The Tories are in a panic about the rise of Farage's neo-fascist hordes, while Labour are anxiously looking over their shoulders at the loss of the reflexive rightist bigot vote. At the same time, all parties in Scotland expect the SNP to do very well in the 2015 General Election as a means of holding Westminster to its reluctantly-conceded enthusiasm for pseudo-federalism. In Wales four party politics is also established. Local issues play as much part in politics around the country as the bipartisan consensus that the media, Cameron and Miliband wish to promote.
This is partly because it is easier. Most people accept that there are shades of grey in all politics, all decisions and all parts of life. However, in presenting "clear choices" the establishment politicians have done their best to destroy the potential for political debate. Whereas the SNP tapped into this in a positive way, the recent surge in support for the far right demonstrates that for large groups of the population the litany of "they're all the same" and the acknowledged inequalities exacerbated by the Coalition's economic policies is now a much more persuasive argument than anything that the Westminster clique can put forward.
The next General Election will be interesting, because the outcome will not reflect the national opinion polls. It is feasible to imagine scenarios where there is an even more blatant distortion in the allocation of seats against votes received than even 2010 or 1983. A situation where Miliband or Cameron emerge triumphant despite their vote shares declining is possible, and creates a thorough crisis of democratic legitimacy. The defenders of the existing constitutional settlement may find it difficult to argue the right of the majority party in the Commons to govern if they have failed to receive a mandate of support that surpasses the leading opposition party's (let alone the other groups represented).
So we have a faux-outrage storm around the television debates before the next election. UKIP have so far gained one MP, so the aim is to enmesh Farage. The fact that the Greens, SNP, PC, Respect and the Northern Irish parties are also entitled to claim participation on this basis appears to have been ignored, possibly because Nige is the sock-puppet of Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclays and Desmond, and he has the estimable benefit of the bogus charisma that has propelled Boris into the fastnesses of the desirable Uxbridge.
Political engagement is possible - an 85% turnout in Scotland demonstrates this. However, so long as the parties, mostly now populated by interns, lobbyists and very few people with genuine experience of life as most people would know it, deny this chasm, the more the snake-oil ultra-right frontmen will make their inroads. It is difficult to articulate the impotence that closed systems represent, for example the processes of local government, where (see previous blog) the best that can be assumed is naive, stupid incompetence and at worst active or passive collaboration with graft, corruption and petty dictatorship.
For a large country, direct democracy can be difficult, especially if there has been an accretion of power to the centre and a further privatisation of areas that are legitimately controlled by the people. Miliband might be best advised to tap into this by indicating that, whatever the outcome of the election, afterwards Labour would work with other parties and none to address the nature and structure of government. Blair's hypocrisy after 1997, when the vagaries of a sham landslide meant that he could govern without fear of challenge from within his own party, need not be repeated.
Suddenly, the irrelevance that electoral reform assumed (alongside the ineptitude of both the Liberal Democrats and the "Yes" campaign) may not be sustainable. For those of us who have lived in three- and four-party systems, the legitimacy of the state depends upon having at least a semblance of representative government, and in 2015 there will need to be fleet-footed leadership to stave off the illegitimacy of the state. Getting rid of the current bastards does not in itself suffice - to counter the tide of apathy, anger and hate needs a more considered and coherent proposition. Waiting for Miliband, as he is the only leader with the opportunity both to articulate it and to make it is the centre of an election campaign.