December 27, 2009 2 Comments
“2010 will be election year. After all the false starts and speculation, now we know for sure that the country will have a chance to vote for change this year. Within days, the gloves will be off and the arguments will begin. But as we enter this year of intense political activity, I think it’s important for all politicians to remember something. While those in the Westminster village might eagerly be limbering up for a frantic few months of speeches and launches and strategies and tactics – and all the hoopla of today’s politics – most people in the country will be contemplating the prospect of months of electioneering with emotions somewhere on a scale between indifference and dread: and that is something we need to change. But we’ll only do that if we recognise the reasons why politics is broken.
First and foremost it’s because the expenses scandal is not a chapter that comes to a close as we move into a new year. It is an ongoing reminder of a deeper breakdown in trust between politicians and the public. And this has many causes. Politicians who think they have the answer to everything and just can’t bear to leave people alone to get on with their lives. Politicians who can’t bring themselves to recognise any good in their opponents and refuse to work together to get things done. Politicians who never admit they’re wrong and never acknowledge that they’ve made a mistake. A sense that Westminster has become so much about point-scoring, positioning and political dividing-lines that people and their real-life problems are completely left out. These are some of the reasons that politics is broken.
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of these offences on occasions, and no doubt will commit them again. But we shouldn’t stop trying to get it right just because we don’t always succeed. Over the past few years, we’ve tried in the Conservative Party to do things differently. We voted for Tony Blair’s school reforms because we agreed with them even though we could have inflicted a damaging defeat on the Government. We’ve encouraged our parliamentary candidates to set up social action projects in their communities. We’ve opened up politics through open primaries to select potential MPs and held open Cameron Direct meetings all over the country where people from all parties and none can come and ask me questions. We took swift action on expenses and were the first to pay money back where that was the right thing to do. And we’ve consistently pushed for TV election debates, whether we’ve been behind in the polls or ahead in the polls. But there’s a huge amount more to do if we want to rebuild trust. So let’s try and make this election year the moment to start fixing our broken politics. Let’s bring real change to Westminster and the whole political system. A big part of that is about policy: policies to reform expenses and the way Parliament works; policies to redistribute power from the political elite to the man and woman in the street; policies to make government more transparent and accountable.
But it’s not all about policy. It’s also about character, attitude and approach. It’s about how political leaders actually behave, the example they set and the lead they give. It’s about doing as well as talking – real social action in our communities, not just pontificating from an ivory tower. And my resolution this new year is to work harder for a new politics in this country. I don’t want to mislead people: there’s an election campaign coming, and I think it’s reasonable for political parties to point out the consequences of their opponents’ policies, records and judgments as well as the benefits of their own. The House of Commons – particularly on set-piece occasions like Prime Minister’s Questions – is an adversarial place. But let’s make sure the election is a proper argument about the future of the country, not some exercise in fake dividing lines. Let’s at least recognise the good intentions of our opponents. Let’s be honest that whether you’re Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, you’re motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal. It’s how to achieve these aims that we disagree about – and indeed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats there is a lot less disagreement than there used to be.
Of course the area where there is greatest and most sincere agreement between political parties is our shared support for our mission in Afghanistan. I know that we will never take for granted the bravery of our armed forces, and as we prepare to fight the political battles at home, we will keep in mind constantly the humbling courage of those who fight the real battles for us overseas.
So let’s make 2010 the year for a new politics. Let’s be positive about our own policies as well as pointing out the consequences of our opponents’ policies. But above all, let’s be honest about the problems facing the country and how we can solve them. Yes, there will be an election this year: that much is certain. And we can be certain too that the arguments will be fierce. But let’s make it a good clean fight. And once the battle is over, we will need to rise above our differences and come together because that is the only way – strong, united leadership is the only way – we will sort out Britain’s problems, halt our decline, and give this country the success that I know we can achieve.”