MITCH BENN: Time to end the B'stardisation of British politics

PUBLISHED: 09:16 02 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:16 02 March 2019

A MAN FOR OUR TIMES: Rik Mayall in his strangely prescient role as Conservative MP Alan B’stard	Photo: Contributed

A MAN FOR OUR TIMES: Rik Mayall in his strangely prescient role as Conservative MP Alan B'stard Photo: Contributed


While much of the country consists of the sort of constituency wherein, to quote the late great Alan B'stard, they'd elect a hatstand if you stuck the right colour rosette on it, hatstands is what we'll get.

Events are developing at a dizzying rate, and I’m currently suffering the after-effects of some not entirely successful dental surgery, so rather than dwell upon the present or try to predict the future, I’ll throw something out there which will, I trust, apply however things ‘pan out’.

Things have got to change.

There has been a spectacular confluence of inadequacies to bring us to where we are. Inadequate engagement between the political classes and the people, inadequate mutual understanding between regions and socio-economic groups, inadequate scrutiny by, and indeed of, the journalistic establishment, inadequate comprehension of the lessons of the past, inadequate consideration of the future, and of course, woefully inadequate government and opposition.

We need to ask what sort of system can elevate and enshrine the kind of inadequacy, the kind of sheer blithe incompetence and cravenness under which this country now labours. It’s not good enough to snort with derision when this or that government minister lets slip some nugget of staggering ignorance; we need to ponder how we’ve come to allow ourselves to be governed by the staggeringly ignorant.

Even for someone in my position, 25 years into a career of holding up the deficiencies of the great and good to public ridicule, the level of ridiculousness we face today is hard to process. One might almost suspect that our political leaders, tiring of being mocked and lampooned by satirists and parodists, are conspiring to put us all out of business. We can’t compete with the real thing any more. We can’t paint them in any more stupid or grotesque a light than that in which they happily paint themselves.

It’s very tempting to say ‘let’s just burn the whole house of cards to the ground, whatever arises in its place can’t be any worse’. But that, let’s remember, is how we got into this mess in the first place. It’s not enough just to throw a spanner in the works; you need to take a spanner to the works, strip the works down and reassemble the works in a new configuration that actually, well, works.

One thing we could really do with taking a look at is our voting system.

Now I know we had a referendum in 2011 in which the idea of abandoning ‘first past the post’ lost by two to one. But if I didn’t believe that the results of referendums could bear to be re-examined after a few years’ worth of developments, I’d be writing for the wrong newspaper. And since so much of the Brexit conversation has been about ‘the people taking back control’, you’ve got to ask just how much control ‘the people’ ever really have in a system where the winning party almost never gets more than about 42% of the vote but can, if this translates into an overall majority, exercise absolute executive power.

At any given time, about three-fifths of the electorate are being governed by a party they voted against, and since turnout usually hovers somewhere around 65%, this means that the average government enjoys the active support of no more than about 28% of the population.

It’s really no wonder that political engagement is so flimsy in this country; that so many people in this country feel like elections don’t matter, given that we generally end up with a government that 70% of us didn’t endorse.

The big argument against proportional representation, single transferable vote, alternative vote, or whatever it’s called these days, always used to be that it produces weak governments.

Pundits would point mockingly at European parliaments, with their constantly shifting coalitions and pacts, comparing them to the ‘strong and stable’ (bet you never thought you’d hear that again) administrations of Westminster.

This patently doesn’t apply any more; we’ve spent all but two of the last nine years under a hung parliament, and our current one gets more hung with every passing week.

And besides, what’s so inherently great about having a ‘strong’ (that is to say, entirely unchecked) government anyway? It’s now clear that for all the scorn that was poured on the idea at the time, the Conservatives being forced to work with the Lib Dems from 2010 to 2015 was curbing their ideological excesses, given that once they were on their own they drove the country off a cliff within little over a year.

A more modern system might also serve to provide a higher standard of politician by removing the curse of ‘the safe seat’.

While much of the country consists of the sort of constituency wherein, to quote the late great Alan B’stard, they’d elect a hatstand if you stuck the right colour rosette on it, hatstands is what we’ll get.

It’d be nice to think that there might actually be electoral ramifications if a comfortably-majoritied MP turned out to be a fulminating anti-Semite, or stupid enough not to understand that the Republic Of Ireland genuinely isn’t part of Britain any more.

Something to ponder in the interesting times ahead. I’m off to take some more painkillers.

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