Opinion: ‘Dirty tricks’ politics is destroying British democracy

Politics should be about constructive debate and people working together to find solutions to common problems like global warming, the economy, social cohesion and public health. Most people get involved in politics for the right reasons, primarily because they want to change the world or help their local community.

However, if you read the Sunday newspapers, it would appear that all politicians do these days is fiddle their expenses and think of new ways to smear their opponents. The resignation of Damian McBride following his alleged plans to smear to Tories, is just the latest in a long line of revelations about sleazy politicians in Westminster. With every new revelation there is a further erosion of the public faith and trust in our elected politicians. It is no wonder really that fewer and fewer people are voting in elections now. There is little enthusiasm or appetite for politics at a grass roots level because people simply do not believe that the politicians they elect can deliver the changes they promise.

Unfortunately, this lack of trust in the political establishment filters down to politics at the local level too. It is rather telling that 30% is considered to be a decent turnout at a local election. Part of this is down to lack of awareness, which needs to be addressed by local authorities, but mostly it is down to apathy, people simply not bothering to vote because they don’t believe their vote will make a difference.

Clearly, faith in politicians needs to be restored before we can begin the process of re-engaging people in the political process and establishing an effective democracy. Politicians must be seen to be transcending party lines and working together again to solve our most pressing problems, and they must be prepared to be held accountable for their actions. They must admit their mistakes where mistakes have been made, and they must be transparent in everything that they do. Ultimately, they must live by their convictions and remind themselves why they got into politics, or question whether they are in politics for the right reasons.

‘Dirty tricks’ politics is destroying democracy in the UK by dissuading ordinary people who really care about their communities from voting. People who do not sit on party fences and who potentially have the power to change the political landscape of this country, are put off from voting not just because the system does not give them a fair vote, but because the actions of our politicians means that they believe their vote will not help to bring about change.

I am a passionate believer in grass roots politics, and believe that democracy means engaging with the very people who elect you and making their opinions count. If this link is broken because our politicians abuse their positions, or they are seen to be benefiting personally rather than looking after their electorate, then in an ideal world they should be held accountable at the ballot box. It is not an ideal world however, and many of the problems I have discussed are systemic in the political system, so the electorate have grown tired of replacing like for like.

“They’re all the same” is a phrase I hear all too often. Politicians across the board must acknowledge that in order to shake off that image, which is damaging to every single politician at a local and national level, a root and branch review of the political system is needed and now would be better late than never.

* Matt Wood is Treasurer of Vale of Clwyd Liberal Democrats.

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  • Turnout at local elections is also low because successive Tory and Labour governments have progressively eroded the power of councillors to achieve anything very significant for their communities, so not voting is actually a perfectly rational response to this.

  • Am I being paranoid in wondering whether Peter Mandelson is being covered for by Draper? Not that he had a hand in writing the emails, but he must have been aware of the effectiveness of the ‘right wing’ blogs and considered the possibility of countering them somehow.

  • Rose Thompson 12th Apr '09 - 9:48pm

    Come off it the Liberal Democrats openly use some of the most negative tactics at local elections. Stop the pathetic hypocrisy, and practice what you preach.


  • Whilst I wouldn’t agree with Rose’s comment, I do think we all need to wonder whether this/ the next election needs to be quite so frenetically/ desperately fought??

    In the heat of battle many of us will have let something slip through that – in the long term – simply damages faith in the political process.

    So let’s stop doing it. And let’s press others to do the same.

  • Load of rubbish. What’s destroying democracy in this country is a combination of stubborn adherence to an eighteenth century political system that cannot function in the absence of pronounced ideological differences, and a generation of politicians who are terrified of expressing anything approaching a coherent ideology.

  • As I’ve said before in response to posts on this topic, I have seen more Liberal/Liberal Democrat leaflets over the past thirty years than most people, and the proportion of those that was in any way unfair or below the belt is very small. As I don’t know where Rose comes from I can’t know whether what she says is true for her area or whether it is the normal Lab/Con smear tactic. I absolutely agree with her though that we should practice what we preach and not be part of a process of dragging politics into the gutter.

  • Tony Hill and Crewegwyn are both right. The recent article “There is No Conservative Future in London” illustrates Crewegwyn’s point. Nothing below the belt, but a desperately one-dimensional approach. “Everything the enemy does is rubbish, everything we do is perfect”.

    The voters just don’t believe that sort of stuff. It makes us look like worthless political obsessives. It plays into the hands of the BNP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Apr '09 - 12:12am

    Turnout at local elections is also low because successive Tory and Labour governments have progressively eroded the power of councillors to achieve anything very significant for their communities, so not voting is actually a perfectly rational response to this.

    Is this a line one ever hears on the doorstep? My experience is that most people have no idea what power local government has, but often seem to assume it has vastly more than it has in reality. People are far more likely not to vote because they think local councillors are bad people who aren’t doing what they think they could do, than because they actually know local councillors can’t do much.

  • Tend to agree Matthew, but, often we defend seats badly for just that reason. The voters blame us for achieving little, when the truth is, we didn’t have a chance.

  • Daniel Bowen 13th Apr '09 - 1:15am

    There are certain people who deserve to be outed by these criteria. http://rainbowherbicide.wordpress.com/2009/04/12/reading-tory-defends-the-monday-club/ is one.

  • Simon Wilson 13th Apr '09 - 11:43am

    I do find it ironic that Cameron is calling for an apology from Gordon Brown yet he pointedly failed to do so himself when the Tory Candidate in Watford’s campaign of hatred and smear came to light and court.

  • Rose – Labour are the absolute experts at taking a story and making a lie from it – they do it just about all the time in Fife – for example, in Labourland a council consulting on new bin collections = they’re only going to collect bins every month and big nasty monsters will grow in the bins and eat your children. As for the Tories, well quite often they simply don’t bother with the story and just tell lies.

    On a serious point, it will be interesting to see how the Tories react to this on a campaigning level. It will be more difficult now for them to use personal issues (either directly or implied) against cabinet ministers – and I’m thinking mainly about the nationalities of the PM and the Chancellor. I hope it will lead to a more rational discussion of policies in the run up to the general election, but I very much doubt it.

  • I agree with Mr Payne when he says people are desperate to win elections and
    this is why they stoop to low tactics.

    But surely the Lib Dems can take a stand against this sort of thing without
    it damaging the poll ratings? Or is that too idealistic?

    Do we really need to create a No To Spin pressure group to get politics
    to clean up?

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