Just a quick conversation starter while I’m out the back cutting wood. The UK general election, to be held in ten days’ time, could be a watershed in western politics, not just the British variety. Or it could be yet another business-as-usual fizzer.
You all know where I stand on this—not that my opinion as a foreigner counts for much. My principal criterion is the extent to which parties support the Liberty of the individual, and willing subservience to a foreign power is hardly a good start on the road to achieving that end.
I have sat through the leaders’ debates on ITV (2nd April) and BBC (two weeks later), and have to say I am quite disheartened at the level of public support most of them have appeared to have garnered. Personally, I believe the UK Independence Party offers Britain the best chance of extricating itself from the political, economic and social disaster that the EU experiment has become. Britain has handcuffed herself to a drowning man, and Nigel Farage alone is frantically waving the key, hoping to attract the attention of his countrymen, who appear to perceive that drowning man as some kind of lifeboat.
The other parties offer little more than business as usual. David Cameron is not a conservative, either in the upper-case or lower-case meaning of the word. His “conservatism”, such as it is, amounts to little more than a sense of social propriety. An admirable trait to have in your next-door neighbour or parish warden, but hardly the stuff of great statesmanship. He has bent whichever way the wind has blown, and shows little sign of ever changing.
Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, represents everything that is wrong with Britain today. It is obvious that he desperately wants to be seen as urbane, cultured and sophisticated. But he appears to have little time for what Britain is (or at least used to be). As far as principle is concerned, there seems to be little that he actually stands for. He is unaware there is a Commonwealth of nations out there; or if he is aware, it represents to him a mere embarrassing reminder of his country’s past as a colonial aggressor. He sees himself as a European first and foremost and, forgetting the past, is doomed to repeat it.
Milliband, the Labour leader, seems to me little more than a cardboard cutout. He is Tony Blair without the Joker-like evil toothy grin. At least with him and his party, you know what you are getting. More of the same, whistling in the eye of the coming storm.
Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon, the leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party, are mere regional socialists, concerned only with grabbing a larger slice of the Westminster pie, irrespective of the fairness to English taxpayers or how indeed their clamourings for largesse must ultimately be paid for. Their vision does not extend beyond their own borders, though both will doubtless garner sufficient local support in response to their predictable dog-whistling to be around as mid-level forces the next time around.
The less said about the Greens leader, Natalie Bennett, the kinder it would be. She doesn’t even warrant the term “socialist”. She is a teenage anarchist, and not a very good one at that, as several muddle-headed interviews have amply demonstrated. She’s not even British! I suspect that even many committed environmentalists in Britain are embarrassed by her, and it is likely their vote will be down at this election.
The big problem you have in Britain, it seems to me, is your electoral system. Yes, I know I am sounding like a broken record here, but your first-past-the-post system was designed to cope with a two-party polity. The entry of even the Liberal Democrats into serious contention ensured numerous electorates were represented by candidates whose politics are emphatically rejected by a majority of constituents. When you are able to register only your first preference, and not your relative disaffection for alternative candidates, this is the inevitable result. The entry of UKIP into the equation (and the other parties, to a lesser extent) merely magnifies this inequality.
Now, this graph of opinion polls gives little indication of likely seats in the Commons after the election. Alternative voting, such as we have here in Australia, would mean the composition would be a lot closer to what you see here. Labour, by most expert reckoning, are likely to form government in coalition with at least one other party. It is highly unlikely that the Conservatives will be able to govern in their own right.
What all that means for Britain over the next few years is, their fate is going to be the same as Europe’s. I expect a lot of applications for emigration Down Under in the coming months.
P.J. O’Rourke’s hilarious take on the UK elections on BBC Radio here.
The take-away message from the program is that it is the SNP that is going to be the king-maker after 7 May. Except Nicola Sturgeon in the debate swore she would never support a Conservative government. Which kind of robs them of any negotiating power, you would think.
If we are lucky then despite out first-past-the-post rigged system,, the election will result in coalition, or uneasy pacts and agreements to cobble together some sort of government, until the next political crisis. If we are really lucky we will challenge Italy and Belgium for the longest time it takes to form a government capable of ‘making policy’ rather than just being a reactive necessity!
If we are unlucky one side might win. And perpetuate another few years of the 19thC traditionalist nonsense of a two-party state.
I must admit my indifference to this election is partly political cynicism and partly residing in a voting area that has returned the same party with a vote double their nearest contender since Pitt the Younger. (Well, not quite- but it certainly isn’t a ‘marginal – ‘grin.)
Except on those occasions where the incumbent MP goes ‘independent’ (falls out with party) and retains the seat until retirement. Or decomposition.
I would agree with most of your assessment of the UK political scene, despite the ‘telescopic’ view from that distance!
With the exception of the significance you give to UKIP. I know they can look like a player on the political stage, but they are more a Greek chorus than a dramatis personae who drives the plot.
To turn the telescope around, and possibly have an equally distorted view of distant politics;
Nigel Farage = Pauline Hanson
They embody the paradox of the political person/movement that is publicly influential but functionally irrelevant.
The only aspect that has caught my attention is the unanimous and overwhelming negative reaction to the idea of the SNP (as you say, a bunch of opportunists wearing red tartan) having any sort of say, involvement of coalition with main parties. Even Milliband has bowed to the storm and ‘absolutely’ ruled out any sort of contact, and certainly no flirting or conjugal arrangements!
When the ‘Great and the Good’ of the Establishment are so strongly against something, I do start to suspect that it may therefore have some benefit for those of us less great. And good.
The most distorted of lenses could not begin to make Nigel Farage resemble Pauline Hanson. I suppose a sort of grudging admiration is in order, for the British media, who have achieved what Newtonian optics could not – Oz
Just looking now at the stories on the Telegraph’s dedicated election page.
Let’s see, hmmm… there’s one on Cameron, one on SNP and Labour, hmm, hmm, one on Clegg and the Tories, another Labour/SNP article, hmm, one on the Greens, a puff piece on the London Eye ferris wheel…
Ahhh, here we are – an article on a referendum on leaving the EU… but the article is by a certain Matthew Elliot, representing an organization named “Business for Britain”.
Milliband, hmm, Scottish Labour, Milliband, Russell Brand, hmm…
Strange. I could have sworn there was another party running. I guess there can’t be, because they are mentioned nowhere. Must be my imagination, then.
Interesting Question Time. I like this change of format – instead of all the leaders on stage at once, interrupting and chopping each other off, each of them (well, Cameron, Milliband and Clegg, anyway) get the chance to interact with a studio audience, one after each other. I think the moderator, Dimbleby, was pretty fair to each one.
Ahhh! The Telegraph finally prints the F-word. Well, the Sunday Telegraph, anyway. Editorializing. Telling readers not to vote for him, it will mean a vote for Milliband, and so on, and so forth. At least they mentioned him at all.
This week’s New Statesman depicts what many see as likely after Thursday:
I am currently gathering data to perform a computer analysis of Thursday’s election results. Not too much detail yet, but I’m hoping to make a point about AV. Watch this space.
A fizzer in some ways, but a revelation in others. With 630 of 650 counted, Cameron has 315 seats and looks set to take an absolute majority in the Commons. Let us hope he does not try to weasel out of his commitment to an in/out referendum.
UKIP have been a revelation, exploding their national vote to 12.6%. The FPTP system means that did not translate into seats, with only Douglas Carswell in Clacton elected, and Nigel Farage falling just short in South Thanet, according to inside sources. Farage looks now set to resign as party leader.
The Liberal Democrats have been annihilated, losing two-thirds of their votes from the 2010 elections. They look set to go the way of other centrists such as the Australian Democrats, into obscurity. Standing for nothing, they remind me of the quip sometimes attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas: Everything in moderation – including moderation!. It must stick in the gullet of UKIP supporters that with just 7.8% of the national vote, they somehow managed to win 8 seats.
Biggest winners on the night were the Scottish separatists, winning 56 of 59 seats and obliterating Labour’s chances in the process. The Union cannot last much longer in its present form, as the SNP will now surely push for another referendum.
More as it unfolds.
The comparison between the UK Liberal and UK vote, and the number of seats it gains each can be regarded as a FEATURE of the first past the post system rather than a flaw.
True, if you have a philosophical conviction that the national representatives should accurately reflect the proportional make-up of the public views, then some form of proportional representation makes sense.
But you end up with a myriad of small fringe parties and individual cranks driven by ideological dogma. But often with very limited experience, insight or willingness to engage with the realities of civic governance of a broad electorate.
The UK FPTP system ensures that small fringe positions are not given the chance to gain representation UNLESS they can persuade a majority in a voting constituency to vote for them. Many politicians at the national level have first served at the local council level, affiliated to mainstream political parties with a proven track record in at least local civic governance. This is why despite the low national vote, the Liberals were able to retain SOME seats. They have as a party and as individuals a track record that enables them to get the majority vote in some localities.
By contrast UKIP is another in the long and global phenomena of shallowly popularist, overtly nationalist and covertly racist “covertly racist”? Come on – Oz ‘movements’ that emerge and expand whenever there is significant social change. They are only ever able to get a small minority of the population to support them, 5%-15%. They very rarely, and only as the result of special local circumstance, can manage to get a majority of any large population/region/town to support them. They also fail to have a track record of proven ability at the lower levels of local government.
The result of this FPTP system is that it excludes the perpetually minority ideologues. The political dogmas that are NEVER going to win the support of a majority. But it enables political parties with an established record of successful political action to still get elected locally even if the TOTAL national support is small.
Liberals have a long history of successfully managing local councils. Their national political strength emerges in part from that.
UKIP has a short history of local council involvement, much of it has demostrated the limitations of the populist stance and the individuals involved when they do get to exercise political power.
It is revealing that the one UKIP MP elected has a background as an incumbent representative under a mainstream party. He has the benefit of a proven personal record and the past association with an established party. THAT gave him the advantage to get a local majority vote. Elsewhere when UKIP standing candidates for election they got the sort of share of the vote that is commonplace for such fringe political movements that have never exercised power and rarely reach double figure percentage support.
As I remarked in my earlier article, electoral systems are always a trade-off between disenfranchisement and ungovernability. An electoral system that produces the UKIP anomaly (and I note your conflation of the terms “minority” and “ideologue”), not to mention the anomaly of the SNP winning 56 seats in the Commons with just 4.7% of the vote, leans too far towards the former evil. A purely proportional system, such as STV, that produces perpetual coalitions, leans too far to the latter.
The Jenkins Commission recommended a variant of AV, the AV+ or “top-up member” system. Though the report itself canvasses the obvious flaws of AV+, it appears a broad political consensus is beginning to form in Britain that the time has come to re-visit Jenkins and his recommendations – Oz
OK the UK Electoral Commission has just released the tabulated results of last week’s elections. Next week I will get to work on model projections of preferences. Once I have the preference algorithm in place, I can run simulations under AV, AV+ and STV, as well as the two-member model several people have suggested (including Brian May on BBC Question Time the other night).