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.