This article was written for the News & Star.
It is always interesting to note the issues that get brought up when I go to events, or indeed, when I check my postbag. Certainly, it has always made sense to me that the topics that are brought up are often more useful in understanding people’s priorities than a lot of what we get told by national polling companies!
With this in mind, at a recent school visit and after saying a few words, I was asked a number of questions – but I noticed that at no point were any foreign affairs issues raised. Afterwards I spoke at a political event, with a slightly older audience. Again, during the Q&A there was not one question on international issues. I find this quite surprising given the events going on in Gaza, the Ukraine war, and the increasing concerns about China. All these issues already have or could have a significant impact on our country. Indeed, the Ukraine war is having an impact on our energy and food costs still today. Yet, there was no interest in matters beyond our borders. I actually do think this is quite reflective of the country as a whole – and of our politics. It does make me wonder if we are becoming more insular. Historically we have always been a country that involves itself in word events. Perhaps this marks a genuine shift in the way we see ourselves, and the role we see ourselves playing in the world.
One issue that I have noted an increased interest in is discussion about changing our “first past the post” system of voting to a more proportional representation system. Often, those supporting a change say it would be much fairer and that it would somehow bring about better government. This could well be the case, but if you take the time to look abroad you see a huge number of example where such systems create as many problems as they are intended to solve. For example, the inability to actually form new governments after elections has proved a problem in an increasing number of countries. Also, a lot of European countries have seen a rise in smaller more extreme parties, as well as parties that represent very narrow or particular interests. These small parties may have very little support nationally, but end up with disproportionate power, extracting concessions that may not be the priority of (or indeed to the benefit of) the nation as a whole.
It seems we appear to be neither interested in foreign affairs nor willing to learn from the political systems of other countries. My own view is that, generally, we should be more positive about our own political system – even when it goes through periods of disruption – and perhaps be wary of our tendency to extol the virtues of foreign systems while denigrating our own. At the same time, we also need to be far more conscious of the impact that foreign events have on our own lives and country. This means understanding how the rest of the world works, whilst also being sure of our place in such a world. A little bit more national confidence would not go amiss.