Wednesday, 12 May 2010

'New politics'? Tory pragmatism in pursuit of power, more like...

 "There is just a gulf between what David Cameron stands for and what I stand for, in terms of values, in terms of internationalism, in terms of fairness, in terms of progressive tax reform, in terms of political reform"
-Nick Clegg, May 1 2010

Time will tell, but this train of events seems to show a Thatcherite consensus emerging between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. So, no real difference from the last 13 years. For Labour, the chickens come to roost: their failure to change the voting system and cultivate a collegiate centre-left alliance has allowed this rather smug spectacle..

The crucial issues will be: the media (will the Conservatives be able to further the Murdochian agenda?), civil liberties (will the supposed 'Liberal Conservative' government prove at all liberal ), foreign policy (Hague and Fox at the helm; shudder, those of us who want a more European, less Neo-Conservative country), cuts (can the LDs square any of their old social democratic beliefs with the attack on Beveridge Britain that the Tories plan?).

The LibDems wouldn't have done this under more left-leaning leaders like Kennedy and Campbell. They will now open themselves up to the unpopularity of government, perhaps even allowing the Tories to deflect the blame on certain issues.

In purely rational terms, this is better than a Tory government elected with a swaggering majority; some of the more extreme Tory policies have been dropped - the absurdly iniquitous inheritance tax cut, married couples allowance (though this has not been ruled out fully, I gather). No new Heathrow runway. No ID cards. It looks like there will be no repeal of the Human Rights Act. Better a slightly saner, more moderate Tory government than a Tory government fully implementing its manifesto. It is unquestionable that the planned coalition will be more redistributive than a purely Tory government would have been. It seems much unclearer whether the nature of the public spending cuts will change. Markets and the privileged are likely to be put ahead of ordinary people. If Labour does not move away from the neo-liberal economic consensus, it will be missing a real opportunity to build support.

The key will be whether this can genuinely be a One Nation government; it won't if it panders to Murdoch and the Mail - and not if it uses the cuts agenda to attack ordinary people and public sector workers.

LibDems need to ask themselves: are they not being swallowed up by a Conservative Party which has rediscovered the benefits it can obtain from pragmatism? Cameron is more concerned about power than about ideology, yet all of his assumptions remain wedded to the Thatcher-Blair consensus of our time. The LibDems have now definitely aligned themselves explicitly with this, with little definite assurance of gaining STV.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Everything that Dennis Potter raged against 16 years ago is distilled in this...

We must be immensely thankful to the coalition of voters around the country who have kept the Tories from gaining a majority. I do not believe, as many rather shrill voices from the left have argued, that the Liberal Democrats will do a deal with the Tories, as the Tories will not accept a move towards PR. STV is clearly the system all progressive voters should be campaigning for.

Disappointed to see Dai Davies, Evan Harris and Dr Richard Taylor defeated, and that Salma Yaqoob did not gain enough to beat the vile Blairite Roger Godsiff in Birmingham Hall Green. Pleased of course, to see Caroline Lucas gain Brighton Pavilion, though it seems as if the Greens fell back in many other places, compared with 2005. The fears of a Tory government clearly meaning a swing back to Lab-LD. Great to see some of the more principled Labour MPs back with strong majorities: Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Sunderland Central result was close to my prediction, though with the LDs lower, in line with the national situation. Pleased to see that the Ashcroft money didn't buy the votes of enough Sunderland people.


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Vote. For Voting Reform.

I have voted, not feeling exhilarated as I might if the national polls had been more like they were c.20/04/10, but satisfied that I have voted the best way I can. Upon arriving at around 6pm, Hendon Library Polling Station did not exactly display the signs of 'Election Fever' reported elsewhere. Just saw two other voters beginning the process as I left. Hopefully Sunderland Central will turn out in far larger numbers than in 2001 and 2005, and go Lib-Lab, turkeys not voting for Christmas and all that. The Tories have targeted the seat, with an endless waste of paper, erm, barrage of Cameron-Blairite leaflets, depicting Lee Martin, the local candidate - with a glint well and truly in his eye (he's the airbrushed hologram to the left):

The seat needs a 12.5% swing to go Tory, so this enabled me to vote as I want to do: Liberal Democrat. I would place myself well to the left of their leadership, yet find far more of their policies agreeable than Labour's: opposition to the Digitial Economy Bill, reform of the tax system to redistribute to low earners and away from bankers, private jet owners. Abolition of the ID card scheme and a commitment to lower class sizes and protection of front-line education. Not resorting to the kneejerk Tory-Lab position of renewing Trident no matter what, but saying it should be reviewed in the context of the modern world. All of this in the context of having voted for them at thelast two elections when the social-democrat Kennedy led them, with their relatively - if not entirely - principled stance on the Iraq War.

Prediction for Blighty, per se:
CON 35% (307 seats) * inc. the Thirsk seat
LAB 28% (222 seats)
LD 28% (89 seats)
OTH 9% (32 seats) - Greens to win first seat, UKIP and BNP not to.
Turnout = c.71%

This represents the Tories gaining about 30 seats above and beyond the national swing, most probably in the West Midlands, parts of Yorkshire and Wales. This would be a result we could live with, so long as Lab-Lib play their hands well - let the Tories flounder with a minority government, making their unncessary, ideological cuts this year, living to regret the lack of detail given during this campaign. The Tories' campaign has been disastrously scattershot, propped up by the Murdoch and tabloid press, desperately trying to project Cameron as some sort of visionary figure, 'ordinary bloke' or, ludicrously, lapping up his late attempts at being an athlete.

I obviously hope the Tory figure is lower and the Lab-LD ones higher (with the potential for a loose coalition and voting reform), but sadly reckon that this seems the likeliest pattern, though turnout - especially of the young - is a key variable. I am certainly aware plenty of students from the College I teach in (those who are 18 and eligible) have been voting in numbers for Lab-LD, but then the vast majority are Tynesiders, with a smaller number hailing from Northumberland and Wearside. The Newcastle results will, I am certain, see the Tories in retreat again from 2005. Sunderland sadly not, too many choosing to vote in fear, with the Tories likely to gain quite a few more votes compared to 2005. Admittedly, the Labour establishment in Sunderland has been complacent and lacked any great municipal vision, but things could have been worse in the city these last 13 years, that much most should accept.

LAB 41%
CON 30%
LD 23%
BNP 4%
Turnout: c.58%

There has been some excellent political writing these past few days, from: Neil Clark (, Marcello Carlin ( and Mark Richardson ( Some key excerpts:

The 1977/8 Lib-Lab pact, which sustained James Callaghan's Labour administration in power, was in fact extraordinarily successful: during that time both inflation and unemployment fell and the general economic outlook improved considerably.

And what on earth was wrong with Britain's wartime coalition governments? Did they lead to weakness and instability? Those who argue that 'strong' single-party governments always out-perform 'weak' coalitions really ought to get out more - at least across the English Channel.

Can anyone seriously maintain that Britain, with its 'strong' governments over the past 30 years, has been better governed than the likes of Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, where coalitions have been the norm? 

You see, people like Gillian Duffy and Daily Mail readers have no real reason to hate immigrants, or the Labour Party. The people they hate most are themselves.

They see themselves as uncared for, shat upon, unloved, unwanted, dealt the worst hand in the deck. They played by the rules – well, some of them did – and can’t understand why they don’t feel fulfilled.


You can't understand it. You played by the rules and others who didn’t even acknowledge rules raced past you and prospered.

Those immigrants. How dare they. They come here, work harder, work more hours and take less money than we would be prepared to work or take, and they end up getting all the jobs. It’s a disgrace!


Everybody’s fault except mine.

Of course I know deep down it’s my fault. But you see I can’t live with that self-knowledge. No one could. We’d all top ourselves.

Much easier and far more relieving to find, or be directed to, the easiest, biggest target and blame them instead. After all, everybody else does. It helps me cope and makes me feel I’m not alone.

So let’s bring down a “bad person.” Like those MPs who have the nerve to take salaries and claim expenses when they should, I don’t know, wear sackcloth, ashes and sandals and work for nothing.


I mean, I can be a real shit of a human being at times; if I don’t have easy targets to rail against, then who knows what I might be capable of doing?

That’s the mindset, the inner dialogue, with which most voters in Britain will be wrestling as they venture into the poll booths on Thursday.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems? Not perfect. Not by any means. But a substantial Lib Dem wedge in Parliament would make a drastic difference. Stop either Cameron or Brown going too hardcore with their actions, temper extremity, urge a new and more purposeful debate about Britain’s political future. It might actually be the first step in getting us out of our self-built rut. But do we have the courage to scale the ladder that’s being offered? Or are we simply content, out of gullibility and cowardice, to settle for five more years of genuine shit, because shit you know is better than food you don’t?

In my constituency the Tories are going to walk it. But I’m still voting, since if proportional representation does come in – and it surely must, regardless of what either Labour or the Tories are saying – then my vote’s going to count for even more than it currently does.

[...] some on the left – particularly the academic left – desire a ‘perfect fit’ politically before getting their hands dirty.
In this election, these ballot-spoiling impulses of the left have more significance than usual: after all, shouldn’t we be hoping for a hung parliament and putting the appropriate tactical votes in the ballot box rather than indulging in pathetic juvenile protests? The motive is clear: if the Liberal Democrats have any sense at all, they will make electoral reform in the form of proportional representation a precondition for any post-election coalition. This could mean a future electoral system in which any party breaching a 4 or 5% threshold will gain seats. Under similar conditions, the Scottish Socialist Party gained 6 seats in the Scottish Parliament. And the presence of some far left parties in European parliaments would be unthinkable without PR.

Incidentally, I disagree with David Osler’s diagnosis that the rise of the Scottish Socialist Party was rooted in Scotland’s supposedly “social democratic political culture”. Aside from the problematic notion of a “political culture” (what, after all, happened to Afghanistan’s political culture that it could vote in a communist government one decade and then become a Taliban-run basketcase of a country in the next?), the achievements of the SSP were down to good, old-fashioned hard work in areas which the Labour Party had previously taken for granted. Therein lies the real opening for any radical alternative to Labour under PR: hard work at a local level. Labour has for decades taken for granted large swathes of the North and, in some patches, will be shockingly unprepared for the work necessary to keep those areas.

But some who should know better don’t care about any of that. They aren’t interested in understanding the successes of comrades in neighbouring countries. All they say is that they can’t vote for a party like the Liberal Democrats. Maybe it would be too embarrassing for them – a state of affairs which already indicates that we are in the realm of the juvenile. Or perhaps they just aren’t prepared for the hard work which electoral reform will demand if its opportunities are to be exploited…

Read this and shudder:
Read LibDem Alex Wilcock's reasoned view of the campaign, and dare to hope it is shared by those late floating voters:

The higher the turnout the better - all votes cast are going to matter, whatever the position in the seat. The higher the LD/Lab/TUSC/Respect/Green combined vote and the lower the right-wing vote the more likely the balanced parliament and electoral reform - and potential for a left revival. By all means vote tactically to deprive the Tories of an outright majority. A majority gives them authority to carry out ideological public-sector cuts this year with Osborne's "emergency budget". We should all be worried about that, along with the prospect of greater Murdochian control over our media and the rolling back of the BBC and the Welfare State.

Authority, on likely no more than 35-38% of the popular vote!? If the unutterably unctuous Mr Gove (see my video warning below) has the temerity to claim any sort of Tory mandate tonight with a vast majority of the public voting against them... the public will clearly not buy this smug entitlement, the old establishment claiming what they see as their birthright. If not, the public have been more brainwashed by the media than this campaign has suggested they are.