Why is a nice smile more important then clear policies when it comes to winning votes?
In running this blog, I have demonstrated how easy it is to lose support by being too upfront and open about your policy ideas. It doesn't matter what you say, if you stress it in strong definite terms you will upset someone. Nearly everyone who has visited this site could find ideas here that are not conventional wisdom, that they nevertheless strongly agree with, but it is the ideas here they disagree with that they remember most.
Sometimes the most sensible policies are opposed by the majority.
People can be very fickle. If they disagree with a couple of policies, you can lose their vote. In that case it pays for politicians to be as vague as possible when it comes to any issue that is even remotely controversial. People moan about how boring and vague politicians are, but when faced with a politician of the calibre of Ken Livingstone who is clear about policy, he is vilified to the extreme. Of course this vilification is helped by the misrepresentation of his policies by the press.
Labour's task is made doubly difficult by the 75% of the press that opposes almost anything they try to do. Of course these newspapers owned by a few wealthy overseas men, have their own agenda and it rarely corresponds with what is good for the majority in this country. Until we truly have a free press, this disgraceful curtailment of democratic debate will continue and politicians will continue to be vague.
Another factor in our boring vague repetitive politics is the 'first past the post' electoral system, which by excluding fringe opinion, makes it much more difficult for challenges to conventional wisdom to be properly debated.
Without electoral reform and a truly free press, we are doomed to head towards the inequality and death of democracy that has occurred in the US, where large sectors of the urban poor are unrepresented. This has already started to happen to here, where Labour has been forced to the right by our press and electoral system and effectively disenfranchised the poor, whose vote is so devalued in safe seats.
The boundaries are working in Labour's favour at the moment, but if we continue with FPTP, an unreconstructed Tory party will inevitably win power again and change the boundaries to suit them (just like the Republicans have done in the US).
I also feel that the current impartiality of the broadcast media could be threatened, and ultimately the existence of the BBC itself could be in danger. For obvious reasons Murdoch and Rothermere use their media power to undermine their BBC rival as much as they can. Who is to say a secret promise from the Tories, who would have the most to gain from a biased broadcast media (just like how the Republicans gain in the US) wouldn't secure Murdoch's support. I dread to think what deals Blair made with Murdoch to get his support in 1997. Although lately (especially the last election) it has been obvious his papers have been supporting the Tories to the hilt and then giving nominal support to Labour, only when it was clear they were going to win. Murdoch blamed the internet for the loss of his paper's influence over the voters. (If anybody wonders why Murdoch shows CBS reports and not his own Fox during the night, it's because Fox falls foul of our anti-bias rules which govern the broadcast media).
So in short, as Robin Cook made clear before his death, this is Labour's last chance to give us electoral reform probably for a generation, because when the Tories get back in power, they will make damn sure they alter the boundaries in their favour. FPTP is just too dangerous a threat to our democracy to leave in place any longer. Where the boundaries are drawn shouldn't be allowed to be more important than how people actually vote. If Labour misses this chance at reform we could rue our mistake for another generation, as a right wing Tory government again demolishes all the good we have done in building up this country from the selfish ruin of the Thatcher years.