The rows upon rows of empty seats on show at all three big three party political conferences this year was less a sign of revolutionary zeal as in “Les Miserable”, and more a sign of “The miserable old sods” as in “no longer relevant”
Of course TV conference watching itself is hardly ever viewing figure gold, but even those of you who switched on during the adverts or caught brief glimpses on the news must have been as shocked as I was at the lack of interest being shown by those in the audience and also the lack of members actually in attendance.
What for me was even more galling were the Leaders Speeches, each played out against carefully choreographed backdrops worthy of the best the West End can muster, a blur of young, carefully ethnically mixed smiling faces, happy clapping at every opportunity, but just where had all these people been when I viewed the conference earlier I thought? it was if they had simply been shipped in for the occasion.
But that’s the state we are in, our politics are boring, they have become an irrelevance to most peoples everyday lives and even if we did listen to what they were saying we still wouldn’t believe what they were saying, their currency value it seems is at an all time low.
Of course it wasn’t always like this, in the golden age of British politics in the 1950’s and 1960’s the two Harold’s (Macmillian and Wilson) played to vast audiences. The Tory party in its heyday for instance had nearly 3 million members, Labour in the 60’s skirted around the 1 million mark, and even the Liberals in one guise or other at one point convinced hundreds of thousands of people to join their cause.
But today? Well the figures are shocking, out of a population of 68 million people the three main party’s can only muster between them less than 300,000 party members, and none of the three have anything to cheer about. The Tories, it is believed have seen their membership haemorrhage since the rise in UKIP’s stock and now even insiders suggest that the total figure may have slipped down for the first time in a century to below the 100,000 mark, and whats even more worrying for those in the blue corner is that this figure is less than half of what it was when David Cameron took over as leader (253,600).
Labour’s figures are believed to be steady at around 150,000 but they are not celebrating as with changes ahead to Union affiliation and a desertion of Left minded members they are now in a race to the bottom with the Tory’s as to who can first catch the Liberal Democrats whose dwindling membership is now as low as the 40,000 mark.
So to put it all into perspective that makes the total number of party members joined up to the three main political party’s in the UK in 2013 at around the 290,000 mark, or less than one third of the number who are paid up members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Over 1,000,000 (1m).
Its not all doom and gloom for politico’s, some party’s memberships are actually on the rise. UKIP it seems may even have overtaken the Lib Dems at 40,000+ and my own party the Green Party is approaching the 20,000 mark after years in the single figure thousands bracket.
But even so those of us who make up the political classes all combined still only represent about 0.9% of the population!
And yet the same lack of interest is not to be found elsewhere in Europe to such a worryingly high extent. In Austria 17% of the population are in a political party in Greece 16%. On average in Europe 5% of the population are members of party’s, and only two countries Poland and Latvia show less interest in politics than UK citizens.
The UK public it seems have already decided that the idea of the political party is just not attractive to them any more, but what do we replace them with? After all as Pericles reminded us “Just because you do not not take an interest in Politics, doesn’t mean that politics won’t take an interest in you!”
For example that dwindling membership above is providing 95% of our 650 MP’s and 23,000 Councillors in the UK ,(others include SNP, PLaid Cymru, Sinn Fein etc) and as the numbers dwindle the age range gets higher and the task of finding candidates of any quality, let alone those really fit for office becomes ever harder.
So if you ever thought that our elected betters were simply a bunch of irrelevant nobody’s chosen from a dwindling list of the undeserving and the inadequate, you would probably be about right!
But is it really a healthy state to be? I don’t believe it is and I hope that a new politics can somehow rise out of the ashes of our failed political system, but one thing is certain, the party for the big three is most definitely over!