'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it.

I've been thinking a lot about this sentiment over the last few days ( and I do mean the sentiment - not the Ken Livingstone book).

The saga of 'hackgate' sees the third and fourth of our great institutions fall under the microscope and to be found wanting. 'The world will never be the same again' seems to be the general sentiment. But is this true?

The banks, we were told, were in for wholesale and radical change with an end to the 'casino culture' that had pervaded them before. So the timing of the news, in this week of all weeks, that financial institutions in the City of London paid out £14 billion in bonuses last year is rather ironic. As is the news that many of them now lie exposed to horrendous risk should Greece et al default on their loans. Another bail out beckons. Plus ca change.

After the expenses scandal, we were told politics would never be the same again. Here the signs were more encouraging. A record number of MPs decided not to stand for re election, promising a change of guard at Westminster. And in the election, the people spoke too, refusing to give one party a clear majority, the wisdom of the masses asking us, the Lib Dems, to act as a brake on the worst excesses of ( as it emerged) a Conservative government.

But, despite out best efforts, has anything in politics fundamentally changed? The voting system for Westminster will not alter, and indeed a common question I get asked by friends outside the party is 'what were you thinking of, worrying about AV when the country was in economic meltdown'. I may not agree with them - but so many people say it that it's clearly a popular sentiment. Now we see the struggle with Lords Reform as well and I wonder - come 2015, will anything in politics really feel so fundamentally different.

Now we come to the press and the police. On the press, the outrage at the practices employed by the News of the World (outrage not particularly echoed in many of the tabloids) is being slowly replaced with mutterings about the dangers of over regulation of the press ( a real danger of course, but one that mustn't be allowed to mask the wild west lawlessness that has been going on for too long) and even a sentiment that actually, all this stuff in the press is really the fault of the public. Similarly, while we have seen two 'honourable' resignations at The Met, neither Stephenson nor Yates is acknowledging they did anything wrong and therefore I wonder if there is any real appetite for change.

I hope I'm wrong. Maybe the judicial inquiries will reveal all and we shall have a root and branch restructure of the press, press regulation, and even the police. But in truth, I'm not holding my breath.


  1. Great post Richard, completely agree.

    ...but what do we do about it?!

    For a long time I've felt like my party membership was a waste of time/money, now I know it is, but I have no other alternative. I can't see how real change can happen in a system like this. Despite all the wrongdoing, News Corp shares are rising, because investors know that governments can only do so much, and once this is over it'll be business as usual, legal or not.

  2. Thanks - great feedback.

    First off I hope you'll stay in the party. We in the Lib Dems are unique in that it really is the membership that sets the policy for the party, and its us who can get things changed. Now we are in government, we are in a position to make real change in this area - for example we have been fighting for some time for meaningful regulation of media ownership including maximum levels of share. It's the members - if we care enough - who can make this a priority and influence legislation.

    Ditto for saying how we feel generally. While The Guardian deserves all the kudos for keeping the phone hacking saga alive, Twitter et al made it real and has had a profound effect on the story. The voice of the people still counts.

    I think you're right that the establishment is unlikely to change itself (Turkeys voting for Christmas); but the people still can.

  3. I've already let my party membership lapse, for precisely the kinds of reasons you've expressed here Richard. I'll probably join again on the cusp of the next revolution.

    Now we're in government we see significant deeper issues within the party; the real question is, as you say, will Britain be a better place by 2015? I don't feel like the changes that have been made so far will give us affirmation to that question.

    I feel like there is something fundamentally wrong within the party (and all others) regarding its outlook, hopes, aspirations and, most importantly, membership demographic. For a while I've had a nagging feeling that these are the wrong people to claim exclusive ownership of liberal Britain; surely the people that need our ideology most are the downtrodden, oppressed, trapped citizens of our poorest regions? Why can't we communicate with these traditional Labour voters? Why do we so often come across as self-rightous, middle-class intellectual sorts that the working man wants little to do with?

    These are the very folk that suspect all their lives that "if voting changed anything, they'd abolish it". I can't see any profound change until we can integrate normal people into our party and democracy, but I fear we're still a long way off doing this. A clutch of Etonian/Oxbridge millionaires that have lived in a bubble all their lives are simply not appropriate sole leaders of our nation, they've not spent long enough living the problems to understand them implicitly. I'm not saying they're bad people, they want to do good things, mainly, but they're institutionalised. I never had these issues until I met Nick Clegg, since then, these have been my greatest concerns.

    Why is the House of Commons not really for commoners?

    If a change is gonna come, it's a slow, old bus.

  4. I hope you come back - it may be slow old bus but someone needs to check it's being driven in the right direction....

    meantime you might find this site interesting http://www.2020uk.org/

    it's about many of your concerns. It's nothing to do with me - I have had a post put up on it.