All politicians are the same – you’ll hear this a lot if you meet real voters between now and next May’s general election. The fact is that politicians don’t stand for anything anymore, while clear differences between the parties have disappeared.
Nor is it just ordinary voters yearning for more defined politics. Commentators right, left and centre take up space inventing new and more coherent mythical parties – Nationalist, Liberal and Metropolitan – that might do away with the flaws of the current system to offer a better set of political choices. But would this actually be so different from what we have now?
Populus recently experimented by replacing the traditional British political parties with a set of new, debranded alternatives differentiated by where they stood on a small set of high-profile issues: the UK’s membership of the EU; the burden of business regulation; the urgency of climate change; the private delivery of public services; same-sex marriage and the impact of immigration on Britain. Voters were asked to choose which party they would be most likely to support at a general election and which other party they would most like to see their first choice form a coalition with if it could not govern by itself.
There was majority support for parties who thought that immigration had been good for Britain overall, who favoured continued UK membership of the EU (at least under the right terms) and who supported gay marriage. However, the most popular new party – getting just under two-fifths of the vote – was the one that stood for Britain’s exit from the EU and against immigration, urgent action on climate change, private involvement in public services and gay marriage, and in favour of more business regulation.
This anti-globalisation party of the right was joined by more than a quarter of voters who voted for an anti-globalisation party of the left – pro-EU, immigration, urgent action on climate change and same-sex marriage, but in favour of more regulation on business and against private involvement in public services. Of the other voters, a little more than a third were split between the two left and right-centrist parties – united in being pro-business, pro-immigration, supportive of gay marriage and pro-private involvement in public services, but divided on EU membership and the urgency of tackling climate change.
So there you have it. Fresh choices and clear stands on fundamental issues, but the same messy process of compromise where no-one got all they had voted for, not because all parties are the same, but because all voters are different.
Predictions for 2015
1. If Labour wins, Ed Miliband will probably be the first successful opposition leader to have a net negative satisfaction rating.
2. For the Conservatives to win, they will have to be the first governing party to increase their vote share since October 1974.
3. Conservatives have not polled above 37 per cent UK-wide since 1992; Labour since 2001. Neither is likely to do so this time.
Rick Nye is managing director of Populus