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- Taking Back Control | Lord Tony Greaves
Three weeks to go plus a bit. I’ve just realised that we are only about half way through since the Dissolution, yet in October 1974 a snap election was called by Harold Wilson on a Friday and polling day was just 20 days later. He improved his position, but not by much, and the Labour government lost its overall majority about halfway through the Parliament and had to be rescued by the Lib-Lab Pact.
Nowadays the General Election timetable is aligned with the Council election timetable so it lasts a week longer for that reason. But the rest all seems to be happening as a result of the incessant meddling by the Electoral Commission which is a body that seems to spend much of its time making work for itself. I don’t know how many people the EC employs but it spends about £20 million a year. Before it was set up the Government’s work on elections was done by a proverbial 3½ people in the Home Office (and their cat).
The question I ask is – does the quality of our democracy and our elections really feel better as a result of that kind of proportional increase in cost and bureaucracy?
All this led me to count up the number of General Elections I can remember – 18 – and the number I have taken an active part in – 14 including this one, which frankly seems to go from bad to worse.
I deplore the way that the main parties now use their party election broadcasts (PEBs) to beam out what are no more than PR style advertising slots. Politics should not be like soap powders, cars or pay day loans. Several minutes that are provided to explain policies to the voters should be preciously used for that purpose, and not just another chance to churn out the repetitive and ever more tedious sound-bites imposed by the central campaign chiefs.
So I was saddened by the Liberal Democrat broadcast last night. I’m sure that “Helen” is a perfectly nice actress but she ought not to have been hired to appear in such a shabby broadcast by an avowedly Liberal party.
But the banality of this paled against the Conservative press conference today at which Mr Cameron “launched” his manifesto. I thought press conferences were for journalists to turn up and ask questions and get replies. This was not a press conference, it was a rally in which the journalists were thronged by a mass of teenage enthusiasts (okay, twenty-something SpAds , staffers and interns) whose job was to provide rapturous applause at the end of anything Cameron said.
If press conferences are now turning into party rallies full of cheering children, all hope for rational political debate has gone.