Here's my piece from today's Times on why the last thing we want is more consensus politics. We already have far too much!
December 08, 2005
We want more of Mr Punch
By Neil Clark
DAVID CAMERON says he wants an end to “Punch and Judy politics”. But the problem is not that we have too much Punch and Judy politics, but that we don’t have anywhere near enough.
On the biggest issues of the day — from Iraq to globalisation, from law and order to our economic system — both HM Government and HM Opposition have, for the past few years, been singing from the same hymn sheet. And it is this mind-numbing, anti-democratic consensus that is alienating voters; not that there are too many verbal brickbats at PMQs.
It wasn’t always like this. As recently as 1983, voters could still enjoy thrilling Punch and Judy politics and the cut-and-thrust of a real ideological debate. The choice was between the undiluted socialism of Michael Foot’s Labour, with its pledges to remove nuclear missiles from British soil and pull out of the EEC, and the full-blooded neo-liberalism of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. During the campaign Denis Healey (a wonderful Mr Punch if ever there was one) accused Mrs Thatcher of “glorying in slaughter”; Mr Foot accused Lord Hailsham of “licking Hitler’s jackboots” and Kenny Everett called for Mr Foot’s stick to be kicked away.
The result of the rudest and most knockabout election since 1945 was a turnout of 72 per cent. Contrast that with the last two general elections, in which only 60 per cent voted in sleep-inducing contests between a pro-war, pro-privatisation government and a pro-war, pro- privatisation opposition.
With the election of Mr Cameron, things look like getting a whole lot worse. He not only dislikes Punch and Judy politics, he also thinks the Tories ought to stop “grumbling” about modern Britain. This narrows the debate still further — millions of people feel they have perfectly good reasons to grumble about modern Britain. With a “modernised” Tory party embracing Cool Britannia, who will there be left to speak for the Victor Meldrews?
Rather than extending consensus politics, here’s a better idea. Let’s have Mr Cameron call the Prime Minister a liar who led the country into an illegal and disastrous war. And let’s have Mr Blair retaliate by calling Mr Cameron an out-of-touch Hooray Henry. If it’s democracy we want, that’s the way to do it.