Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Humpty Dumpty and the UK Election

We have an election coming up in the UK. It will determine which party will be in power and which man will be Prime Minister. I can’t pretend to know the intricacies of the British political system. I’m still learning. But I can show you what it looks like from my perspective (which I think we all know leans rather to the left).
First, let me say this. The election season is way shorter here. That’s a blessing. I’m finding myself able to listen to election talk because I know there’s an end in sight (and probably because I can’t vote anyway and am more of an observer).

There of course is a lot of posturing and analysis, but it’s absolutely nothing like what you get in America. There is more candour and certainly more room for gaffes. From my perspective, the politicians still look like real people rather than media robots. That’s refreshing. Also, religion plays very little role in elections here. In fact, if you are religious, you have to be careful to say that you won’t let your religion get in the way of your duties to the law and to a diverse and multicultural nation. That, as you all know, would never happen in American politics. In American politics you must assure people of two things: a) you are from the Judaeo-Christian tradition (preferably the Christian part) and b) that of course you are devout and of course this influences your decisions. A huge, huge majority of the British public would be absolutely aghast if one of their candidates said anything like that.

Here are the three main players in tomorrow's election:

The Conservative Party
(aka Tories or as my partner likes to call them, Smug Tory Bastards)
Slogan: Vote for change

The Labour Party
(aka Labour)
Slogan: A future fair for all

Liberal Democrats
(aka LibDems or as I like to call them, GlibDems)
Slogan: Change that works for you

Those are the three main parties, with the Tories and Labour being the dominant (and diametrically opposed) parties. Until recently neither the Tories or Labour have taken the Liberal Democrats seriously. But the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg did so well in the first televised debate and managed to hold his own for the next two that there has been a groundswell of public support. Some pundits say it’s because they represent something different than the usual puppet show of Labour and Tories hitting each other with sticks and shouting incoherently. Other pundits suggest that the public really do want electoral reform which is a huge part of the LibDem manifesto.

Okay, Americans, before you get too bent out of shape about the use of the term manifesto, you should know that all parties have them here. It’s not a commie thing, like we think it is. Manifesto equals platform. Anyway, the LibDems want to move to a type of political system called Proportional Representation or PR for short. You might have around 25% of voters who support a third party, let’s say the LibDem party just for kicks. But these voters are scattered around districts that are drawn in favour of Labour or Tories so even though you have a rather large percentage of people in the country who support LibDem ideas, they won’t be represented in Parliament, at least not at the rate of nation-wide support. The current electoral system here is ‘first past the post.’ Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Tories absolutely hate the idea of reform because they want to regain control of the country and Labour hate the idea because they want to retain control of the country. That also sounds familiar I bet. Polarised politics. America is steeped in it, and to a degree, so is the UK. But they have more support for a multiparty system here amongst the public than America does, and this election may bring it to fruition.

There is a very distinct possibility in this election of what is called a hung parliament. Some might call it a balanced parliament. The Tories think this is a bad idea because they think that Labour and the LibDems will gang up on them in the school yard. Polls show the Tories with a lead but not a huge one and second place belonging alternately to the LibDems or Labour depending on the direction of the wind and who is doing the poll. In the event of a balanced parliament it’s possible that Mr. Clegg will hold the balance and agree to give his support to whichever party he can best work with and whichever party will agree to election reform. The Tories give mixed messages about whether they will work with the LibDems. For now they are content to try to scare voters into voting Conservative by saying that a hung parliament means that the UK will be immediately invaded by dark forces and that the British will be seen as weak and indecisive and the country’s credit status will be downgraded and society will descend into chaos. Blah, blah, blah...doom and gloom.

Too bad Winston Churchill isn’t around to hear those claims. As the highly readable and astute political columnist Andrew Rawnsley points out: ‘It is indeed a massive challenge, but not the greatest that has ever faced this nation. Britain’s time of greatest peril in the last 300 years was the Second World War. Winston Churchill successfully thwarted the threat of Nazi invasion and led his country to victory -- at the head of a coalition government.’ Then again, I would point out to Mr. Rawnsley that the current leader of the Tory party is no Winston Churchill.

The Labour Party is currently in power and has been for 13 years. It’s the party of a name most Americans who read newspapers will remember. Tony Blair. Mr. Blair is not the Prime Minister anymore. He’s busy writing books and making peace and discussing religion all over the world...and making loads of money. I think he took a page from President Clinton’s book. It might surprise Americans to know that Tony Blair is a very unpopular figure here. This is due to his support for President Bush’s war in Iraq.
Mr. Blair stepped down as Prime Minister after a ten-year run, allowing his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to ascend to the leadership role without an election.

Gordon Brown is even less popular than Tony Blair. It seems he can’t do anything right. Even people who normally are Labour supporters seem fed up with him. Maybe it’s the economy - while he claims to have saved the UK during the world economic meltdown (a claim which may be true), it is also true that he presided over the UK economy as Chancellor in the lead-up to the meltdown and denied it was going to happen when criticised about his policy of being chummy with rogue bankers. So, you could say that he and his party have lost credibility. Having said that, Labour is the party which introduced Civil Partnership into law. They had the support of the other parties, even the Tories, but it’s highly unlikely a Tory led government would have introduced such a thing. They also brought peace to Northern Ireland, no small achievement. They have funded day-care and the National Health Service and a number of needed public support programs. Actually, it might be fair to say that if Labour had not engaged in the Iraq War, had better sense about bankers, and had chosen to get a handle on expense claims, it might still be well liked. They did do good things for the UK. And they faced an uphill battle to do it after 18 years of Tory rule.

As the former party in power, the Tories had become unpopular themselves. They lost power in 1997 when the people finally became sick of conservative rule. Some people say that Thatcherism ruined the manufacturing base, broke the backs of the labour unions and effectively ruined the public transport system by privatising it. Others (namely the newer, kinder, gentler Tories) will argue that the Labour government has presided over unprecedented job losses, far worse a record than even Baroness Thatcher and her old Tory Party could have achieved. But they forget, or would prefer the public to forget, that it was more likely the job losses were a result of the continuing travesty of Thatcherism -- the plunder of the infrastructures meant to benefit everyone for the enrichment of the elite. You can’t have 18 years of that sort of government and expect it to stop on a dime. The falling dominoes of consequence don’t respect election day deadlines.

But whatever failing the Tories had, it’s been nearly matched by Labour. They did let the banks go unchecked. They did allow Tony Blair to come under the influence of the Halliburton -- sorry -- the Bush-Cheney regime, resulting in the invasion of Iraq, and they did continue the tradition of ridiculous expense claims made by Ministers of all parties. A lot of the expense claims were technically legal, but most of them were morally reprehensible all the same. Claiming expenses for having your moat cleaned? For building a duck island? For redecorating your house? And worst of all, Parliament tried to put itself above the law and not release the detailed figures under the Freedom of Information Act. They said the Ministers had a right to privacy. Well surely they do, but does it really extend as far as not telling the public how its money was spent? If the public purchases your china for you, don’t they have the right to know what pattern you chose?

Someone on the radio recently said that this election was interesting because politicians are having to say how they would repair the Humpty Dumpty of Trust. Don’t you just love that image? The Humpty Dumpty of Trust has apparently been pushed from the wall by careless politicians jostling for some of those luscious perks paid for by the British public. Guess what? The British public now thinks all politicians are liars and cheats and general all-around arrogant bastards. Well, duh.

The main point is that the public, rightly so, is furious about the expenses scandal. And they feel just a bit smugly justified in their mutterings all these years that politicians really don’t give a flying rat’s ass about anything but themselves. We can all relate to that can’t we? But now some of the voters feel they ought to withhold their votes from politicians. And I think What? To punish them? As if the politicians will be insulted somehow. As if withholding a vote really tells those politicians what for. Haha! You didn’t get my vote you lying bastards! That will teach you. Of course most sensible people realise that withholding your vote out of spite is a bit like saying you’re going to hold your breath until you get your way.

If a member of the British voting public really cannot abide voting for any of the main parties there are alternatives. There’s the Green Party, which I would highly recommend as an antidote to the status quo, because Fair is Worth Fighting For. And there’s the Respect Party. I don’t think it’s Aretha Franklin’s gig. Their slogan is Homes, Jobs and Peace. They are definitely left of centre and according to their website they’ve got a shot at picking up three seats.

There’s also the British National Party, made up of raving fascists, which I would not recommend. There’s United Kingdom Independence Party or UKIP. I don’t know what their slogan is but it’s probably something like Making Damn Sure We Don’t Get Taken Over By Europe.

There’s also the Monster Raving Loony Party. They have three interesting policies in their manifesto:

Good Heroes

Make it illegal for super heroes to use their powers for evil.

Safe Tractors

Ban tractors from driving on roads, they can drive across their fields.

Scary Terrorists

Ban all terrorists from having beards as they look scary.

Sounds good to me.

The election is tomorrow, 6 May 2010. Will I be making an election prediction? Hmmmm. Okay.

I predict that the Tories will squeak by winning the most votes but will fail to pick up the number of seats for a clear majority.

I have no idea where Labour and the LibDems will come out, but I do think that the leader of the LibDems will be courted to form an agreement. I highly doubt that the Tories would be keen on forming an official coalition; that would be a better possibility with Labour and LibDems if Labour won narrowly. There may be a chance that the Tories would be arrogant enough to claim victory with a narrow margin and attempt to form an all-Tory government which will negotiate on a case by case basis with the other parties.

I also predict that Gordon Brown will not only be ousted as Prime Minister but also as the leader of the Labour Party. If Labour win the election, this may take a while. If they lose he’s gone by Friday morning.

I’ll get back to you all with the results in a few days. I know all four of you are dying to know.

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