When it comes to voting, there is little doubt that it is one of the things that Britons least look forward to in their lives. Both time-consuming and at times stressful, a major contributing factor to this stress is a lack of choice between the UK’s political parties.
With similar policies and approaches it can be difficult for the electorate to choose the party that best suits them- if any such party exists. This is evident in the decline of voter turnout with only 65 per cent of Britons voting in the 2010 general election and only 34.19 per cent in the European elections of 2014. Voting has and always will be one of the most important powers that the general public possess, it is therefore important that we exercise that right to the best of our ability. A lack of choice between our parties not only hinders our decisions but affects their quality too. Though some may believe that not having a large choice means it is easier to choose a party, but if a true democracy entails freedom of choice, how can we label Britain a democracy?
The similarities are uncanny at times. Their policies regarding education reforms and their views on electoral reform are similar, if not altogether the same. Although this has been the case for a number of years, Ed Miliband’s leadership forces Labour to go back to its very beginning by advocating traditional Labour party views on economic management, the welfare state, taxation and the reform of traditional institutions. Meanwhile, the Conservatives led by David Cameron have become increasingly more right-wing encouraging New Right policies on the economy, taxation and constitutional reform. Since these changes to leadership style, politics appears to be polarising and entering a more adversarial environment.
The welfare state that Labour had created has been supported by the Conservatives who, despite making severe cuts to the NHS, still remain loyal to the welfare state. Although the Conservatives have been running a significantly smaller welfare state than that which Labour would be running if it were in power, it still encourages the helping of vulnerable people – a principle that has barely been changed regardless of which Party is in government. Both of these parties have accepted that private industries should be allowed to assist in the delivery of key public services such as the NHS. The Conservatives justified this through Nick De Bois who claimed that: ‘To meet the challenge we needed to introduce decentralization and competition, the two catalysts for efficiency. In both of these areas, the legislation is necessary, even in its compromised form.’
The Conservatives however took a slightly different approach using the Health Care Act 2012 which allowed people to choose their healthcare provider, including but not limited to, private companies. Even though both parties bore different methods, their endgame was the same: privatisation. This shared economic approach is what makes them appear to be so similar. For the public, privatisation is viewed in many ways, and those who are against privatising key industries would find little difference between these political parties.
‘Polemic’ does not even begin to cover what the issues regarding education are. In recent years there has been much backlash against the Liberal Democrats who allowed the Conservatives to push through their changes to university tuition fees. It appears however, that had Labour won, a similar reform would have been pushed through. Tuition fees it seems were always going to rise, despite the student protest of at least fifty thousand people. The Labour party had accepted the Conservatives’ introduction of Free Schools which allows any person to set up a school in order to create a competitive market within the schooling system. Coincidentally, the Conservatives have also accepted Labour’s concept of academies, and although they slightly modified this concept, they continued to allow academies to run while they governed the UK.
Labour and Conservatives both support the undemocratic First Past The Post voting system, because it is just that; undemocratic. They were vocal about this when the third party, Liberal Democrats, held the AV referendum. For example, there were more than 150 Labour and the majority of Conservative MPs and Peers that supported the ‘No to AV’ campaign. Their support exists solely because this voting system – unfairly – creates a two-party system which evidently benefits the Labour and Conservative parties. This is why, in spite of having a number of parties in the UK, their unlikeliness of winning causes the electorate to only have a choice between just two parties (Labour and Conservatives). They present similar policies for only one reason. Parties are no longer focused on representing the people; instead, they are adamant on getting votes. Appealing to the mass of the electorate may guarantee them more votes, but it certainly does not offer the electorate a choice. Without a clear choice, we must question what our votes are really worth? Especially when figures show that in 2005, only 20 per cent of Britain supported the Government of the day.
When it comes to economic management, there is to some extent, a difference in both policies and approaches but these differences between the parties are a recent occurrence. Before the 2010 election, we were in a period of consensus politics. Since Ed Miliband has taken over the leadership of the Labour Party, his apparent reversal back to Old Labour has led to an emergence of differing policies between the parties. When it comes to the economy, we are now entering a period of adversarial politics with both parties offering two different routes in order to tackle the deficit. The economic deficit and the recession are problematic for Britons and such a sensitive issue requires that each party is prepared for tackling this and taking the UK back to a period of economic stability. David Cameron explains that he wants ‘this government to carry out Britain’s unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country’, this may mean more spending cuts, which are strongly opposed by Labour. As to which is better – there is a large debate with the general consensus that Cameron’s method provides a quicker solution than Labour’s.
However, this may be the only matter on which the parties clearly differ. This has not been the case for a very long time, until recently: ‘We are ideologically back to the 1950s – the last time the main parties were so close together’, says John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. Regardless of their differences, it is clear that parties and their policies are merely superficial. A method in order to attract more votes. It is undemocratic for them to limit the electorate’s choices and in a time when Britain is suffering from a participation crisis, the lack of choice between political parties must be addressed.