As the General Election campaign shifts into a different gear – the wall to wall coverage, the on / off TV debates , the post debate analysis and the stage managed events in local high streets for the cameras – the gap between the politicians and their reference group and the rest of the country will get wider.
The big questions:
- what was / are the causes of the austerity measures?
- what has been the immediate impact of the cuts?
- what is the likely impact over time?
are all ignored and re-framed to meet the particular needs of the mainstream parties.
There are two aspects of this silence or consensus between the parties which should be of concern to all of us.
Firstly, the discussion is almost entirely based on the idea that there is or was no alternative to the austerity measures. The circumstances leading up to the banking crisis of 2007/2008 have been rewritten or reordered. Both mainstream parties shared a view that there should be minimal regulation of the banks. It was a view that was common across the international networks of politicians and financial interests. The Clinton Administration in the US was an enthusiastic supporter of deregulation, as were New Labour and the Conservatives. So there is an important point here: The crisis was not solely New Labour’s nor was it caused by excessive public spending. And as the events of 2007 ( Northern Rock) or 2008 ( Leaman Brothers) slip into the past we are likely to miss-remember what happened and why.
Secondly , the popular discussion is almost entirely devoid of international comparisons or examples. So that the new Greek Government are presented as unreasonable for wanting to change the deal with the EU, or the demonstrations in Spain are seen as peculiar to the country rather than illustrative of a different response or a different way of seeing the austerity crisis.
It is this lack of a different conversation which is is of concern. On May 7 in many places there will be local elections too. This is a chance to link the two events. And yet that discussion is not happening. But for a brief moment in the polling station the two will be handed to us to act on. Symbolically we will hold separate ballot papers: one for local councillors and one for the MP. And yet we don’t bring these two together and within a few seconds they are separate again.
How we might link them and what that might mean in framing a different political conversation will be an idea I will return to next week.