Off to a flying start | Pushing the Wave

Off to a flying start

Opinion, 11 July 2024
by L.A. Davenport
The Houses of Parliament from Waterloo Bridge
The Houses of Parliament from Waterloo Bridge
This last week has seen politics in the UK at its most optimistic and vital. It is always the way with a new government of course, who are keen to implement ideas they have sold to the public as being the best for the country, but I have say that Keir Starmer’s team have got off to a particularly flying start.

This is naturally very welcome after what seemed like a great deal of hot air, but very little of consequence, over the past few years.

Whether all these fine words from the new incumbents in Downing Street lead to firm action and definitive outcomes in the near future or even over the course of the parliamentary term remains to be seen. However, I strongly hope that Starmer and his cabinet are able to use what is seen by some as a dangerously large majority in a way that benefits the country as a whole.

One of the changes that I am most hoping that will be carried through, and one which does not require any legislation or funding from the Treasury, is a change in tenor from the relentless negativity, fear-mongering and suspicion that characterised the twilight of the final, unedifying years of the Tory government.

Personally, I would like to see more positivity and warmth, and a little more consideration and humility, from our politicians. That and a recognition that we are not made up of a series of antipathetic ‘others’ but part of one large collective (I hesitate to use the word ‘family’).

Through that, I believe that we can and should be able to arrive at a series of compromises that harm none and benefit many. (And by the ‘many’, I mean those who have had, under our most recent prime ministers, the sense of having been prejudiced against, and even victimised, by politicians who seem not to care about anyone other than a very narrow constituency, who I should point out largely voted for Reform UK.)

Turnout is key to democratic legitimacy

Last week, I talked about the political situation in France, and in the meantime a new left-wing alliance, le Nouveau Front populaire (New Popular Front), came first in the parliamentary elections. In doing so, they pushed President Emmanuel Macron’s leading party into second place, thereby creating probable political deadlock for the rest of his term.

But the real story for many was that the much-feared march of the far-right was halted in its tracks. In the first round, le Rassemblement National (National Rally, formerly National Front) came first, prompting much hand-wringing among commentators and a great deal of panic among the moderate majority.

And then, with a combination of mainstream candidates dropping out of races in individual constituencies to concentrate the vote against the le Rassemblement National, and some very real concerns that the country could be taking a sickening lurch to the right, the people humiliated its parliamentary leader Marine Le Pen and president Jordan Bardella into third place.

But for me, the key detail of this election, which in the end showed that France is, and will remain for some time, a deeply divided country, was not of a ‘resurgent’ left, a victory for moderation over extremism or any of those kinds of explanations, but rather a question of turnout.

The 2022 parliamentary election was, in my view, marred and rendered pretty much invalid in practical terms by having a turnout of just 48%. How can any government claim legitimacy when it has a majority in the national house of representatives based on a minor fraction of votes from less than half of the voting public? To me, it cannot.

A turnout as low as that should be seen as a stain on political democracy, and it should have given politicians of all stripes much pause for thought to wonder how they can increase political engagement and reduce voter apathy.

In 2024, the turnout almost doubled to 66%, a figure that compares with the general kinds of turnout we see in the UK, yet still despair over and wonder where the nation is heading.

That most recent figure is of course is a little more representative of the French public, and therefore shows that support for le Rassemblement National is lower than people feared, albeit still very high for a liberal democracy that supposedly prides itself on the right to live freely and without oppression or undue restriction, the notion that every person is viewed equally under the law, and belief that we should all be kind and supportive to one another (ie, Liberté, égalité, fraternité).

What we need to take home from all of this is that age-old adage: if we don’t want who we consider to be the ‘wrong’ people in power, then we need to stop moaning and get out there and vote. It is the only tool we have at our disposal to help shape the nation in our image, and the only legitimate means of having our individual voice heard, in a true sense.

And when there is a large turnout, we can then say with certainty what our fellow citizens think about the state of the nation and its desired direction of travel, and together address concerns and developing compromises that can work for everyone.

A word for Gareth Southgate

Finally, a thought for ‘our boys’, who managed to overcome the Netherlands in the final dying seconds of play last night and, seemingly against all odds, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to get themselves into the final of the UEFA European Football Championship.

I mentioned recently that I am a football fan only when it comes to major tournaments, and as the Euros have progressed I have found myself increasingly drawn into the exploits of Harry Kane and the rest of the England team. Well, I say that, but it seems that Gareth Southgate is really the focus of all the attention, and anything the team does on the pitch is secondary, unless it involves some piece of individual brilliance.

It strikes me as rather odd that he should be under so much pressure, when it is only a short while ago that England were perpetual all-rans, full of promise but with no clue how to do anything with it; forever snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as it were. Now the team is playing as expected, grinding out results one after another until they reach the final, at which point all bets off are off. They did the same thing at the last Euros, and reached the semi-finals in the 2018 World Cup.

Personally, I am impressed, and now that I have watched enough matches to once again become an armchair expert, I can confidently predict that they will rise to the occasion and score at least one goal. Beyond that, I have no idea, but I do very much wish them well.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Off to a flying start | Pushing the Wave