Our big parties need to learn to behave like small ones

Our big parties need to learn to behave like small ones

Henry G Manson on the first phase of Campaign ’15

The Tories say voting UKIP would let Labour in. Labour say voting the SNP or Greens would only help the Tories. The SNP and the Greens both say Labour are the same as the Tories. The endless and numbing permutations go on and on and on with deceitful Lib Dem bar charts thrown in for fun.

The early skirmishes of the general election have heavily featured on tactical considerations as support for the two main parties continues to erode. Most recently we have David Cameron fighting valiantly on behalf of the Greens for pure tactical advantage. Labour and the others getting excited about Cameron’s reluctance to debate, while probably quite relieved he will not do so.

Yet in spending so much time in the tactical undergrowth, the body language of the main parties is they don’t have a particularly appealing story to tell or a convincing plan for the future to share. It seems there’s been 4 and half years of blaming and barely 4 and a half weeks of thinking.

Precious few practical policies from the big two invoke even a “yep, that makes a lot of sense” to the man in the street while also standing up to real scrutiny. The challenges are big while the solutions are small at best or implausible at worst. Little wonder that the smaller parties with their Ladybird series of alternative tales capture interest and a fair degree of enthusiasm.

Yet it could be far, far worse for the Tories and Labour. Imagine if the Alternative Vote had passed and voters could freely give whoever they wanted their first preference to go to without needing to contemplate any tactical considerations whatsoever? Under AV, UKIP and the Greens could poll quite a bit more than at present at the expense of Labour and the Tories. But this might have then focused the larger parties to define themselves more clearly and positively.

Could it be that the best way for our big parties to now win a majority under our current electoral system is to behave a bit more like the smaller parties? There’s still over 100 days until the election. There’s still a chance the Tories and Labour will reveal an array of new policies to inject some enthusiasm into our national bloodstream. But it doesn’t feel like it yet. For all the talk of empty chairs, it’s the emptiness of ideas that should be worrying us.

Henry G Manson

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