With the UK election campaign
well and truly underway now, this seems like a good point to write a bit about it for my overseas readers. Just what political parties are involved? What do they stand for? What issues are considered most important? And what are the implications of the most likely outcomes?
Before I get down to the nitty of the gritty, however, let me point you towards the Who Should You Vote For? website
. This web survey asks a series of simple questions about what are seen to be key issues. Then it tells you how close the five most visible parties come to representing your position. Unfortunately, just like most political polls, Who Should You Vote For?
offers such a narrow range of options on such a narrow range of issues, as to make it utterly pointless for those of us who take positions a long way outside the mainstream. That's why it's assessment of my voting intent (which is based upon a good deal more than the answers to a handful of poll questions) is somewhat wrong.
In truth, there's not a party among them that comes close to proposing the sorts of policies which I would implement were I declared God-Emperor of Earth tomorrow. But the Green Party
comes closest, and though I wouldn't want to see them put in charge of anything more complex than say... a large music festival... I would still probably vote Green in the hope that a few hundred thousand votes that direction may at least remind future generations that we weren't all
selfish morons willing to sell them down the river for our personal gratification. Sadly the Greens aren't standing in my constituency (voting district) which leaves me looking at the Socialist Party
lurking on the fringes. Their website makes it very clear that they are the party of The Worker, and even has an image of Marx and Engels on each page to prove it.
I have roughly as much a desire to define myself as a Worker, as I do to define myself as a Consumer. I'm a Human Being thanks very much, and not a single party appears to be targeting me in this campaign. Aaaaanyways....
For as long as records have been kept, England has been a Two-Party State. Well, for as long as most people can remember anyways. The other countries within the UK (Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland) have a variety of other parties, sometimes in addition to the Big Two, sometimes at the exclusion of one or both of the Big Two. But as it is English
Members of Parliament (MPs) who make up the vast majority (by virtue of England being far more heavily populated), so it is that the UK as a whole has been a Two-Party State for as long as records have been kept. Well, several decades anyways.
There is some indication that this particular status quo
may face a serious challenge this year (election date is May 5th 2005 by the way). This is due to a number of factors... widespread disillusionment with both main parties; people taking a third party far more seriously than previously; and a splitter party on the right wing that has the potential to tip the scales in certain constituencies.
The two main parties, of course, are "left wing" Labour
and the "right wing" Conservative Party
. The third party which has the opportunity to mobilise the disillusionment vote if it works out a way how, is the Liberal Democrat Party
. The right-wing possible splitters are the "as far right as you can get without the automatic
assumption of dodgy racism" UK Independence Party
(a.k.a. New Labour, Current Government - since 1997)
Labour was traditionally the party of the working class. It had a resolutely socialist agenda, and is responsible for the fact that the UK has one of the finest welfare systems in the world (through focussing the agenda, if not always direct implementation). Up until very recently in fact, the UK was broadly speaking, a socialist state. This was preserved, even under the many Conservative governments, because of a broad recognition that the British people wanted it that way. This changed under the 18 years of Thatcherism when the privatisation of the majority of national assets took place.
American readers; please be aware that "socialism" is not seen as a dirty word here in Europe, and you'll have to get past that I'm afraid. For the record though, I do not identify myself with socialist movements as they place far too big an emphasis on energy consumption ("work").
The present Labour government took office in 1997. The dynamism of Tony Blair and a slick business-friendly "New Labour" swept John Major
and the party of Thatcher from power. Labour had realised that being the party of the working class was electoral suicide now that so few people considered themselves working class. The Cold War was over, communism had died on TV, and Thatcherism had made socialism next to impossible by destroying every public revenue stream save direct taxation, which nobody votes for.
But the British people, apparently unaware that they agreed to dismantle the welfare state to fund Thatcher's short-termism, still stubbornly demand that each government it elects maintain the basics of a civilised European state (i.e. sick people don't have to die because they are poor, and the unemployed don't starve to death in the streets). This is why Labour still claims to be the party of Public Services. And why no
party will be taken seriously without promising to retain free health care, and free 1st and 2nd level education, etc.
In truth, however, the Labour party is not the party of Public Services. In their bid to claw votes from their right wing opponents they found themselves drifting ever further in that direction. Until now in 2005 they are essentially a centre-right party in all but name. This has been a good electoral strategy for the Labour leadership to date; keeping just enough of the socialist past to hold on to their core vote, but presenting themselves as efficient, business-like, can-do managers of a modern free-market economy.
This core vote, however, has become increasingly disillusioned and it is the possibility that Labour voters will stay at home in protest on May 5th that most worries the party. Tony Blair, once known as "Teflon Tony" (nothing sticks, you see?) is suddenly no longer the golden boy of British politics. It is a testament to his consummate skill as a politician that Labour have not completely collapsed in the polls as a result of the personal animosity felt towards him by a lot of people.
It was the war that did it for a lot of people. The traditional Labour voter felt nauseous when Blair got together with Dubya Bush. The traditional Labour voter, given the facts as we know them to be now, would declare George Dubya a far greater threat to world peace and stability than Saddam Hussein was. There's an understanding here that Bush is heir to Reagan. And there's a memory here of Reagan and Thatcher's close relationship (horrible though it is to visualise... you just know
they did the dirty in the White House; for those two, power was the ultimate aphrodesiac). Blair's association with Dubya (and all it's led to) has been his greatest error of judgment, and the single thing that has turned most traditional Labour voters against him.
One can only assume that the UK has received some guarantee from the US, as yet unknown to the public, in return for Blair's backing. If not, then Blair was just a fool.
The final nail in his political coffin was his response to the largest ever protest march in British history... "history will be my judge".
Well no Tony you smug arrogant git. Take another look at those millions in the streets. See them? Well, they're your fucking boss Tony!
Not history. So it'll be them
who judge your performance in the job they gave you
. That history will also
be your judge is something none of them give a shit about. But is something you should be very sad about indeed.
But it's not just the war, or Dubya Bush. Traditional Labour voters in London don't much like Blair's involvement in recent mayoral elections here. Even though Ken Livingstone has been readmitted to the party and all the animosity in the past, Londoners still remember how Labour Central Office tried to cheat them out of their preferred candidate. And that control-freakery of New Labour is another thing that people have gotten very fed up with.
Replacing the welfare state with a police state is not a trade off most voters expected to see a Labour government make.
As a result of this plummet in our collective estimation, Blair is not the focus of the campaign as he was in the past. He has acknowledged that this will be his last election, and his successor (barring a heart-attack or something) Gordon Brown, is as prominent a figure in the campaign as Blair himself. This fact is irrelevant, however. People vote for challengers based on what they think they can offer them. They vote on incumbents based on their record. Blair will be the face in every voters mind when they see Labour on the ballot sheet. And that's what matters.
(a.k.a. Tory Party, the tories, Main Opposition - since 1997)
I'm willing to bet that there's nobody reading this blog who doesn't have a fair idea of who Margaret Thatcher is. Let that be your starting point when considering the Conservative Party which is now being led by one of Thatcher's most trusted lieutenants, Michael Howard. He held ministerial offices throughout Thatcher's government and by the early 90s held the office of Home Secretary; one of the Big Three positions - the other two being Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance) and Foreign Secretary.
Lest I be accused of not being transparent about my own personal bias, allow me to point out that it was a personal loathing of Michael Howard which inspired me to get involved with direct action politics in this country. He was the face of the Criminal Justice Bill, a draconian piece of legislation to clamp firmly down on youth culture (raves, free festivals, student protests, etc. were suddenly illegal
thanks to Michael Howard). And he was still Home Secretary when the Road Protests in the mid-90s got going, and when I was publishing a bunch of psychedelic zines and getting involved in illegal free festivals.
The culture that I was part of, and felt at home within, came under direct attack from Michael Howard. A friend of mine died at an illegal rave in early 1996. Before Howard's Criminal Justice Bill my friend would have had access to a medical tent. He would at least have had a chance. Michael Howard decided to disregard the lives of young drug users in a bid to be tough on crime. He fought a war on plants and chemicals and declared that children were acceptable collateral damage. Michael Howard is an evil man and should be resisted at all costs.
And now, my balanced analysis of the tories...
Well no, there is none. The tory party are right wing extremists and do not deserve a balanced analysis. They do not believe in fairness, in justice, or in basic human compassion. And by imposing their cold, bitter views on the UK for 18 years they forfeited the right to be treated fairly. There is no "fair" with the tories. They stand for ruthless capitalism. They are the party of the rich and powerful (and of any dupes who can be convinced that one day they too may be rich and powerful). They are mean, spiteful and will immediately relegalise the torturing of foxes for human sport, and send people like me to jail.
No really. Michael Howard wants me in jail. The chance of me voting for him, therefore, is precisely zero. "Tougher punishments for cannabis users. Jail sentences for persistent offenders!" Let's get this straight, shall we...
Here I am, a legal immigrant worker. I have never in my life drawn state benefits, I paid the full fees for my university tuition (having had been a resident outside Europe for three years previously or some malarky), and paid more tax to the UK exchequer in the past 12 years than the average British worker will pay in their lifetime. I am contributing far less to the exchequer these days than I was when I was running large engineering projects, but they're still making a profit on me. I still draw no benefits, still pay my allotted amount in taxes and plan on continuing this behaviour for a bit longer.
I have been a net financial benefit to this country. Plus I have contributed my little bit to the cultural life of this country, have been guilty of no crime with a victim, and indeed have intervened and prevented three violent crimes during my years here.
Sadly though, I don't like alcohol, but I do find that cannabis is beneficial in relaxing me, preventing migraines and making good music and films even more enjoyable than usual. For this reason Michael Howard wants to stop me contributing to society and make my finding a job next to impossible. And he wants the exchequer to start paying for my incarceration. He's a fucking moron. And a cruel one at that.
And he's surrounded by a party of buffoons and company directors. His finance guy (Oliver "puppy torturer" Letwin) was a bigwig at NM Rothschild financial megaglomerate. But he didn't have a Road to Damascus experience and decide to dedicate his skills to public service. Like fuck did he! In fact, it's only a year and a half ago that the tories were able to convince him to resign his position. Eventually he got the message, it might be a conflict of interest to be running the nation's budget, setting taxation policy, regulating the financial sector, and what have you, whilst still
a director of NM Rothschild. Just might
be a conflict of interest.
And this is something that more people should be talking about. Most of these tory spending plans that are being bandied about at the moment are the work of a man who was working for NM Rothschild whilst formulating them. It is safe to assume therefore, knowing as I do the workings of corporations at high levels, that these plans are first and foremost the plans of a Rothschild director, and second the plans of a public servant. You just don't exist at that level of a corporation if you're playing for any team but the home one. Feel free to deny this if you choose. You will be wrong though.
A tory vote, therefore, should be cast full in the knowledge that your hopes and dreams need to coincide with those of NM Rothschild if you expect your MP to address them.
The tories want to impose stricter immigration controls. Apparently immigrants are The Big Problem facing this country. They're not by the way. Oil and gas depletion is. But we're discussing party politics here, not reality, so we shouldn't expect the real
issues to be discussed. Did you know the phrase "Peak oil" does not appear in any manifesto? Not even the Greens. This is despite the US Dept of Energy recently announcing it's The Big Problem for us all. And the International Energy Agency quietly proposing, a couple of weeks back, a total ban on private cars to combat the Peak Oil problem.
But to leave the real world briefly, the next party we should look at is
The Liberal Democrats
(a.k.a. LibDems, the liberals, The Other Opposition - since pretty much anyone can recall)
LibDem leader Charles Kennedy launched his manifesto today. A couple of days before that his wife gave birth to a baby boy. Charles Kennedy is a busy man.
As well he should be. For the first time in ages there's a real chance for a third party to make significant ground in British politics. With Labour and the tories battling it out to see who can make life hardest for the dispossessed, there's an opportunity to galvanise the left-of-centre vote as well as the disillusioned anti-war vote.
It should be pointed out that although they play up their anti-war stance now, it wasn't quite so cut and dried at the time. Anyone who remembers Charles Kennedy's remarkably distasteful "Now is the time for silence" comment needs no further proof that the man is as much a career politician seeking power as the rest of them. He comes across as more genial, a nicer guy... someone with whom you could have a drink without it ending violently. But that's all down to the "proximity to power" factor.
You see, power corrupts. It just does. Everyone who argues against that points to the exceptions. As though Howard or Kennedy or Blair could possibly possess the sort of centered and focussed inner peace and compassion that Mandela learnt in prison and Gandhi appears to have been born with. These type of people come round once in a generation. People whose great humanity immunises them from the corruption that exercising power over others breeds. People wholly unlike anyone fighting the current election campaign.
So Charles Kennedy is
a nicer person than Howard or Blair. But that's mostly because he's so much further from real power than they are. And imagining that won't change if the LibDems do very well is truly naïve. I recall watching an interview with William Hague (the last tory leader but one) a year or so after he'd lost the leadership, and with it any chance of real power. He was actually a half-decent guy. Again, not someone I'd choose to hang out with, but if we found ourselves sat next to one another at a function of some sort, I wouldn't resort to impaling him with the fish-knife after 10 minutes conversation. But back when he thought he had a shot at being prime minister he was just another vicious and nasty politician treating the electorate with ugly contempt.
Still, people think of the LibDems as the anti-war party and that gives them a powerful rallying point. If they could work out how to successfully exploit it, we could see a real shift in the political landscape. My money is on them failing miserably. The British people are conservative (small 'c') by and large. I understand the sociocultural reasons for this, but still think it sucks a big one. Indeed I find it one of the least-attractive elements of British culture (amply compensated for - let me point out - by the finest subcultures in the world). But it does mean that it'll take something huge to shift the electorate en masse
away from The Big Couple. And I don't see Kennedy as capable of delivering that.
The LibDems are the only one of the three to propose tax increases (for all earnings above GBP100,000 per year - that's about USD190,000) which go directly into paying down the national debt and improving public services. Realistically, therefore, they're probably the only party likely to deliver genuine improvements in the Health and Education systems. Realistically, however, they'll not find themselves in power, so I can make that prediction with no danger of being caught out on it.
The Liberal Democrats (as befits their name) are also quite liberal when it comes to social issues (Note to Americans: "Liberal" is also a perfectly acceptable word to use in polite society here in Europe. Crazy, huh?). This is actually quite popular here in the UK where mad religious nutballs haven't got hold of the national debate just yet. They propose softening the approach to drug use (good plan) though falling way short of some form of controlled supply which is what's required (anyone who thinks that placing the production and sale of dangerous and addictive substances into the hands of violent gangsters is a positive thing for society is a fucking lunatic). They seem less interested in stripping away our civil liberties than the other two. And they seem less likely to cosy up to Dubya, and more likely to move towards Europe, than the other two.
These are good things, if limited, in my view. But like the other parties the LibDems fail to address the real issues. There's no talk of reassessing capitalism or globalisation, no indication they'll be taking sustainability seriously, and far less about social justice than you'd expect from a party hoping to pick up the disaffected left. I like their tax rise for the rich. And I like a lot of their liberal social policies. But their economic plans still call for the unsustainable squandering of the last of our natural resources in a suicidal orgy of destructive resource wars. Which is something of a turn off.
I can't lend my voice to the capitalist chorus. So Charles loses my vote. And I expect he'll lose many more for similar reasons.
(a.k.a. The Green Party, UK Independence Party, Respect, The Socialist Party, The BNP, Veritas, etc. - never been more than pressure groups really)
Due to an archaic electoral system which conveniently excludes minority views from any representation whatsoever, a small party like the Greens for instance could garner as much as 5% of the national vote but not have a single MP in the House of Commons. That's 2 and a quarter million voices completely ignored.
For this reason, I shan't spend as long on each of these parties as they are unlikely to win a single constituency, and hence unlikely to have an opportunity to take part in the political process for another 5 years.
The Green Party
is largely run by a likeable bunch of well-meaning folks interspersed with serious nutters. Like nutters in all the fringe parties, they tend to be far more extreme than the nutters in the mainstream parties. The flipside is that there are also plenty of folks with a genuine social conscience in many of the fringe parties. This is another factor, along with the first-past-the-post
electoral system, which excludes them from power.
The Greens have a fairly predictable manifesto this time round. They say lots of excellent stuff, but also fail to mention that the future will be anything other than business-as-usual (albeit in a shiny wind-powered Britain rather than a grubby fossil fuel one). They talk about generating huge numbers of jobs which translates as a huge increase in energy demand, and then talk about demand reduction being central to their policy. Like everyone else in politics they seen incapable of understanding the physical systems which drive the economy and how they are destined to change permanently over the next decade and a half.
So yeah, I like the people in the Green Party. I spent much of the 90s hanging out with people who were part of, or went on to become part of, the Greens. But they don't have a grip on the problem at all. And they offer simplistic pipe-dream solutions to very complex issues. Also by refusing to elect a single leader they seriously damage their ability to function as a modern political party. Call it less authoritarian, more balanced, or whatever you want, but it pisses off the media and that's just bloody stupid during an election campaign.
The UK Independence Party
(UKIP) has emerged as an expression of the more extreme end of British europhobia. This is despite the fact that it's elected members all sit in the European Parliament (they are MEPs rather than MPs). They are unlikely to increase their number of MPs from zero this time round either. There was a slim chance that they'd have gotten their leader elected had they decided to allow Robert "You're not an arab are you?" Kilroy-Silk be their leader. But instead, almost immediately after their surprise showing in the European elections, UKIP imploded and ex-talkshow host and prominent disliker of Arabs and the Irish, Kilroy-Silk ran away to form his own party, Veritas
Veritarse is a complete joke, and worthy of mention only to poke fun. UKIP might well be the same were they not threatening to steal some of the Tory vote. UKIP believe that the biggest threat facing Britain now (just ahead of immigrants) is Europe. They believe that closer proximity to Europe will endanger British culture, autonomy and way of life. At heart they have taken over from the tories as being the Party of The Empire (Thatcher maintained that façade for a while. But she was a rapacious globalising private capitalist, which has precisely nothing to do with how the empire was run). UKIP are nostalgic for the days of their great-great-grandfathers.
So a vote for them is a vote for extreme isolationism and a massive increase in historical re-enactment societies (because let's face it, that's as close as The British Empire will ever come to existing again).
The British National Party
(BNP) are the far right. They don't like you if you're black and will say so to your face. Often with a broken bottle. They manage to punch above their political weight thanks to the fact that racial tension in Britain can periodically erupt into localised social disturbances, which tends to end up with them winning a local council seat or two and everyone in the media freaking out about the return of fascism.
The main danger from the BNP however is their ability to influence the agenda for the other right-wing parties. In a marginal constituency, a few hundred votes can make all the difference. When a tory finds themselves up against a BNP candidate threatening to take a thousand... well, the question becomes how far right is it acceptable for a tory to get in the hope of switching a few of those votes? And that's not a good question for a potential MP to be asking in my view.Respect
is another fringe party. Run by erstwhile Labour MP, George Galloway it paints itself as anti-war and socialist. Because of Galloway's high-profile and media savvy, they have gotten far more coverage than the official Socialist Party and look to be a serious contender in the constituency where Galloway is standing. I'm not a fan of George Galloway. He strikes me as being just as opportunist as any of the others, and even though I applaud some
of the positions he has taken, I don't trust for a second that he wouldn't choose a different side of the barricades if he felt he'd gain personally from doing so.
The Likely Outcome
It seems that the result of this election will be a third Labour term under Tony Blair with him stepping down round about mid-Year 3 in favour of Gordon Brown. However, the Labour majority will undoubtedly be severely dented as a result of lacklustre turnout, the toryfication of Labour and the staggering lack of imagination of the British electorate.
The tories will have won just enough extra seats for Michael Howard to hang on for a year after the election, whereupon he will stand down.
The LibDems will make very very modest gains indeed. Far less than they were secretly hoping, and less than they'd publicly hoped. Kennedy will be replaced within a year and the LibDems will fade into obscurity.
None of the other parties will gain a seat, and grumblings about electoral reform will be heard for a while and then forgotten about.
Soon after Gordon Brown takes over from Blair, the energy crisis will cause the arse to fall out of the economy and the tories will get swept to power in 2010.
A Possible Alternative
Realising that the tories are still the vile pondscum they used to be, the public will express their anger at Blair and "business as usual" politicians with a protest vote for the LibDems (the only alternative that doesn't tax their imagination beyond it's limits). The tories see themselves slip into third place with several of the more well-known MPs being pushed out in favour of a LibDem.
By becoming the Official Opposition, the LibDems can force the agenda in a completely new direction. Charles Kennedy consolidates his position and electoral reform is seriously up for discussion, as are a host of other issues.
The tories immediately sack Howard and an internal struggle begins which rips the party to shreds. Some of the MPs join UKIP, further weakening the Conservative presence in parliament and some even jump to Labour. The remaining 70 MPs cease to be a serious political force by the following election.
Labour, however, will have capitalised on the tory bloodbath by increasing it's majority over the official oppostion whilst having a slightly diminished majority overall. Blair will still step down in favour of Brown in 2008, but the 2010 election will be fought on slightly saner ground.
On election day I will go to the voting booth. Because I despise the ridiculous idea that a low voter turnout has anything to do with "apathy"
. People do still care about the issues that matter. They just know that politicians won't do anything about them if it means interrupting their power-tripping turn at the trough. People are disillusioned not apathetic, and when politicians fail to make that distinction they are guilty of one of the more insidious deceptions of our time.
I'll be there on May 5th. Because I'm anything but apathetic. But my vote will have None of The Above
written in large black letters across it. Thanks to this archaic system, that means my vote will be declared "spoilt" and lumped in with all the morons who thought they could vote for 3 candidates. But with a bit of luck one of the candidates will be walking past the table when my vote's counted and will realise that at least one of the spoilt ballots was a protest vote against every single one of them standing in that room.
Minor correction (Apr 15th, 4:23pm)
I described Oliver "puppy killer" Letwin as a director of "Morgan Rothschild". As it happens no such financial institution exists; Letwin was actually a director of NM
Rothschild. It was a slip of the tongue, so to speak... I'd been reading Morgan Stanley's (another large financial powerhouse) 2004 analysis of the global energy market just before starting to write the above bit, and the names became conflated in my mind. Sorry for the inaccuracy.