Political Lessons

As we approach the climax of the American presidential election, it is a sobering thought that neither of the two candidates appears to be acceptable to a large section of the American electorate. Whilst I am no great fan of Hilary Clinton, I am most appalled that such a large proportion of the American public can be supportive of a person like Donald Trump.

We are all affected by the peculiarities of American politics whether we like it or not – that is just a fact. Sadly, in my lifetime we in the United Kingdom have come more and more to ape American idiosyncrasies in a most unhealthy way, particularly with regard to personality politics.

This in turn degenerates far too often into bilious personal attacks, divorced from policy issues, and pressed by hostile media outlets. In America, right wing spleen is vented via Fox, the New York Daily Post, the Wall Street Journal (all Murdoch owned) and the shock jocks on radio. Here, in the UK, we now face highly vindictive abuse from the likes of the Sun, the Mail, and the Express. Politically, their low approach is echoed by UKIP and the Tory right.

One would have hoped that the UK would have resisted this tide from the US of political bigotry and vindictiveness. However, Brexit and the furious (if sometimes pointless) arguments surrounding it, has shown just how infected is the British body politic. Perhaps Trump has done us all a favour by bringing it out on both sides of the Atlantic.

For me, it is clearer than ever that there are vital lessons to be learned. Firstly, it is the antithesis of democracy that a handful of newspaper owners and their hired help can have such a disproportionate influence over public opinion. At some point, there must be the introduction of real regulation to prevent these traducers of truth from poisoning public discourse. Yes, there must be freedom of the press, but not the corruption of truth which passes off comment as reportage.

Secondly, we need to emphasise policy over personality. No one can deny that Blair dominated the personality stakes when Prime Minister; but his policy agenda was woeful – just think of Iraq. Atlee was most uncharismatic, but his policies are those in which we take pride to this day. Allied to this emphasis on policy should be a drive for transparency and accountability. The electorate has had enough of misleading spin. Give them the truth.

Last but not least, we need a real cleansing of party political funding – we have had it with slush funds and official hypocrisy when it comes to electoral funding. Critically, we must end the political parties’ reliance on funding from special interest groups. Present regulation needs to be tightened so that we might see who exactly funds what in the political domain. After all, as the old saying goes, “whoever pays the piper calls the tune”.

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