With moat cleaning, ex-ministers for sale, playing politics with the constitution and various other dirty activities this last parliament has to be one of the most disreputable in living memory. It is no wonder that there is an increasing tendency to write off politics and politicians as corrupt, useless and that 'they're all as bad as each other'. However, I see voting as a hard won right, and a privilege, and I take seriously the decision at every local and general election.
So - who to vote for this time. Rather than look at the personalities of both the local and national politicians, and rather than follow a party line, I wanted to make a decision based on the policies offered. Here are my thoughts so far:
The foundational issue for me is one of liberty - do the parties accept that that personal liberty - the freedom to choose how one should live within reasonable limits - is an essential value. This is the principle that was fought over from the Bill of Rights onwards, and forms an essential part of the British culture. Our constitutional arrangement is such that we are free to do whatever we like unless it is restricted for the greater good.
The consequence of this is that religious, political, social and moral beliefs should be beyond the scope of the state to interfere in, unless something brings harm to someone else.
That doesn't mean that I am an economic libertarian in the way that conservatives are - the economic dominance of global corporations is not something that should go unchecked. Rather, liberty is something that starts with the individual, progresses to families and communities, then to towns, cities and regions and then nationally. Power is granted upwards for the greater good, not dispensed downwards by an all-powerful state.
This is a dominant issue for my wife and I as we home educate. The travesty that was the Badman report, and the heavy-handed state interference of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, was a perfect picture of a statist government - and I am thankful that the Tories and Lib Dems opposed that part of the bill during the 'wash up' last week.
I am impressed by the commitment of the Conservatives commitment to increasing innovation and localisation in education - the idea of educational cooperatives, locally run schools etc all very much appeal to me, although I am concerned that large organisations will dominate the academy bid process, especially for secondary education. However - this movement to local empowerment is definitely a step in the right direction.
Social Justice & families
I don't think any party is offering much that is revolutionary in the way of social justice this time - all parties seem to see putting kids into child-care (sure start) and getting everyone working full-time as the best way to increase social inclusion. I'm not so sure - structuring things so that more job-shares are possible, and using tax credits to enable those whose kids are most likely to fall victim to their social environment to have a parent at home post of the time would surely be better. For single parents this is a bigger issue than economics (although the need to work there is a given), and it isn't a simple issue. But surely government compelling parents to abandon their kids to day-care at 12 months old or lose their benefits is short-sighted and lacking the kind of imaginative thinking I thought Labour were going to give us when they appointed Frank Field in 1997, but sacked him pretty soon afterwards.
Global issues are barely featuring in this election - although I think all parties are committed to preserving the international development funding.
Both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to maintaining our nuclear weapons, so here I would support the Lib Dem position - that money can be much better spent.
After Labour's false promises of 'no more return to boom and bust', the promise that we would weather the economic storm well, their poor handling of city regulation, their slight of hand in using PFI to keep public debt off the balance sheet and their refusal to deal with spiralling public sector borrowing have all proved Gordon Brown's inability to deal with the economy in a responsible manner.
However, I have to admit that as all parties are fundamentally committed to global free-market capitalism as an absolute value I'm not sure there is much to choose here. The Tories will probably make some painful decision that may be the right ones (and as they are not financially beholden to unions can probably tackle public sector militancy better).
The Lib Dem position on personal taxation is one I support in helping people on low-paid jobs. Raising the the tax allowance to £10K is a great idea, and the most radical of the three parties. But, the influence of Philip Blond, and his Red Tory ideas of local economy, on David Cameron are the most attractive to me as they have the potential to change the very economic fabric of the country along the lines laid out by Belloc and Chesterton back last century.
On a local level, I think that, after a stuttering start, Daniel Kawczynski has done an excellent job regardless of his political allegiances. John Tandy, the Labour candidate is a bit too 'union' for me. The Lib Dem candidate, Charles West, looks like a good bloke, but is he good enough to unseat a good incumbent (and is it telling that he is the only one I had to google to remember his name)?
These are all the hot issues for me. I don't have any particular party affiliation, and I was determined to try and make a decision based firmly on policies this year. It still isn't easy, and I will be listening hard over the next few weeks to what the candidates say and do.