The end of an era

IT’s an election year, so we are safe in predicting this will be “the end of an era.” Nominations for parliamentary and council seats have now closed. Many old familiar faces will disappear from our television screens, Today or Newsnight interview lists or the front or political pages of national and local papers. In their place will come new names, determined to do things differently, certain that change is needed and that they know what that change must be.

Farewell to the long-serving MP who never actually held a ministerial post (no matter how junior) but everybody says what a good job he (or she, but probably he) did, which is tantamount to saying he/she never really did anything but didn’t fiddle expenses, have an affair that was exposed in a Sunday tabloid or say anything about the EU/working people/the NHS/our heroes that upset the Mail/Telegraph/Sun/ Mirror (delete as appropriate depending on party affiliation).

And it’s farewell too to the councillor who sat in the same seat in the council chamber since the year dot (or at least since local government reorganisation, which for most electors probably seems like the same thing), whom you recognise because he/she (it may well be she) has always come to the school prizegiving, important church services, the official reception at the local county show or the opening of a new shop or factory. They have claimed their justified expenses and generally done their duty.

It’s like a classic good news/bad news joke. The old retire, the new arrive. Out goes doing it the way it was always done. In come energy and change. Good news!

But it’s not quite like that in real life, where most of us actually live.

In practice, when the old retire, they may take with them some ideas that are past their sell-by date but also valuable knowledge and experience. Actually knowing what works. Many of them will have done good work behind the scenes, not seeking publicity but taking pride in public service. The young and ambitious may bring energy and change, but not all change is for the better. Untried ideas replacing the tried and tested can be a recipe for disaster. Bad news!

Those of us who have been around a long time are not necessarily wrong about everything. We may describe ourselves as dinosaurs (on the usually safe assumption that the best way to counter criticism is to acknowledge your failings before you are attacked) but actually we don’t think that we are completely ready to be put out to grass or stashed in the virtual filing cabinet under Expired/Defunct/Dead. We would like to share our expertise and experience and we are also ready to listen to the exciting ideas from the rising generation.

Setting politics and elections aside for a minute, let’s consider big business where experience (= expensive) is often jettisoned in favour of youth (= cheap). New brooms don’t so much sweep clean as sweep clean away. We are currently enjoying the American music drama series Nashville (yes, we are country music fans, at least fans of or Americana as it is usually known over here). At the start of the second series the record label has been sold and a new broom has been installed as chief executive, all flashy white teeth and cutting edge management style. Cue a clearing out of the old brigade that makes the cleansing of the Augean stables look like my occasional attempts at dusting. The runner-up from a reality TV talent show is brought in and feted over the established talent. A brilliant young singer is thrown out when she departs from the official script to answer reporters’ questions in her own sweet natural way.

So – what of the elections? Running the government should be neither a soap opera nor an everyday story of global corporate greed. No matter which party you vote for, most candidates will tell you they will do the best for you and your family and your community and your company and your country. Depending what level of elected body they are standing for, they will promise to cut or control the parish precept, council tax or income/VAT/corporation tax – or to increase them for the benefit of the community.

We are all cynics now, so you may be forgiven the suspicion that once in the seat of power – parish council or House of Commons – they will forget all the promises and set their sights on (a) rapid promotion and big headlines by the most expedient means, or (b) a nice safe committee job where they can claim their expenses and keep out of the media glare.

But this cynicism is not always justified. There will be a few who are determined to learn the ropes, talk to those who have been there for a few years, find out what works and benefit from hard-won knowledge and experience. All parties have their idealogues, their foot soldiers, their natural leaders and their embarrassments.  But some people go into politics, at whatever level, because they genuinely want to make a difference.

Whichever party wins (and it’s unlikely to be a clear victory, according to recent polls) on 7th May, the leaders will almost certainly have to engage in days of intense horse-trading of policies for position, promising jam tomorrow for votes today.

We may be at the end of an era of two-party politics but this may not be a bad thing if it is replaced by negotiations based not on a cynical appetite for power at all costs but on a genuine desire to do good for the country. Wise older heads on all sides could contribute much and fresh ideas and talent from a rising generation can add the necessary sparkle. Experience + energy can be a winning formula.

Fanny Charles