It’s that time again. The time when the politicians put on their best lying faces and try to convince us that they share our pain. Hit me.
If you don’t know anything about the upcoming UK election, I recommend skipping the entire first bit of this. I will be ranting.
I hate election season. For the past two months, every single piece of news has had a ‘how will this affect the election? ‘ segment.
The Westminster brass has come out in force, lying about each other and about policies and about how we should actually vote for them rather than the identical clone running under a different colour. I hate it all.
Anyway, last Thursday was the Leaders Debate – the Conservative and Labour people bashing each other, plus five other desperate politicians screaming for attention. It all went exactly as predicted. The Torys went on about the economy, Labour went on about working class families, UKIP blamed the immigrants, SNP blamed Westminster, the Welsh one(they’re called Plaid Cyrmu, which literally translates to ‘Party of Wales’) also blamed Westminster, the Greens said we should fix the environment and the Lib Dems tried to run away. Exactly as everyone expected. It was a two hour exercise in politican poking. That’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
That being said, there were a few interesting things that stuck out. Nick Clegg (leader of the Lib Dems, who formed a coalition with the Torys last time around and subsequently broke every single promise he made) was simultaneously claiming that he was never in agreement with Cameron and that ‘our’ plan is currently working. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP (the people who brought Scotland to the brink of independence last year) seemed to tear the other leaders apart. And the simple fact that there was a seven-way debate, of which three of the leaders were women, was amazing in itself.
But to me, there were a few gaping holes in the discussion. The audience questions brought up all the standard points – the NHS, deficit, immigration and the cost of living issue. All four of which were just chances for each party to flash around their economic plans. But there was no mention of Trident (the UK nuclear program about to undergo a £100 billion overhaul). There was no mention of any sort of defence. There was a brief mention of education, but all seven skirted around it with surprising deftness.
Here’s what I can think about modern politics – I mean, here’s one of the very many things are wrong with modern politics. There are so many problems with politics, I could create an entire blog talking entirely about that issue. But here’s one of the problems.
In my opinion, modern British politics has got the wrong end of the stick. The vast majority of parties are flaunting an economic policy as the reason to vote for them (apart from UKIP, who uses idiotic policies to attract voters). I don’t think that that’s the way to actually get things done. Sure, a country needs a good economy. If you don’t have a strong economy, you end up like Greece. But I don’t think that economic reform is the way to create social change. And I believe strongly that social change is the thing that a country needs in order for it to advance in the long term.
At this point I will stand back and explain my own background in this. For quite a few years, I was a member of a youth club-type thing called the Woodcraft Folk (and no, it’s not a whittling club). It’s an international organisation trying to get kids of all ages (our ‘district’ has members aged from 3 to 25, as well as a dozen adults of varying ages) interested in global issues – climate change, politics, human rights and whatnot.
Now, over the 80 years since the group was founded, it’s attracted a certain type of person. The majority of our group was formed of left-wing, socialist, outdoorsy kids who generally liked learning (interestingly, it was a fairly equal mix of boys and girls). We described ourselves as a hippy, socialist version of the Boy Scouts. If you don’t know already, I conform to all of those stereotypes.
One of the issues that we looked at a lot was society – how society operates on both small and large scales, how society ties in to politics, how we would change the way society is run. And when I say society, I mean the core population of a country. We talked about problems that emerged when government tried to talk society, and problems in society that the government wasn’t facing up to. So I’ve been think about this topic for some time. And here’s a conclusion that I’ve reached.
In the UK, there are problems – problems like the struggling NHS, and the housing crisis. Lots of politicians seem to think that the way to solve this is by throwing money at the problem. If we increase the NHS budget, or make it easier for people to get loans in order to build houses, then we can just solve all the problems. But as the past few years have proved, doing this simply can’t solve these issues. We need more than money.
What I think is that we should do is not to focus on economic policy, but on social changes. Not the kind of social policy like UKIP want (to ban all the immigrants), but social change that makes the world a better place. Instead of trying to fix a system through top-down reform, use grassroots education to change it from the bottom up. Rather than change a system that is working pretty much fine, try to change the way that people interact with the system.
I’ll stop this indistinct language and use an example. Take the NHS. In the UK, the National Heath Service is under mounting pressure – there is an ageing population, rising obesity levels and falling funding. Plus people are vastly misusing Accident and Emergency (or Emergency Rooms), going to the hospital rather than booking an appointment with a GP (General Practitioner, so basically a family doctor). What most political parties think is that the way to fix this is to throw more money at the NHS, to increase the number of doctors and nurses. Although UKIP still thinks that the solution is to throw out all the immigrants. But I don’t think that that’s the right thing to do.
What we should do (in my opinion) is to educate people. Tell them about how to use the GP system, teach them about the actual implications of misusing A+E, explain about how to stay healthy without needing actual medical assistant. You can take some of the pressure off A+E, help people to help themselves at home and change the way we think about the NHS as a national asset. And through this process, we change the way we use the NHS. And remove the pressure.
That’s what I mean by social change. Change the way we interact with a system without changing the system itself, and take pressure off pressured systems. And change the country in the long term. Because economic change is not permanent – in will fluctuate over years and decades. But social change will stick around. Women got the vote in 1919, and since then women’s rights have only gone uphill in the West.