By Zahra Latif
My Perspective on the General Elections
The General Elections on Thursday the 6th of May 2010 had one of the highest voter turnouts in many years. With more than 44 million people turning out to vote, albeit many left disappointed as they were unable to vote, it is clear in their continued political engagement that many British people still have some faith left in politics. Maybe it was the global recession, the MP expenses scandals, the wars abroad or even the popularity of Obama in America that generated great interest in British politics again. Whatever it was, people were getting excited about voting again and even the televised political debates achieved huge viewer ratings.
The party debates gave a good indication of each leader’s personality. Gordon Brown has always had a ‘what you see is what you get’ type attitude proclaiming Labour policies as they are and not minding much about appearing ‘popular’. He has even admitted being more substance than style. Nick Clegg appeared to take an underdog approach, almost like another Obama character, showing they were the only party the British people could trust. David Cameron presented himself as a new modernist compassionate conservative in touch with 21st century Britain.
The results of the elections were surprising in some ways but unsurprising in others. The Conservatives winning most seats was generally predicted but the Liberal Democrats did not achieve as much as they had hoped. Although Labour and Gordon Brown were quite unpopular in their last term in office they were not too far behind the Conservatives showing they still have support in traditional Labour heartlands.
Personally I voted using the postal vote. As the postal vote gets sent early and must be sent off immediately, I voted for Liberal Democrats as I started to believe in Nick Clegg and his policies. However after I voted and then watched the TV political debates I found Gordon Brown quite endearing and liked his substance over style approach. I discovered that for me Brown was being realistic and Labour’s policies made more sense to me. I then regretted voting Liberal Democrats and wished I had shown support for Gordon Brown and Labour.
It seems that people’s engagement with politics is changing in Britain. This can be traced back to New Labour coming to power in 1997. The New Labour government had us believe there was a new optimism and to be hopeful about Britain again. Indeed Tony Blair and the Labour government did deliver on some of their promises. The strong economic climate, low unemployment rates, the building of new hospitals and the like helped the British people feel generally secure and comfortable with the government, in spite of an unpopular foreign policy.
As well as these policies, Tony Blair’s character and personality also grabbed people’s attention. Tony Blair had a talent to charm and convince and most people tended to believe him. He became a sort of celebrity too appearing on chat shows and showing a softer side to his personality and life. In that sense, he had the X-Factor and this personality politics helped to make Tony Blair a successful prime minister by winning three elections consecutively.
British political parties have taken note and have realised that in order to win over the British electorate personality and image is as important as party policies. Although these ideas have existed in politics before, it seems that New Labour may have made them ever more important. The attire, the personality, appearing on popular TV programmes and YouTube videos are viewed as methods to increase a party’s popularity. As a result Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Nick Clegg have learnt to play the same Blairite card or the X-Factor and become not only politicians but also characters in their own right. Whilst personality politics has been criticised in some quarters, it has arguably succeeded as a whole. Making political parties more mainstream and in line with the masses has resulted in more people engaging and responding to politics.
This new phase of politics may have attracted more people to it but in some ways it is also worrying. The government are elected to represent the electorate and therefore have a big responsibility to lead and do what is best for the country. The recession and the expenses scandal are examples and hard lessons that show that politics is quite a serious matter too. The actions that governments take have a big impact on the country and its citizens. Whilst politicians are entitled to reveal their personalities to the nation, we should not lose sight of their purpose.
Upon Friday’s results, it is clear that we are to have a new hung parliament, the first since 1974, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats currently debating a potential partnership. Whoever finally takes on the new government role their policies will determine and shape that of the coming ten years; governing their own five year term while also determining the political direction of the following five years. Let us hope that we can soon see the forming of a stable government that can truly work for the benefit of the British people and the nation as a whole – a government that has the X-factor in both personality and, more importantly, policies.
Zahra Latif read Law at Queen Mary, University of London, and is currently pursuing an MSc in Environmental Science Legislation and Management at Brunel University. She has a keen interest in politics and current affairs.
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