Wednesday 4 April 2012

Turning a Corner

British politics is turning a corner, like a heavily-laden tanker, extremely slowly, but irresistibly.

Let's look at events of the the past couple of weeks. The Tories have hit the self-destruct button on several fronts.

Peter Cruddas first resigned as party treasurer after admitting that he had arranged meetings between the Prime Minister and anybody willing to pay for such an encounter.

Francis Maude made rash comments about the looming petrol crisis. People should stock up, he said, even filling jerry cans in the garage. There were no caveats about the sense or legality of such an undertaking. A woman in York suffered severe burns trying to do exactly as he had advised. Perhaps the cabinet do not even realise that most people do not have a garage.

Then there was the budget. Two main stories emerged: pasty-gate and the granny tax. VAT was added to freshly-baked food products and certain age-related benefits were frozen for the over-65s, eventually to be phased out. With both these tax rises shamelessly dressed up as an attempt to simplify the tax system, George Osborne appeared not only brazen, but cowardly at the same time for not admitting his true motivation. Whatever happened to tough times, that we are all in it together?

What do all these things have in common? The Tories appear out of touch. Cameron cannot shake that public school image. He doesn't see that many pensioners are right on the poverty line already. George Osborne does not know what a pasty is; he has never met anybody who would buy, sell or eat one. Francis Maude is encouraging recklessness out of a lack of understanding of real-life common sense and people's real situations.

Governments always get themselves into trouble mid-term, there is nothing new about that. But where are Labour? Shouldn't they be 15 points ahead in the opinion polls? Ed Miliband's idea of opportunism is to stand blinking inside a branch of Greggs, pretending he knows how to order a pasty.

Meanwhile, George Galloway's Respect party won the Bradford West bye-election with a thumping majority over Labour, who took the seat for granted after holding it comfortably for nearly 40 years.

Galloway is a maverick, some might say a lunatic, but he is a genius opportunist. He is a master of spotting a vulnerable constituency and manipulating the electorate into voting his way. This is his third time as an MP, but it may be even shorter-lived than his second in East London. If Galloway keeps banging on about Palestine and Iraq, which may be valid issues for the young Muslim voters of Bradford West today, he may find he doesn't curry quite so much favour when the more down-to-earth issues of the city come to the fore: grand city centre developments stalled because of the property downturn and grinding unemployment.

And why do we have a coalition government anyway? It's not because the Lib Dems did blindingly well at the last general election. It's because, at the last election, neither the Conservatives or Labour were able to dominate the political landscape any more.

How does any of this affect the Greens? Well, perhaps it's not so bad. Now with one MP at Westminster, there is a true base to build on. And with the tide turning away from the traditional parties, the chances for the Greens to find further footholds in the niches of Britain's political landscape may increase further. Roll on 2015!

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