Ed Miliband’s biggest challenge will be to convice a fatalistic electorate that government can make a difference

Miliband is not only taking on the Big Six energy companies, he is pushing back against a public fatalism about government power to effect change that has been over 30 years in the making.

Over the weekend the commentariat were mostly talking about Russell Brand’s inspirational/nihilistic (delete according to taste) monologue on Newsnight.

Whether one liked what Brand had to say or not, he did seem to tap into a certain mood which is currently fairly prevalent among a large section of the electorate. That mood being fatalism.

While it is demonstrably not true, as Brand put it, that all politicians are “frauds and liars” – I know several who write for this blog who are anything but – nowadays that sort of rhetoric goes down well with aworryingly large number of people.

There is one obvious reason for this: trust in politicians hit an all-time low on the back of the Parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009 and it is yet to recover. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2010, taken shortly after the scandal reached its peak, four in 10 people no longer trusted politicians to put the national interest first, and a majority of voters believed MPs never told the truth.

People have never put all that much stock in politicians of course, and the expenses scandal did a great deal to erode trust further. But to some extent voter apathy (not the ‘frauds and liars’ sort, but the more common sort of fatalism) might also be blamed on the limits within which today’s managerial politicians operate: voters are only too aware that there is only so much today’s politicians can do, therefore they don’t put much faith in those they elect (if they vote at all) to change things.

For better or worse, most questions today tend to be decided ultimately and by all three parties on the basis of what works best for ‘the market’. It is not a question of what you would like the government to do, it is a question of what government can do without creating ‘instability’ in that market.

Any politician that proposes a radical sounding policy runs the risk of not being taken seriously by the electorate however popular that policy might be; ultimately the public are highly sceptical as to the government’s ability to effect meaningful change at all.

And therein lies the potentially problem at the heart of Ed Miliband’s proposed energy price freeze. People like the gist of the policy – 80 per cent of the public back the idea of prices being pegged while the Big Six energy companies are reformed according to a poll for today’s Independent – but a majority (52 per cent) don’t believe Miliband is capable of delivering on his promise, according to the same poll.

The is an example of the wafer-thin managerial framework within which today’s politicians must operate – the centre ground, if you like.

Even popular policies which propose modest corrections to market distortions are viewed with fatalism by an electorate which doubts the ability of politicians to make a real difference.

In convincing the electorate to back not only his energy policy but also his party’s whole cost of living agenda, Ed Miliband is tasked not only with drowning out the rhetoric from the Conservative Party and the right-wing press, but also with persuading a sceptical electorate that government can intervene in the market to create better outcomes.

To say that this won’t be easy would be an understatement: Miliband is not only taking on some of the most powerful people in Britain, he is pushing back against a public fatalism about the power of government that has been some 30 years in the making.

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8 Responses to “Ed Miliband’s biggest challenge will be to convice a fatalistic electorate that government can make a difference”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    It does n’t help that so many of our current MPs managed to avoid prosecution for stealing money through the expenses nonsense or that are the only;y country in Europe with a non-democratic electoral system.

  2. franjangle

    Ed Miliband will need to step long a way out of the common currency to respond to Russell Brand’s challenge – and he’d be unlikely to drag enough of the electorate (inc the left) with him if he did. However he’s at least thinking a bit outside the box – somehow the economic model we all dance to has to be dumped in favour of one which provides fair redistribution of reward together with freedom of the individual to think and create. None of the traditional levers will be available to achieve that because the Tories have already flogged most of them.
    There’s that other message too: there’s very little time left to achieve redemption from our destruction of the earth under our feet, that Armageddon is coming up fast and will roll violence over us all without strong and prescient leadership the world over. Don’t know what left or right will mean then, I hope fair and natural will still be valid ideas.

  3. Selohesra

    Why has a black box come up in top left hand corner of each article this morning?

  4. treborc1

    I think all parties have a long long way to go to get me out to vote again, unless your hard working middle class, you may as well sit at home because none of the parties really are that interested in you, if your poor disabled have more then three kids , and a n injured soldier or in fact anyone who is not sweating your guts out sadly voting is a total waste of time.

  5. swatnan

    The State of Britain that we are in, to quote Bonnie Tyler, ‘We need a Hero etc etc etc… ).
    Like in the Wartime Coalition … and Post War Labour Govt. But then Britain was emerging from a soul destroying War and the People were wholly behind getting the country back on its feet, well most of them. Nowadays the people are more skeptikal. They’ve lost faith in politicians … and themselves. We need a few Heros right now … but they’re a bit short on the ground.

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