Every MP has their own favourite moment on 'The Tour'. It's a routine that each Member must develop--a witty and insightful commentary to accompany the leading of visitors around the Palace of Westminster. Mine is the revelation that, as fire destroyed the old building in 1834, crowds gathered on the south bank of the Thames to celebrate and applaud its destruction. Anti-politics sentiment has always run deep in Britain.
Yet, as Nick Clarke et al successfully argue, the phenomenon has accelerated, providing a very real threat to democratic socialist parties, including Labour. Cynicism about politics doesn't hurt the rich, but it does create structural barriers to the implementation of policy that could transform outcomes for the most marginalised. Invariably, political parties chase the support of voters, not non-voters. To expect a party that seeks to form a government to behave differently is to ask it to aspire to Opposition.
So let us be clear about the task--not to seek to try and transform the nation's psyche, for historical evidence shows that a scepticism bordering on the cynical is the default position of our liberal democracy; but to remove the barriers that prevent politicians from exercising their power in pursuit of the common good. Despite popular views to the contrary, those in elected office tend to want the space for political action and change to be expanded, not the adulation of a grateful electorate. Complaining about the attitudes of the public is a little like the equally British pursuit of talking about the weather: it passes the time while leaving you subject to the very same forces.
What, then, is to be done? The authors prescribe three talking cures: amplifying the critique while expressing that we are better; shouting louder by pitching to the ideologically pure; and letting the public set the topic of conversation and engaging on their terms. Of these, speaking to the electorate's issues provides the most credible route to furthering Labour's cause as well as the cause of democracy as a whole. What is missing, however, is a defence of our imperfect but broadly acceptable politics, and, implicitly, Labour's claim to govern within that fundamentally sound system for the benefit of the country as a whole.
If our political leaders were suddenly to find themselves as airline CEOs, major newspapers would swiftly start to carry adverts designed to convince that booking with any other carrier would result in a terrifying...