Saturday 23 May 2009

Political parties are better for us than Esther Rantzen

As the drip-drip of Telegraph revelations continues, the cry goes up that we need an early general election to 'clear the air.' But this would be a big mistake. It would simply produce a parliament of extremists and policy-free independents. While the odd Martin Bell may be good for politics, a collection of people elected purely because of who they are not would be damaging to good governance.

The truth is that despite the fashion for extreme cynicism, politicians who stand on a platform tend to work towards achieving it, in areas as diverse as education, health, the economy and transport. Labour achieved over 80% of its manifesto commitments in its first term. The Tories with an alternative platform - given the time to formulate it - would work towards their alternative, as would the Liberal Democrats. But making politics a policyfree zone as a revenge for the moats and duck islands would lead to a lack of any such sense of purpose, substituting an ill-defined anger with politicians for the purpose of political parties. As Janice Turner puts it (pretty pointedly) about Esther Rantzen in an excellent piece in today's Times:
Do years uncommitted to a party make a celebrity admirably independent or mean that she simply couldn't subsume her ego to anything bigger than herself?
So, it would be folly to call an election at a time when perspective is so skewed. Instead, the parties should clean up politics, and consider other reforms which could improve confidence in MPs (such as an alternative vote or PR allowing both protests and effective votes). At the same time, all the parties must find the space to remake the case for party politics.

It is a lot stronger than the case for Esther Rantzen.

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