Opinion: ‘Democracy isn’t perfect – but it beats the alternative’

Many, many years ago, as was my boyhood habit, I went with my father to Norwich livestock market.

It was just before a general election and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young press reporter approached my father and asked if he would say which party he intended to vote for.

Fixing the young man with a beady stare, Father asked him, “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course,” came the reply.

“Well, so can I,” said father and walked on.

I have inherited my father’s discreet approach to wearing my political allegiance on my sleeve, so I shall not disclose where my cross will go – or not, as the case may be. But that does not mean I am uninterested.

Farming will have to live with whichever party or parties form the next government and the business environment they create in the next five years will be crucial to the success or otherwise of our industry.

Not that agriculture has featured much in the campaign. Like the food we produce, farmers are largely taken for granted. But while watching some of the televised debates and reading reports of speeches about other issues, I have been troubled by some of the promises made that have little or no chance of being delivered.

Politicians seem to be less careful about what they say than they used to be. I remember, years ago, interviewing a minister of agriculture for a TV programme. When the microphone was switched off I commented: “You didn’t tell me much, Minister”.

“Can’t afford to leave hostages to fortune, old chap,” he replied with a grin.

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These days, most candidates are desperate to expose themselves on the media, little realising that by doing so they may damage rather than enhance their chances. Nor, apparently, do they appreciate that only a minority of the population (and the media, of course) share their obsession with party politics. The low turnout in recent elections should surely have demonstrated that, and despite the furore in the press at present I very much doubt the one on 7 May will be very different.

It is my perception that the more candidates lecture the electorate and the more they throw vitriolic insults at one another, the more they tend to reinforce people’s existing prejudices.

It is indeed a sad fact that the people who have no party loyalty and/or who find it difficult to make up their minds who or which party to vote for – in other words the minority of floating voters – will ultimately decide who wins.

Maybe the number of floaters this time will be greater than usual. There are certainly more parties for them to choose from. But I doubt if these uncommitted voters, even in this unusual election, amount to more than 10-15% of those who will turn out on 7 May. And where they place their crosses will determine who will form the next government. They will not, of course, all go in one direction and politicians hope kissing lots of babies and having kitchen chats with reporters will persuade more people to support them rather than their opponents.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, and I paraphrase him: “Democracy is a dreadful way to run a country. But it’s better than all the others”.

He was a wise old bird and no thinking person could disagree with him. But in a couple of weeks those of us who care about who run’s Britain will contribute to this dreadful system – and hope.

David Richardson

David farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich, Norfolk, in partnership with his wife Lorna and his son Rob.

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