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Leader: Losses and gains

01 May 2015

LINDY RUNCIE, wife of a former Archbishop, and a faithful Anglican till she died in 2012, once told an interviewer: "Too much religion makes me go pop." The remarkable thing about the 2015 General Election campaign is the amount of politics it has contained (although sadly not that much religion). Interest in the minor parties has led to an exponential growth in policies to be discussed. There are all their policies, of course, but then these have triggered the counter-policies put forward by the mainstream parties. And then there have been the endless discussions about which coalitions might be formed, all of which have to be denied - except by the Liberal Democrats, themselves a hybrid.

No popping sounds have yet been heard from the electorate, and it is interesting to speculate how politics in this country might change if even a quarter of this level of engagement were retained out of the pre-election season. But the bewildering number of policies being advanced - many of them seemingly unattached from any ideology, or budgetary considerations, or, in some instances, common sense - have served to muddy the water between the parties. The water is, in any case, much murkier now than at any time in the recent past. As a consequence, the danger is that voters will fall back on old loyalties, or focus on only one or two electoral promises, or be swayed by the blatant electioneering of most of the national dailies. It might be that the party managers are not too unhappy about this, and each General Election brings the UK nearer to the US presidential model of campaigning. Party spokespeople regularly say that "David Cameron has done" this, or that "Ed Miliband will do" that, ignoring the party faithful who devise policy, the hardworking parliamentarians who refine it, and the civil servants who put it into practice. The politics of personality is far easier to promote than the politics of policy, since the latter has to be explained, and, as its merits are perceived, runs the risk of attracting support from people of other parties. Far easier to set your man against the other, sleeves rolled up in combative stance.

In this context, coalition politics should be welcomed. For one thing, the need to form a coalition would carry the political debate beyond election day, when traditionally so many promises soak into the sand. For another, there is just a chance that some of the better policy ideas of the minority parties, ignorable by a government with a large majority, might remain on the table during a season of horse-trading. Politics is a game of accommodation and compromise, trading ideology for pragmatism, and it does no harm for the electorate to see this. The motives of the politicians might not be utterly selfless; but, none the less, agreements would have to be forged, and common ground sought - potentially the best thing that could happen.

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