The Illusion of Choice

This week brought the news that the leaders television debates on the BBC and ITV will have their format changed in order to accommodate other parties. Such a step is a necessary act if we are to truly believe in the ideals of democracy, but even with this change, we are too commonly presented with the illusion of choice instead of the reality of it.

For far too long in the country, both the media and the political parties have reinforced the feelings of a two party system. Similar to the United States whereby they have either Republican or Democrat, we in the UK have fallen hook, line and sinker for Labour or Conservative. These, we are told and we believe, are the only possibilities.

Labour and the Conservatives have been fighting one another for so long, a blur of red fists and blue fists, that they have began to look remarkably similar. With these two parties being the only choice for UK voters for decades, their policies were not incredibly dissimilar. Indeed they could not be, for fear of alienating the population, and therefore potentially losing votes. Both Conservatives and Labour voted in favour of invading Iraq in the early part of this century, and more recently both Conservative and Labour have voted to continue the policy of austerity.

With such friends, who needs enemies? And with such opposition, who needs support?

There are a multitude of reasons as to why the UK voter turnout has gradually decreased, but one of the reasons may well be that people have awoken to the fact that a vote, in this UK democratic system, is rather meaningless. There is light between Labour and the Conservatives, but for the large majority of people, that light is so slim that it may as well not be there. It does not surprise me that some disillusioned voters on the left now refer to Labour as “red Tories.”

The problem with having only two parties with any chance of forming a government is that an array of choice is not offered to the nations voters. The two parties pick their issues, Labour with the NHS, the Conservatives with the economy, and besides those, they agree on pretty much everything else. Even with the recent climb of UKIP, and the presence of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, difference between parties is rare.

Two weeks ago the voters were told that the options were Labour, Conservative, UKIP, or the Liberal Democrats. All of these parties are headed by white, middle class males; all of these parties are committed to the idea of continuing austerity; and all of these parties have taken a controlled or anti-immigration stance.

There is choice at the general election when you look at the Big Four – as I shall call them here – but it is the same choice that you see when you walk into a shop and glance at the fridge to find Tango, Pepsi, Coke, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Sprite and Lilt. There seems to be a choice of drinks, a wide variety of options that are open to you, but no matter what you buy, your money will only ever end up in the hands of a select few.

Cynically you may see Labour as Conservative-lite, or “red Tories”, an improvement on the Conservatives, but still too close to them for comfort. You may see Conservatives as Labour, but with more focus on economy and harsher views on immigration. UKIP have been dubbed “more Tory than the Tories”, and so they may be seen as Conservative-hard. And the Liberal Democrats? Well, they just seem to position themselves wherever they are more likely to pick up voters.

If the political landscape was a football pitch, the Big Four would occupy a space in the centre circle. The Tories and UKIP to the right of the centre spot, and Labour to the left slightly. With the entire pitch to play on though, where are the other parties, and why is nobody taking advantage of the space?

Within this centre circle of parties there are a number of issues which are just not discussed or even contemplated. Political slogans and re-election campaigns choose to focus very narrowly on single issues. Ed Miliband insists on tackling “the cost of living crisis” as well as the NHS. David Cameron is all about jobs, growth, and the economy. Nigel Farage, as everyone is well aware by now, has an issue with foreigners. Immigrants working, immigrants claiming benefits, immigrants causing congestion on the M4, and so forth. Nick Clegg just seems a little lost.

So these are the issues that the leaders have declared worthy of the public’s attention. These are what the general election will be won and lost on. The Big Four are your only option, and if you are to get change, it will only come about in a very narrow framework. Austerity, but Labour austerity. Anti-immigration policies, but Tory anti-immigration policies.

The breath of fresh air in European politics that is Syriza has only gone to further reaffirm the fact that real choice in the UK at election time, is thin on the ground. As I write this they are gearing up for the 2015 Greek general election, and if the polls are to be believed, they are to lead Greece come Monday morning. In a country mired in turmoil, and with its people deciding that centre circle politics will not be enough to save them this time, Syriza have finally given an opportunity for real change. Their 40-point programme looks at issues many parties would not even contemplate.

The UK needs a Syriza of its own, not because I believe a party like Syriza to be the best option, although that is true, the UK needs a Syriza of its own because such parties are necessary within democracies. In order for democracy to live up to its billing, you need a multitude of opinions and ideas. In essence you need choice, and for too long the UK has just not been getting that.

Where are the parties talking about nuclear missiles, and the renewal of Trident? Where are the parties that are opposed to the barbaric practices of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, who have long been allies of the UK? Where are the parties that recognise Israel as an enemy of freedom, an obstacle of human rights, and an apartheid state routinely conducting war crimes? Where are the parties who want to abolish UK tuition fees for University students? Where are the parties looking for a fairer method of voting, introducing proportional representation rather than the unsuitable and dated first past the post system? Where too are the parties opposed to UK military engagement overseas? Or the monarchy?

Democracy, like the Premier League, is larger than simply the Big Four. There are very real parties out there, with very valid policies. Many of which you would strongly support if only you knew about them.

Do not let mainstream media, and the mainstream political parties, blinker you into believing that there is only a choice between four. There is not, and it is time we showed them that.

Recommended links:

Scottish National Party – link to their homepage
Green Party – link to their homepage
Plaid Cymru – link to their homepage
National Health Action Party – link to their homepage
Socialist Party – link to their homepage
Socialist Workers Party – link to their homepage
Class War – link to their homepage



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