Nick Clegg is giving democracy a bad name. The way that the position of his party revolutionised the opinion polls revealed how much people are influenced by appearance rather than policy.
Those people who are at all familiar with the policies of the parties and their records generally felt that Nick Clegg had not done outstandingly well in the first debate.
But I was watching the debate alongside a 13 year old gril, whose knowledge of the issues and the background is good for her age, but naturally limited. She had no doubt that he was the winner. She saw a nice-looking, open-looking, reasonable-looking man. He seemed appealing.
The British voting public includes a large section who reacted in the same way – as 13 year olds. They did not really understand the issues. They just thought he was good-looking and appealing. This, I fear,is a large part of modern democracy is about. Just appearance.
It is notable that the person to win the three elections in Britain before now was Tony Blair, another nice-looking, reasonable-looking young man (well, he was in 1997)and, ostensibly, an outsider who wanted change. Then there has recently been Obama, another of the same sort who also painted himself as an outsider who wanted change. Not long before him, Clinton came in on the same kind of ticket. Large sections of the public, here and in the USA, seem to fall for this line every time. The leader of the Tory party, David Cameron, was elected by Tory party members. Another case of a nice-looking young man who looks like a breath of fresh air getting the vote.
Democracy has great virtues. But it is worryingly prone to put appearances before policies. It also tends to make tax-and-spend always appear better than tax less and spend less. That is because it is hard to get elected saying you are going to cut services or public sector jobs.
We need to admit these problems with democracy and think how to counter them. Funnily enough, I am tempted to think that referenda – even more democracy – may be part of the answer. One advantage of a referendum is that when a single idea is the issue, it surely comes to seem more important than any particular appealing young man.
"If we win the election...."
James Naughtie, BBC presenter of the Today programme, talking to Ed Balls of the Labour Party prior to the 2005 election.
"A splendid book. It's a devastating critique of the welfare state. A page-turner, yet also extensively sourced. Demonstrates how attempts to achieve good intentions have led to horrible results -- increasing crime and violence, worsened conditions of the very poor, an extraordinary deterioration in the quality and character of British life.
Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winner.
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Before the welfare state
The Greycoat Hospital
The Greycoat Hospital was once a workhouse. It has since been a hospital and a school. It has a very long welfare history. It has now been taken over by the state. No related posts.
- The Greycoat Hospital
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