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Sunday, 25 February 2007

Why Freddie is wrong, and why Sir Patrick is the future

Frederick Forsyth's whinge in the letters column of the Telegraph typifies an unhealthy obsession with relative shares of an ever-declining turnout. Freddie mentions 10m missing voters; but of a UK electorate of about 40m only around 60% have turned out in the last decade. That's nearer 16m missing voters. The reason they're deserting the polls, tearing up their party membership cards, declining to make donations to the parties, abandoning their trade unions and otherwise voting with their feet were made clear by the Power inquiry. People are fed up with a large, centralised, remote party duopoly, and votes for the libdems are not so much votes for this particular bowl of custard as votes against the Conservative - Labour duopoly.

Getting excited about whether the Conservatives have 37% or 40% of an ever decreasing voter base ignores the underlying problems. Big Parties like Big Government have had their day. The Labour Party in 2007 is like the British Leyland of politics; the factory boss decides which bodywork and upholstery colour combinations are produced, and which dealers get which vehicles. Local populations will get what they're given. Eventually, of course, sales will drop - people will look elsewhere.

The addiction of both parties to a system of 'A' lister party apparatchik blow-ins is anathema to many voters. The loyalty of Sir Patrick Cormack's constituents in many cases is not to his party or to its policies but to him; an MP who is seen as putting constituency before party.

The party funding row to come will bring this debate into sharper focus. A stitch-up by the big parties will only push this nation into further democratic decline. A brave reform in which central party ties are looser, parliamentary whipping constrained, local politics reinvigorated and a shift in funding and membership from central to local are the only way to re-engage not only with those missing 16m voters but with the rest of us.

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