who are simply not used to negotiation and compromise. Indeed the word ‘compromise’ for Labour is a dirty word. It smacks of Blairism and the Libdem-Conservative coalition. Nevertheless there is such strong overlap in policy aims that ‘compromise’ is not the issue here; the need to compromise is more about personalities and historical enmity and the fear that a future coalition, if it ended in failure, would irreperably tarnish the party brand.


  2. Yes, I had an email from Compass Online about this meeting, and they said “The event is primarily intended for Labour party members, but all are welcome”. Frances at Compass Online said it.


    1. ah ok I had a tweet from MVM that this was a Labour only event, hence my crossings out. However there is an open event being run by Make Votes Matter on Wednesday 20th at the old bakery studios in Truro 7.30pm – same theme on PR


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