With a year-and-a-half to go before the next general election, it is fair to say that both the Labour and Conservative parties should be forming concrete policies on which to win votes and steer the economy in the right direction. That’s how politics used to work, anyway. It’s a very different beast these days.
With living standards still falling and the gulf between rich and poor still increasing, you could be forgiven for wondering why politics increasingly resembles an opportunity for tawdry point-scoring and obsession with style over substance.
Perhaps it stems from panel shows’ natural proclivity for derision, but I don’t really care whether or not George Osborne resembles a pantomime villain. I’d much rather know whether he is the man to steer the British economy away from the yawning depths of recession.
I don’t care about whether Nick Clegg’s Christmas card is a populist attempt to fleetingly close the gap between politicians and the public. I want to know that if his Lib Dem party is again in government from 2015 – and a coalition with Labour seems likely at the time of writing – his party will stand by its principles.
Put simply, 2014 has to be the year of parties over people.
It is a concern that the only concrete policy I have heard from Labour leader Ed Miliband is freezing energy firms’ prices – an admirable commitment, and one that has the Conservatives in a degree of consternation. That, readers, is a policy.
It would be wonderful to have more of these. I would prefer to hear about whether the Labour Party would continue to adopt a high-spending approach in government when Osborne’s cost-cutting approach is ostensibly paying dividends.
One year before this hugely important election, I’m not bothered about what David Cameron gets up to when he is “chillaxing”, or whether Alex Salmond is slimy or not. I want to know what the true consequences would be of Scottish independence – the vote on which is due in September – and how it would affect Britain’s presence on the European and world stage.
Society is naturally becoming more image-conscious: photos and anecdotes tell a thousand stories. But front-line politicians – and, it must be said, the media – must avoid being sucked into the trap where their lives’ vapid minutiae takes precedence over how they would tackle the inevitable economic challenges that will come our way.
So my hope for 2014 is a necessarily sombre one: let’s stop worrying about individual politicians so much, and let’s vote on what their parties stand for.
It is no secret that leadership and charisma go hand in hand. From cults of personality to worship of good oration, there is no doubt that a leader’s appearance, personality, and the (albeit cleverly edited and publicised) lifestyle they lead are all integral to their success, often much more so than their ability to merge with their party background. And 2013 was a year of leaders who have epitomised this rule.
However, while 2013 was a year we saw plenty of clear personalities in British politics, it was also a year in which Parliament saw more broken promises than Eton alumni.
It’s almost impossible to answer, but would we have had Clegg’s tuition fees U-turn if he had had personal investment in the fight?Yes, probably. There is a certain level of power-worship that comes with being a politician and, even if he had come from a more “normal” demographic background and actually understood what that jump of £6,000 meant to the average British teenager, he would probably still have been seduced by the otherwise-impossible offer to be in office.
As more cuts need to be made and more people suffer at the hands of hard policies, more than ever we need politicians who can step away from their parties and declare their view in an individual and, above all, human manner. The individuality we need is not one of Putin’s bareback horseriding, or Obama’s latest weekend wear, it is one of personal experience and human investment.
The example I come back to is that of Jeremy Hunt in office as Secretary of State for Health, back when he came out in support of reducing the abortion limit from 24 to 12 weeks. There was a point in time where, as a young woman, the future of my womb was in the hands of Jeremy Hunt. Hunt is a man who will never know how it feels to have a womb. Had Hunt been a woman, or a man with a little human understanding, I would not have had to worry that my womb was being so inconsiderately battered around in a debate where no-one actually had a womb themselves.
The biggest problem is the fact that all our individualism in British politics has the same gender, the same colour, and the same class. We can’t change the whole face of British politics, but we can change a few individual faces. We need colourful, passionate, diverse leaders to inspire the backdrop of grey, middle-class, white male suits into feeling what they fight for, not just blindly standing with the party line. We can do a lot, lot better. We will.
The original image used in this article has been removed due to copyright infringement.