Yearning For The Old Days

If your election sometimes seems full of synthetic razzmattaz, ours suffer from the yawn factor. Here in Britain, voting has become such an unpopular pursuit that the government is seriously considering giving the franchise to sixteen year-olds in a desperate attempt to boost numbers.

In three decades of covering British elections, I have reached the unhappy conclusion that we've lost interest in the people who do politics, partly because the politicians have become depressingly forgettable, but also because their policies are almost identical.

In the old days, the British Labor Party used to be full of fire-breathing socialists ready for revolution. Now it resembles the modern Conservative Party, which used to be full of wealthy aristocrats, with silly names and hard-right wing views. These days the parties are interchangeable, stuck on the middle ground.

When I first started reporting British elections, politicians would hold proper meetings and people would stand in line for hours to hear them. Sir Alec Douglas Home - yes, honest, there was a British Prime Minister called Sir Alec Douglas Home, one of those old fashioned landed gentry types who had so much money he didn't need to go into politics at all, but thought it was his duty ….. anyway Sir Alec liked to go from town to town and speak to the crowds from the back of an open truck. There he'd be, rain or shine, sitting on a hay bale lecturing the crowd in his plummy voice.

Perhaps it was no surprise that he lost the election in 1964 to a Labor politician called Harold Wilson. Now Harold liked nothing better than real live hecklers in his audiences. He'd relish the arguments as he waved his pipe at them. Of course in private, he smoked a cigar.

In those days the weapon of choice for political protestors was the word, or at worst the well aimed rotten egg or soft tomato. But today no self respecting political leader would dare hold a truly open meeting. Instead we are subjected to fake gatherings, staged entirely for the cameras, which are really party rallies, populated by hand-picked loyalists. Real people no longer get a look in. And real policy alternatives are rarely put before the people. So I confess to a little bit of envy at your current electoral race. Dull it isn't.
By Ed Boyle
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