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Issues behind the waffle


One more week of campaigning to endure. The election cannot come soon enough - if only to spare us from more carefully scripted outrage and well rehearsed 'off-the-cuff' passion.

Banal is too good a word for much of the debate we have heard and read. Not surprising, perhaps, since politicians are only interested in one thing right now - winning seats and power. And the fact is that fear and greed win floating votes more than ideals or even policies.

We probably deserve what we get. Parliament is supposed to represent society, and on that measure, what we see campaigning for our votes each day is about right. They are giving us what we demand - quick wins, personal gain and just enough explanation to maintain our interest.

Watching Newsnight each evening you could easily get sucked into really believing that knowing the precise number of failed asylum seekers still in the UK has a material impact on our society's future wellbeing, or that MRSA really will destroy the National Health Service.

And is it really a surprise that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown became best buddies from day one of the campaign- Is it really a revelation that some doubt exists over the legality of the US-led invasion of Iraq?

Certainly it is important that we hear and make judgements on the government's record and opposition plans. And on key issues such as the health service, education and law and order we need to hear what is planned. The trouble is that politicians and the national media know that explaining the subtle differences in emphasis between the various party plans on these 'sexy' issues is far less exciting than a good row about nothing.

So what hope is there for the vital but 'unsexy' issues such as how we are going to develop and maintain a sustainable society- What hope is there for policies to really drive commitment to meeting the Kyoto targets for CO 2 reduction - and, crucially, to persuade the US to fall in line?

The answer, of course, is none. The modern science and strategy of focused campaigning means that policy and action only targets marginal seats and the key demographics that will turn out to vote. If you are outside these criteria there is really little in it for you.

It is sad but why should we expect politicians to adopt any other approach- That is democracy, I suppose.

So let us think beyond the election. Without wishing to prejudge the outcome, as I wrote last week, the G8 summit in Scotland this July will represent a massive opportunity for Tony Blair (sorry, or Michael Howard) to address the really important issues facing society.

He will have the chance to lead the global community towards actions that will make a real difference to all of our lives - and to the lives of our children and grandchildren.

For all the campaigning we have heard of late there can be nothing more important than ensuring we do what we can to stem climate change and alleviate poverty in Africa and the rest of the developing world.

We will always have the noise of populist politics driving the daily news agenda. But what we must ensure is that beneath this necessary veneer, our leaders are aware of what is really important to us.

The G8 will be the real test of politics and politicians.

Vote with this in mind next Thursday.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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