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The International Writers Magazine: UK Politics

The Middle Ground
• Tom Kilcourse


In the days of my youth politics accorded with major divisions in British society and was essentially class based. Labour represented the interests of my lot, the Tories stood up for the toffs and the Liberal Party fought for the crowd in the middle. That is not to say that everyone voted accordingly. My wire-weaver grandfather voted Conservative all his life, loved the King and was appalled and saddened to discover that I, at the age of thirteen, leant towards socialism and republicanism.

My early devotion to the Labour Party can be better understood in its historical context, when a Labour government introduced the most radical change in recent British political history, actually delivering what it had promised to the working-class. I continued to support Labour as an adult, becoming a party activist as a representative of the Transport & General Workers Union. Today, I would not cross the street to vote for them. Indeed, I would not cross the street to vote for any of the three main parties, and an increasing number of my fellow Britons share that inclination. Why?

The first step on the road to political perdition in Britain was taken when someone discovered a land known as the middle ground. Once discovered, this land came to be seen as a place that all political parties must occupy. Policies and rhetoric were shaped accordingly, so that eventually all three parties began to lose their individual identities, all three drawing their leadership from the same pool. Who would have believed in days of old that there would be a Labour minister called Tristram? Frank cousins and his kind must be spinning in their graves.

It would have mattered less perhaps if the middle ground had corresponded to ‘middle England’, or the equivalent in Scotland and Wales, but it didn’t. What was seen as the middle ground was actually a narrow, but ill-defined, strip somewhat left of centre, that excluded the interests, preferences and cultural inclinations of a great many Britons. Indeed, many characteristics of ‘middle England’ were disowned and sometimes derided. In their determination to capture this narrow strip, the three parties blurred the lines that had divided them, so that today there is little to choose between them, ideologically.

No longer anchored in their natural constituencies, and fighting over an ill-defined territory the three parties were abandoned to the tides, drifting with whichever currents were strongest. Given that the mass of British people are not ideologically driven, that was an invitation to zealots to dictate policy. All three parties listened to the same, strident voices, so creating a consensus on social policy. Seeking identity, they seized upon issues that they thought represented opinion on that ‘middle ground’ they cherished, but in reality they were oiling only squeaking wheels: appeasing committed ideologues. As a result we are a less free, less tolerant society, sometimes treating what would previously have been seen as impolite and inconsiderate remarks as deserving lawful or legal sanctions.

The parties remain adrift, almost fearful of creating a distinctive identity. Gone are the likes of Benn, Powel, Foot and Thatcher, to be replaced by anodyne lightweights engrossed in games of ‘me too’.  All three parties are led by people more comfortable with PR than being PM. Devoid of distinctive ideas on major issues, they focus on trivia in their search for a separate persona.

This unhealthy consensus is not confined to social issues, all are rock solid on multi-culturalism, but extends into economic matters. Where are the voices questioning the privatisation of publicly owned assets, questioning either the concept or its application to specific areas? Who is there to voice reservations about globalisation or our love affair with ‘free-market’ capitalism? Is discussion on such vital matters now closed?

Our leaders behave as if economics and politics were divorced, with economics best left to ‘experts’ and their computer models, despite overwhelming evidence that such a stance is unsafe. Economics is not separate from politics, and never has been. Early economic thinkers such as Adam Smith spoke only of ‘political economy’ as a single discipline. While treating economics as separate may work in the rarefied air of academia, it is certainly inappropriate elsewhere. Mathematical models and statistical analysis can be useful tools in understanding the economic trends, but they are far from being the whole story. Most of those depending on these tools failed to foresee the crash of 2008, yet I predicted the event, if not the date. What enabled me to do that was not my economics degree, but a simple observation of behaviour that was unsustainable: the growing trend to hold multiple credit cards and to pay off one debt by taking out another.  Had our politicians been more in touch with the street, and less dependent on ‘experts’, they too might have seen it coming.  The fundamental questions of political economy are not addressed by those responsible for its management. Hence, we are expected to throw our hats in the air because GDP is growing, while overlooking the parallel growth in the use of food banks.

Possibly this deafness to alternatives arises because it is not just zealots who are heard by our leaders. Those with a pecuniary interest in policy also have the ear of politicians, either directly or through contact with civil servants. The government habitually hires ‘experts’ who have a direct financial interest in the outcome of the considerations they are asked to advise upon. This is true in matters such as taxation and banking policy. So, whereas policy was once driven by ideology it is now often influenced by kidology.
Democracy is not an easy concept to define, and in many respects it is easier to say what it is not. It does not describe a society governed by an oligarchy that yields to the interests of self-serving lobbyists and vociferous minorities while failing to consider views prevailing in the rest of the population. Nor does it describe a society run by centralised party cliques who put party before nation, and party head office before local constituencies. This is the situation that has endured in Britain for many years now, and explains why, at long last, growing numbers of people are turning away from the three main parties. Bring it on!  

© Tom Kilcourse September 2014
kilcoursetom at

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