Catch-22 of a rotten political system

It is legitimate to discuss political parties as brands. After three weeks of party Conferences, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservative parties have shown the world their wares and their performance has been open to debate (sic).

I understand the Party conferences were so overcome by lobbyists and commercial interests that, last week, the Prime Minister was talking to a half-empty hall. Open debate indeed.

Surely the management of the economy, and the good of the people, is fundamentally important to marketing and the marketing services businesses? In a strong economy, consumers spend more money and hence oil the wheels of the economy, which encourages people to spend more. One follows the other. Everybody is better off.

In a weak economy, such as we have now, the opposite applies.

We do have an interest in the politics of our country because the decisions taken by these people directly affect our businesses as well as our personal lives.

The trouble is our political system is rotten to the core. It is at best inefficient and incompetent and, at worst, criminal and corrupt.

Never can there have been a time when so many people close to the heart of government have or are facing criminal records.

Extraordinary isn’t it that Sian Phillips, a young girl with a conviction for ‘affray’ can be deemed to be unsuitable, and expelled from, something as facile as The X-Factor yet, as I discussed here, our Prime Minister is surrounded by people who have been arrested or have, or are about to have, criminal records?

Please note that, having studied and discussed the three Party Conferences, I am talking about the whole system, not the individual political parties. None of them has the answer. I am more interested in human behaviour and real people.

In particular, I am interested in the increasing divergence of our society – and, in a world where there is more connectivity than ever before, there is such a disconnect between the real world and the Westminster Village.

It is not for me, in this post, to examine and define how we should, as a democratic country, move forward. Not only would it be inappropriate but the upstream thinking required would take too long. Furthermore, this is the kind of task I get paid for (as I was for the NHS brand) and don’t give away free on the internet. 

But isn’t it strange that our three ‘main’ parties – Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative – are all bound by such outdated idealism and anachronistic dogma? If nothing else, this is what their three recent Conferences have revealed.

In the real world, business has had to adapt to change and been forced to innovate like never before.

In this context, aren’t we ashamed that we are governed by such an antiquated, shambolic and corrupt political system?

How can we espouse the virtues of democracy in, say, the Middle East, when our own system is so flawed?

Three facts:

1. Just over 1% of the UK population are members of political parties – put together, less than the Caravan Club! ‘Can UK political parties be saved from extinction?‘ (BBC).

2. Three and a half million people who are eligible to vote do not bother to register to do so. Where art thou Emily Pankhurst?!

3. At the last General Election the Conservatives won 36% of the vote (307 seats), Labour 29% (258 seats) and the Liberal Democrats 23% (57 seats).

How many of those who voted did so on the merits of the case or by traditional tribal loyalty? How many are die-hard Tories or Labour through-and through?

Very few people realised that the whole system is rotten and corrupt, as has we now know. Totally unqualified people are responsible for the expenditure of public funds and, as I have seen myself, there is no accountability in the way they do so.

From a simple analysis of the ratio of votes cast to seats gained, you can see why I posted that the AV Referendum was a laughably inept fiasco – but also why I believe, with 59% of votes cast, the Coalition is more representative than would have been the clear majority that was there for the taking by a better-led Conservative Party.

Surely the time has come for a much more fundamental change in our politics – and a more professional and creative approach to the way we manage our country?

Root and branch innovation is required.

But it will not happen – because it cannot happen.

This is why this is such a brilliant week to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, as relevant today as ever it has been.

As the Sunday Times said last week:

“We are all in Heller’s ‘conscript army’ now. Why do we have a coalition government? Because nobody liked any of them enough to give them power.  Why have I lost my job? Because banks didn’t understand how to lend money. Isn’t that the point of banks?”

Why can’t we change the political system?

Because the only people who can change the system are the people who run the system, which is why they won’t change the system.

Classic Catch-22.

One day, someone from somewhere will somehow emerge to make things better.

But it will not be a career politician – and certainly none of our lot.

In the meantime, as well as Catch-22, you might find the book that is said to have inspired Mad Men, Joseph Heller’s 1974 novel Something Happened, worth a read.

It will help you understand what motivates people and how they think and behave.

Unlike our politicians, who haven’t got a clue.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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