Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Politics week - Part 2: the UK

It's been a big week in British politics. But I reckon it must look dead weird from an outsider's perspective. Partly because of our weird electoral system through which the number of votes and number of seats are not really linked, and partly because when this system delivers a "hung parliament" (ie no overall majority for any party), this is such a rare event that it seems to send the whole system into craziness. For most countries (in Europe at least) the idea that after an election you have a period of horse trading and coalition talks is so utterly normal that the last few days of frenzy in the UK must seem really bizarre.

Anyway, to sum up what has happened so far. Firstly everyone lost in the election last week. The Labour Party (or New Labour as I still like to think of them in the vain hope that somewhere deep in the party lies the hope that they will one day return to actually sticking up for working people) got summarily kicked out of government and lost a huge number of MPs. The Liberal Democrats, the third party, who suddenly as a result of the introduction of presidential style debates, were thrust into the limelight and briefly saw the possibility of being the second biggest party (at least in terms of votes) slipped back to pretty much where they were before (more votes, fewer seats, go figure). And the Conservative Party who were the primary opposition to a massively unpopular government, with a hugely disliked prime minister, and with vast amounts of media support for their campaign couldn't even get a majority, which goes to show how even now many many people still hate and distrust them (me included). They did get the most votes and the most seats, but frankly in the circumstances it was as bad a performance as Labour had in 1992.

So no-one won, and now the media is in a frenzy of speculation and, in many cases, blatant attempts to influence the outcomes of negotiations. The vast majority of newspapers in England are rabidly pro-Tory, and they have been flip-flopping madly as things change. Yesterday Gordon Brown was a squatter who needed to resign immediately, and then when yesterday he did announce his resignation this was suddenly a shabby act of treachery of something. In addition the TV is increasingly pro-Tory. Rupert Murdoch's Sky News is extremely biased (and their chief newsbloke Adam Boulton yesterday was hilariously called on his Tory bias yesterday by Alistair Campbell - Blair's former spin doctor/spokesman - causing Boulton to blow up in highly amusing apoplectic rage). It is fairly widely accepted that Murdoch has done a deal with Cameron and the Tories that if they get elected they will savagely cut the BBC thereby leaving Sky with a greater access to the market. Hence Sky and Murdoch's papers - the Time and the Sun being even more rabidly right wing this year than ever before. However, in a perhaps desperate bid to suck up to the Tories and hence not be cut too much, the BBC has also lurched to the right, and their chief political journalist Nick Robinson is unfailingly pro-Tory in everything he says and anti even the prospect of anybody else having a say in government. (His latest disingenuous wheeze, in common with his right-wing brethren, is to suggest that if we end up with a Labour prime minister who is not Gordon Brown, then that's an unelected PM. But the system doesn't actually elect a PM ever, it elects MPs, and the leader of the party with the most MPs is the PM. No-one has ever elected a PM in the UK, despite the new presidential style of the campaigns).

The there are these shadowy "markets" which apparently are going up and down every time anyone sneezes. So ubiquitous have they become in the post-election commentary that one wonders why we even bother to have elections in the first place. Let's let the markets decide, since the media seem to want to let them anyway. Never mind that the markets are a completely indeterminate entity, and that essentially they are made up of a bunch of global gamblers and speculators who spend all day every day betting on stocks and currencies, but who manage (in a really neat trick) to be both gamblers and bookmakers (and yet somehow respected for all that). The only people who care what the markets "think" are the markets themselves and the compliant media.

What the election has delivered is the possibility, however small, of actually having a sane voting system in the UK in the future, one in which everyone's vote counts for something. I am not holding my breath for such an eventuality, but it does now seem to be at least on the agenda.

Aside from the need for a new electoral system, I'm torn on what I think the outcome of this election should be. I am instinctively and deeply anti-Tory. In fact I firmly believe that anyone who was alive and in any way politically conscious in the 80s must for ever distrust and despise them, and never ever vote for them. I cannot ever see myself voting Tory - and I don't believe they have or will ever change. Anyone who remembers the 80s and would vote Tory has either been lobotomised or should be. In the current circumstances with a large budget deficit to deal with, they just be rubbing their hands with glee as (at least in their minds) they have an excuse to make savage cuts in the welfare state. Thankfully we don't have a majority Tory government who would by now already have started dismantling the NHS, education system, and any other troublingly beneficial services.

However, they did get more votes than anyone else, and they ought to be able to have first crack at forming a government. This they have done, and by the end of today they may even have managed it. If they don't and can't put together a workable government then we have to see what other alternatives there are. The press would have you believe that it's Tory or nothing as they are the "winners" in the eyes of most of this band of chancers, but the mainstream press are, for the most part, a bunch of scum who actually care not one jot for democracy, while all the time protesting that they really ONLY care about democracy. From time to time I even get this feeling that from a long term perspective it might even be better for them to form a minority government (or one propped up by the Lib Dems) so they can piss everyone off and get kicked out again when the next election comes round in a few months. But then even that short period of power would result in the destruction of lives, communities and basic human rights, so I can't give in to that one. But then again, I wonder if coalition of Labour and the Lib Dems (with a savage right wing press against them) will not be even more unpopular, and lose even more badly next time round, thus delivering an unchecked Tory government free to launch into its attacks on the country.

It's a quandary and no mistake. But despite the uncertainty (which is not really a big deal, whatever the markets and the press think) actually might make UK politics better in the future.

I really really hope so. Meanwhile if you think that a better voting system is necessary and important, then sign up here: http://www.takebackparliament.com/

This post could be pages and pages longer than this, but I already feel I've rambled way too much.

[Tomorrow's edition of politics week features Hungary. And if you think things are bad in the UK and Romania, then they are nothing compared to that country]


Sara Hannam said...

Brilliant post Andy. Thank you : )

Anonymous said...

thank for the introduction.

question: who's sustaining all those surveillance measures?

(this is a genuine naivequestion (c), believe me, i'm from csik and never took the effort to study english politics.)

Katharine said...

Rupert Murdoch controls British media outlets too?


Can we send him back to Australia?

Andy H said...

Anon: The whole surveillance culture has been developing for years. I guess it started with the last Tory government and got ramped up under Labour. If there's one good thing about the result of this election it is that the proposed ID card system will now be scrapped.

That's it actually, the one and only good thing.

Oh yes, Katherine. Sky on TV and the Times and the Sun newspapers. I'm pretty sure he owns a bunch of stuff in Australia too.