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Election losers? Our clapped-out parties

Worst past the post

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For their part, Conservatives have always had a historical problem advocating bold, active government, since they quite like not changing things (the clue's in the name). This legacy was complicated after Public Choice Theory and Thatcher, which suggested that anyone running for office must be corrupt (or soon will be corrupted). So bright Tories have stayed away from politics. At least the base of the party knows what it wants. True Conservatives want to pare the state back, something that has a bit more resonance now in the recession.

"If the typical beneficiary of the 1945 Labour government was the common man, who returned from war to be rewarded with the welfare state, and the typical beneficiary of the 1979 Conservative government was the aspiring man, who was freed to buy his home and start his business, the classic beneficiary of the 1997 Labour government must be the form-filling man, who was rewarded with a lavish salary for monitoring and chivvying others," noted Labour loyalist Nick Cohen last year.

As small businesses shed their jobs, the public sector managers simply stuck their noses deeper into the trough. But Conservatives ran on the basis of being 'Blu Labour', endorsing Polly Toynbee nannying, backing eco-gimmicks like windfarm. No wonder True Blues are confused.

It's just as hard to know what they really stand for, and if they flunk it now, vengeance will be brutal. They're likely to fracture into two irreconcilable camps, one that sounds like the old SDP, and another the alliance of classic liberals with the hang 'em and flog 'ems, that was the backbone of the Thatcher era.

As for the LibDems, they've been in a process of forgetting their fine historical Whig tradition for a century now. They're now an improbable refugee camp for the other two, and as Simon Jenkins wrote here, taking a strong direction risks half the party wandering off. This could have been avoided by creating a strong identity of its own, but if failed to do so.

LibDems became as complacent getting the 'Other Vote' as the main two got playing Buggins Turn. Thanks to the Interwebs, you can make a protest gesture without leaving bed.

So it's hard to get enthusiastic about any of the main parties when they're all so unenthusiastic about where the tide of modern politics has left them. Most of the members hate where their own parties are today - why should we join them?

I'm not knocking the idea of political parties at all. You need a strong organisation on the ground to win - Twitter won't cut it. Nor do I think, as techno-utopians and web wallies have fantasised, that push-button single issue politics is necessarily a good thing.

But as vehicles for bold political thinking, something that gives we voters a real choice, our parties are completely clapped out. If you were a bright young thing, why on earth would you want to join one? ®

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