Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Posts Tagged ‘green shoots’

New Capitalism – New Politics?

Posted by alicocksworth on June 22, 2009

Second home, anyone?

Second home, anyone?

The past six months have been dominated by discussions of the broken financial system and flawed ideologies. A crippling global recession has given rise to mass disillusionment with the fundamental principles of capitalism and called time on self-interest as acceptable motive in business conduct. The reverberations of the 2008 crash are still being felt within the real economy: in the UK, familiar high street names continue to disappear; repossessions are up 50% year-on-year, and unemployment is steadily climbing towards 3 million. In the States, just days ago, Barack Obama was forced to step in to save General Motors as it filed for bankruptcy. Talk of ‘green shoots’ is sporadic and unconvincing.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the UK is facing an equally profound political one. The MPs’ expenses scandal has laid bare a culture of legitimised corruption in Westminster; and the slow response from party leaders and their subordinates has exposed acute disengagement from the electorate.  Public anger previously directed towards Fred Goodwin and his ilk has not only shifted onto our politicians, but has intensified.  MPs are increasingly lumped together with ‘Fat Cats’, as there is a growing perception that bankers and politicians are motivated by the same greed and selfishness.  MPs with their hands in the till are aligned with the banks they bailed out, and as such, in opposition to the individuals and communities that elected them.

Reform, reform, reform

As the public outrage continues to grow, party leaders have fallen over themselves to propose a range of reforms. David Cameron delivered a speech touting a progressive Conservatism that set out ideas for a decentralised, ‘post-bureaucratic’ era. Nick Clegg has called for far-reaching reforms to be agreed within a hundred-day timetable. The Guardian recently produced a supplement entitled ‘A New Politics’, detailing wide-ranging suggestions, from fixed-term parliament to the removal of the monarchy.

There is a broad consensus both within and without the House of Commons that Westminster needs to modernise, it is a question of scale. The Jenkins Report has been on a back burner since it was completed in 1998 but it could now be rejuvenated; its recommendations – including electoral reform and further transformation of the second house – suddenly merit serious consideration. What is certainly clear as the political clean-up commences is that, as with the banking sector, self-regulation is simply no longer an option.

Apathy or activism?

Politicians are being forced to reassess the way they communicate. British politics has tried to learn from Barack Obama, whose campaign successfully used social media to engage with the electorate. The efforts so far have yielded mixed results – Gordon Brown’s YouTube debacle stands in clear contrast to John Prescott’s surprising success with blogging on his Go4th website.  There is a slow realisation that polls, focus groups and even the media cannot alone be trusted as accurate barometers of public sentiment.

The local elections have taken on an important new symbolism – a return to grassroots politics, an opportunity for the electorate to punish their representatives, an outlet for frustration. The public is demanding re-engagement from politicians.

The protest votes just in from the European and local elections could be brutally damaging to the main parties, as both UKIP and the Green Party have made significant gains.  The cocooned Westminster-centric perspective will not be allowed to endure: after decades of apathy, voters want to hold their representatives to account, demanding real transparency and the opportunity to scold with an audible voice.

MPs will try to realign themselves with their constituents: grassroots activism and constituency work will regain importance.  Politicians will have to demonstrate real interest in the communities they represent. Local politics though, is no longer just about street lamps or road works – it is now also about national issues in a local context. Politicians will have to recognise this and modify their communications appropriately.

Republic of Britain?

Is the ‘mother of all parliaments’ about to crumble? Will the monarchy be removed? Will the Speaker of the House finally stop employing someone to carry his train?

No. Just as capitalism emerges from the financial crisis battered but intact, so the expenses scandal will not raze the House of Commons to the ground.  MPs will probably remain ‘right’ and ‘honourable’, but the debate on the nature of UK politics will continue. Whatever the eventual reforms amount to, there will be a tangible shift in the way politicians conduct both themselves and their politics.

The reliance on polls and focus groups will by no means end, but real interaction in the constituency will take precedence.  In the aftermath of the local and European elections, any number of reforms may be implemented. The most significant change will be a more subtle cultural shift within Westminster as MPs return to a truly local, and ultimately more personal brand of politics.

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