BA Eng Lit, MSc Politics, DipHG
Hours to go and I can feel the adrenaline kicking in.
Whatever happens on polling day, the General Election 2015 has been chaotic. The growing complexity of British politics, signalled by the appearance of seven leaders in the leadership debate compared to four last time, has not led to a better quality of discussion or engagement with the voters, but higher degrees of posturing and spinning against the storm.
While both of the main parties have laid claim, at one point or another to the One Nation agenda neither leader has shown themselves capable of developing a whole-country vision. While both fought for the Union last year, they are now behaving like men with commitment issues, putting too many obstacles in the way of a genuine acceptance of the other: whether it’s a Scotland led by the SNP, or a Wales including Plaid Cymru. It’s as if Ed Miliband is only imagining a country called Labour and David Cameron a fiefdom in which the Tory is the natural head.
Could it be any other way? Are politicians by definition tribal? Are tribal leaders what’s really called for in the running of a country any more? Or is the growing plurality now calling for leaders that have the capacity for collaboration? It’s not easy to find good role models. Nick Clegg has somewhat soiled the pitch, claiming to give up his political ego to act as a brake on Tory politics in the coalition: nice words but little action. As Russell Brand pointed out in his most recent video, Clegg gave way on almost everything that mattered from allowing the loss of 5,000 nurses to betraying his own party on tuition fees and PR. It has been less slowing and more smoothing the way for the Tories.
In the midst of the old Jacobean scenes of thrust and counter-thrust (not helped by the availability of House of Cards on Netflix) many of us have been surprised and delighted by entirely new spectacles, popping up on the political stage. Just the image of a gender balanced line-up in the first debate would have been refreshing enough, but the group hug of the ‘three graces’ in the closing moments must qualify as the image of the GE2015.
But it’s more than a simple image: behind that have been master-classes by all three women in how to change the culture of politics. Each has a different strength: Nicola stood out on that stage as the woman most capable of managing and moving beyond the dualistic, divisive narratives that have served the two party system until now. Listening and questioning rather than confronting, reflecting rather than mirroring the behaviour of the men on the podium – “really? how depressing” – she avoided the trap so many of our female politicians fall into of trying to out-man the men.
Natalie, though often derided for her lack of clarity, has never shied away from evoking whole new futures for the people she hopes to represent. Refusing to bend to the frameworks within which unimaginative political interviewers have asked their questions – answer the question Yes or No? – she has persisted with talking to her own agenda of climate change, shorter working weeks and sustainability, like the canary in the coal mine still singing while it can.
That model of service driven, less egoic, leadership has given hope to many others who might consider going into politics but until now have shied away from the performative demands: even after her most stumbling interviews, the Greens have continued to grow.
Leanne on the other hand has been the Borgen candidate for me. Bravely calling out the old guard, making direct appeals to the mass of people watching – despite having no franchise over most of them – and championing Wales as a terrier that won’t be kicked away by the overlords. She doesn’t hesitate to appeal to the voters’ hearts – a welcome change to the relentless appeal to our pockets which has dominated British politics for too long.
In the midst of this popular development, what is a politician like Ed Miliband to do? The wider picture at the end of the first debate revealed Nigel Farage isolated, nursing his wounds, but Miliband looking warmly over at the three women and indeed a second later he was shaking three hands at once, entering into the embrace.
If Labour does have the chance to form a government, can Ed step up to the democratic call and find a way to serve the biggest number of voters by negotiating with the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems? If he can’t, is he indeed the man to lead the Labour party into what will most certainly be a more diverse, distributed, pluralistic politics in the future?