Ideology isn’t a dirty word

On Radio 4 tonight, Nick Clegg is due to show a bit of ankle to Miliband in an effort to keep Lib Dem electoral possibilities open. We ought to expect many months of this sort of awkward positioning ahead of the General Election. Much more interesting though is the way he speaks about his hitherto bedfellows, the Tories. Like a disillusioned wife who has become sickened by her husband’s lack of bathroom etiquette, Clegg laments “…they’ve become much more ideological. They’ve returned much more to a lot of their familiar theme tunes…”

Inadvertently, I think old Nick has put his finger on one of the central problems of voter disillusion: people aren’t sure of what they’re voting for. Evidence enough for this is the increasingly ubiquitous riposte “they’re all the same”, worryingly familiar to anyone who has canvassed in the past ten years. And it’s hard to disagree with them. Look at what the Deputy PM is actually saying here. He’s advocating for a populist rush to the middle and a move away from the ideas – ideology, if you like – that give political parties direction.

This strange antipathy to the word “ideology”, by which I can only assume he means “principle” is a massive own goal. Voters tend to choose between parties based on what they think the colour of their rosette means. Yes, there are those who plump for a party based on single issues and those who inherit tribal allegiances, but, for the most part, people tend to go with the group that they believe stands for a similar set of principles to them. Clegg’s strategy seems to take his core vote (such as it is) for granted, bearing more relation to Groucho Marx’s famous electoral maxim “these are my principles. If you don’t like ‘em, I have others” than a principled stand that voters can get a handle on.

Nigel Farage’s recent popularity indicates the folly of the anti-ideological trend. He is a talented politician, no doubt, but his major strength is that people know broadly what UKIP is about. Think about it: are you able to name two general policies that have consistently divided the three major parties over the past 30 years? After the dire 29% turnout in the Wythenshawe and Sale East, not to mention the rise and rise of UKIP, you’d think Clegg would better read the signs of the times.

Luke de Pulford