A Year for Change
A Year for Change?
It is unusual for a British political party to form our national government for many consecutive terms. The Conservatives managed four terms from 1979 to 1997 which was the longest period in modern times. No previous Labour government has lasted two full terms so the current administration has done well in a party political sense, wielding power from 1997 over three full parliaments.
Tony Benn put a view in his diaries that the British people usually got it right in deciding to continue with a government or booting it out and putting in a replacement. It is an interesting and very understandable habit that we have as electors. Any political party that is in power for too many years can begin to believe in the myth of its own infallibility and can become detached from the people who have put it there. A General Election provides the opportunity to endorse or change the politics of the country. It is the part of democracy that Lenin referred to as, “five minutes in a polling booth every five years”, but what an important five minutes that is. I hope that the vast majority of us use that time.
We will inevitably see quite intense campaigning right across the country and particularly in Crawley, the most marginal parliamentary seat, where the majority is just 37 votes. Although the Conservatives are ahead in the opinion polls, they need a larger lead than Labour to secure an equivalent parliamentary majority. This is because of the way the constituency boundaries are drawn. To secure a majority in parliament, the Conservatives need to gain 130 seats. For this to be a working majority of the size of John Major’s in 1992, 140 gains are required, and that 21-seat majority of 1992 did not last.
The outcome of a General Election is far from clear-cut and this fact will not be lost on the parties nationally. We can expect a vigorous contest for votes because of this and because so much is at stake. There are many challenges around how we lead the country out of recession and restore its economy. So much depends on this as the economy is the engine room of everything the state does – our great public services, our social progress and our role in the world.
It is to be hoped that the high stakes do not cause the debate to become too incredible at a national level, to the extent that people are actually put off from voting. The current government has done much that is wrong but it would be somewhat implausible to suggest that it had got nothing right in 13 years. Likewise the opposition parties in presenting their case need it to be deliverable or otherwise what is the point? We have the opportunity to get the debate right in 2010 and if we do then there can be a strengthening of our democracy for all of us regardless of our politics.
Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
6th January 2010