Within minutes of being declared MP for Worthing West, old-school Tory Peter Bottomley was engaging in nasty, old fashioned political squabbling and point scoring. Whatever happens nationally, it seems it’s no change at Haverfield House, Worthing’s Tory HQ which (on my last visit) had pictures of Thatcher and Churchill on the walls and a retired army major behind the desk.
In his acceptance speech, Peter talks about the need to engage with the voters who aren’t turning out. ‘Next week we need to start campaigning to get the one third of voters who didn’t vote engaged in the process. Nationally, we know that elections are won or lost by those who vote. The fact that the Liberals have lost seven seats is actually a sign that it’s people who have a say.’
Perhaps one way to help people have their say would be listen to everyone who voted, value even those who didn’t get your vote this time (the Dalai Lama taught me, years ago, to value my enemies for the lessons they taught me, not to hate them), and let people feel they have some engagement with both parties and processes?
For years, Adur and Worthing’s councils have flip-flopped between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. Peter seems determined that, at a local level, that divide-and-conquer approach is the way forward. Regardless of what’s best for Worthing’s voters – any or all of them, Liberals, Conservatives and non-voters alike.
Peter says, ‘I tell you this I shall never willingly support a system which gives a permanent place in parliament to the BNP or a permanent place in government to the Liberals.’ (That’s a direct quote, taken from a video by the Worthing Herald)
That’s dangerous stuff, putting the Liberals in the same sentence as the BNP, but do remember Bottomley is a long-term political animal and he knows the effect of that pairing. Make the Liberals sound like an extreme party.
But what does he mean – ‘a permanent place in government’? I’m not sure even Peter knows; he has since said to the local paper that for ‘never willingly‘ people should have heard ‘would find it difficult‘ and for ‘a permanent place‘ he meant a ‘near-permanent place‘ (as if there is such a thing; permanent or temporary, surely, no qualification?). Already, those brave words, full of election-night bravado, are being taken back, slightly.
No democratic system guarantees any party a permanent place in government; but the various proportional representation systems do suggest a future where neither Labour nor Conservatives would be guaranteed places as the government and the opposition. A future where all voters feel valued, and that they have a voice. And surely that way, empowerment and a positive approach to partnership, are the ways to bring out the absent voters?