“We won’t change anything, but we’ll be less corrupt, look after your money better and not rip you off so much — at least in our first term.”

This, essentially, is Labour’s message going into the election, and what passes as “idealism” within today’s modern polity. Politics in our broken democratic system, with its antiquated institutions, is relegated to pantomime fodder. The choice of leaders and parties is a rearranging-deckchairs-on-the-Titanic exercise, rather than a harbinger of the deep systemic change required to restore and extend a crumbling democracy. If one thing can be guaranteed in the coming general election, it’s that absolutely nobody will be inspired.

Granted, some visceral satisfaction will be gained through the supposedly inevitable toppling of the corrupt, silver-spooned charlatans who have systematically enriched themselves and their friends at the expense of the taxpaying public — at a time, ironically, when we most needed strong, engaged, selfless and compassionate leadership. Whatever these people are, they are certainly not public servants. But Britain, with its outdated class system, spearheaded by its elitist public schools, will always usher such scamming deadbeats into positions of power.

Fortunately, though I retain some nagging doubts about the outcome of the election being as conclusive as universally predicted, these disassemblers will be replaced — but by whom?

Keir Starmer has almost militantly made “business as usual” as his platform. But, then, we’ve long moved away from the political ecosystem in which Labour could at least pretend it was going to do something radical. Today, its behaviour is proscribed long before it gets there. Corbyn, in the way of white, middle-class socialists, was naïve in his associations with anyone deemed to be a member of an oppressed group. As soon as he was elevated to Labour leader, he paid a high price for that folly. The even-handed, mild-mannered, allotment-tending community activist of 40 years was ludicrously branded a Nazi.

Starmer replaced Corbyn, and his campaign is exactly as promised. We’ve had constant parroting about “change” — but what’s the substance of that change? “Vote for me; kick the Tories out,” seems to be the size of it. In the absence of any grand vision, all we’ve had is ruthless purging of anyone who seems to carry the awkward baggage of principle, while Tory rejects are welcomed with open arms. This is what centre-left politics looks like today.

And yet, the greatest devastation to British politics has not been the growing toxicity of the Right or Left, whatever such terms now mean in a world where an avaricious corporate-statist capitalism has destroyed both socialism and the free market. The fundamental sea-change has been neoliberalism’s radicalisation of the centre. Centrists used to be the cuddly toys of British politics, unshackled by deterministic doctrines, with their pragmatic social democracy and one-nation Toryism. But following the collapse of those pluralist reference points, they are now as ideologically blinkered as anyone on the polarities. And as easily duped.

“The real fundamental sea-change has been neoliberalism’s radicalisation of the centre.”

As a result, millions of voters will have to choose between parties to whom they are at best highly ambivalent, and at worst detest. Their only bet is business as usual, as they struggle through the cost-of-living crisis, made interminably worse by Brexit and lockdown, while idealistic youth watch their elected government and opposition support mass child-killing in the Middle East. This is the backdrop against which a public-school imposter, the serial failure Farage, can posture as a “man of the people” and “anti-establishment” in a windswept, down-at-heel Essex seaside town, and be seen as the best of a bad bunch.

Perhaps, if you buy into the zero prospects culture of Starmerism, and you boot the Tories out, you won’t be disappointed. Maybe — depressingly — Labour’s low-expectations merchants might even be the most honest politicians of our era. Perhaps they are simply holding their hands up and quietly declaring that they can do nothing against the machine.

Perhaps all we can realistically expect from our elected officials is for them to represent us to the best of their abilities in their constituencies, and not see the public purse as something to be divided up between themselves and their cohorts through bogus thieving scams. It’s possible that this really is now the extent of political idealism. What an unedifying spectacle this election is.

The Tories in government have been so disgracefully venal, causing so much damage through corruption, austerity, Brexit and their mismanagement of the pandemic, that people will doubtless vote them out in reasonable — but perhaps not exceptional — numbers. But over the next five years, it seems likely that the Conservatives will be revitalised, rebranded and move farther to the Right. That’s when, with our goldfish spans of attention, the Tories will win a landslide, with nothing in the centre or Left of a soft Labour Party worth getting out of bed to vote for. To see how that will play out, it might be an idea to watch America in November.

Until something changes, politics will continue to be just another distracting circus. We’ll watch those huckster entertainers, laughing and sneering at each other, as we do the same to them online. Probably all the way up to the point where we lose our work and our homes; we starve slowly to death or succumb to mental disorders, though perhaps only killing ourselves when they take away our smartphones.

If we wanted something to change, we could start with properly taxing billionaires. After all, a healthy society needs absolutely no billionaires. It needs many more millionaires and multi-millionaires, to genuinely incentivise it to excellence, and the money they take out of the economy has to be put back: to build a social and financial platform for all our citizens.

The Tories will never try to make this happen; they are either the rich beneficiaries of the system, or their suck-arse sycophants. Labour, meanwhile, is too frightened to even try. Their despondent fear, as we approach the election, is the pervading stink across Britain. It won’t go away afterwards.

What to do? Well, I obviously can’t support the Conservatives, and Labour is no mechanism for change. It’s about the only thing we can trust Starmer on. So I’ll be scouring my list for an independent man or woman of sound principle, who isn’t part of the lobby-fodder machine. Failing that, someone in a smaller party with a radical and independent spirit. They won’t get elected, but a big increase across the country for such candidates would signal that it might be the beginning of the end for the gravy train of power-hungry “professional” politicians.

If anyone tells me that’s a waste of a vote, I’d counter that voting Labour and expecting anything to be different is a bigger and ultimately more hurtful waste. The principled independent route seems like the least futile of a series of deeply inefficacious gestures. Listen to the new boss when he tells you he’ll be the same as the old one.

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