As noted in the preceding article, I plan to write a series of posts over the next few months on the UK election campaign. I thought it would be best to start with my current situation and thoughts on the state of politics here.
As I have UK Citizenship by virtue of birth through my parents, who are Scottish, and am living in the UK at the moment, I am eligible to vote in my first ever UK General Election. Being a bit of a political junkie, I am certainly relishing the opportunity to observe the UK elections firsthand. I have quite a bit of reading still to do as I catch up on the political situation as it is, but I thought it may be useful to write down my thoughts on the main political parties (and some minor ones) at the moment, as well as how I see the election ending.
The Labour Party
Obviously I am quite partial to the Labour Party, to its history and traditional ideology. The Labour Party is after all the sister (some may say mother) party to the Progressive Labour Party. Having said that I really don’t find much in the Labour Party today that I can support. The New Labour ideology pioneered by Blair and continued by Brown (who was in fact one of the co-architects of New Labour) is not what I consider Labour by any stretch of the imagination. It is not uncommon amongst Old Labourites and leftists to say that New Labour is the heir to Thatcherism. I personally agree completely with that notion as some of the actions of New Labour that I have a particular issue with are modifications of Thatcherite policies. In particular I view the ‘privatisation by the back door’ policies of Private Finance Initiatives (a form of public-private partnerships) as applied to the NHS (such as Foundation Hospitals) and education (the Academies), as well as overt privatisation (like that attempted on the Post Office) to be direct Thatcherite policies. Add to that the poodle status of the ‘special relationship’ with the US on military imperialism and I don’t really see any reason to vote for Labour at the moment.
One of the premises of New Labour was that the key to winning the election was to capture the swing voters, known here as ‘Middle England’. The calculation was that the core Labour supporters (the working class) were in the bag, so it was important to cater Party policy in such a way as to attract and not scare away the middle classes. This worked, as was seen in 1997 – although the frustration with almost two decades of Conservative rule and its attacks on public services certainly helped. The problem for Labour however has been that it has been steadily losing its core support ever since. This is, of course, understandable. After all, Labour has failed to advance or greatly protect the interests of the working class; instead it has slavishly catered to the middle classes. Labour supporters have since 1997 (as seen in 2001 and 2005) generally chosen not to vote at all, and, as seen in the 2009 EU elections, some who will go and vote are no longer voting Labour but instead registering protest votes with the Lib Dems, Greens or even the far-right BNP.
I should note that there are plenty of Labour MPs and members that I do support though. It should be no surprise that I agree with much of Tony Benn’s positions, as well as the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. Additionally, I support many of the policies put forward by the Compass group of the Labour Party.
Up until today it was almost taken for granted that the Tories had the election practically guarunteed. Labour activists were deflated, the Labour convention of last week was flaccid and the Leadership bankrupt of ideas. The Tories were surging ahead in the opinion polls, not so much because people want the Tories in power, but more because people no longer wanted Labour in power. One of the particular strengths of the Tories up until today was their general lack of any actual policy. The political cartoons in the Guardian for example have been portraying their leader, David Cameron, as a see-through jellyfish, satirising, amongst other things, his lack of a backbone and any solid policies.
So, why do I say that all changed today? Well, the Tories have been holding their annual convention which they are understandably using as a platform to launch their formal election campaign. And in so doing they have finally announced some of their policies, while also bringing into greater scrutiny their relationship with far-right extremists in the EU, not to mention shooting themselves in the foot with a complete PR flop. Of particular ‘WTF-ness’ policy wise was their policies on education where they are hoping to expand and accelerate the controversial Academies plans, while also calling for UK military personnel to be present in schools to assist with discipline issues. Seriously, I am not making this stuff up. I’m still trying to understand how something astoundingly idiotic as the Academies system was initiated, but introducing soldiers into the classroom? They also seem to be falling over themselves to announce brutal cuts to public services, and I’m hoping to read these over in greater depth shortly. I did have to chuckle though when the Tories shadow Home Secretary (Chris Grayling) shot the Party in the foot when he criticised the proposed appointment of former UK Army chief General Richard Dannatt to become a Junior Minister of Defence. He blasted such a move as a ‘political gimmick’. After being told that General Dannatt was to be a Tory Junior Minister he quickly changed tack, offering General Dannatt a most ‘enthusiastic welcome’ instead, saying it was ‘really good news’. Such gaffes will hardly instil much confidence amongst swing voters regarding the Tories abilities to form the Government. The decision by the Tories to storm out of their traditional EU political grouping to form a more right-wing block with Eastern European extremists is also coming under greater scrutiny, with a ‘Gay Night’ at Convention coming across as a ludicrously desperate response.
While the latest poll shows the Tories still well in the lead, it is my feeling that the last few days (and in particular today) has provided the Labour Party and Lib Dems with plenty of ammunition, and it certainly won’t be difficult to rebrand the Tories as the ‘nasty party’. Many of these proposals are enough to scare many traditional Labour voters into voting Labour rather than not voting at all. Many of these Tory proposals are based on current or proposed Labour policies, and these policies are what has alienated many traditional Labour supporters from Labour. However the Tories are advocating much more expansive and accelerated versions, and many Labour supporters will say it’s better to have the Labour version than the Tory ones. As the Tories policies become increasingly clear, I think the election will become a much closer contest than it had been thought a week ago.
The Liberal Democrats
I have some mixed feelings towards the Lib Dems, and this is hardly surprising as their policies are very much a pick and mix of Labour and Tory policies. There are some Lib Dems that I quite like, particularly Lembit Opik and Vince Cable, sometimes Menzies Campbell and Chris Huhne.
My general problem with the Lib Dems is that it is really hard to figure out what they stand for other than not being Labour or Tory. I get the impression that they basically tailor their platform with some ideas appealing to Labourites balanced with Tori-istic policies in the hope of picking up support from both sides. In other words they come across as very much political opportunists and fence-sitters, perpetually afraid to take a solid stance on anything lest it prove controversial and cause them to alienate one or the other group of potential voters. While I need to review the policies put out in their conference two weeks ago, in general I was not all that impressed with it. It just came across as wooly and non-committal. Nice, but nothing to get me out there and voting for them.
The Other Parties
Of particular interest to me are the Scottish National Party, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party. Ideologically speaking I am closest to the SSP first and then the Greens. Depending on the constituency I would ideally vote for either one of them. The SNP I generally regard with suspicion, viewing them as basically a slightly less New Labour party with a Scottish flavour. I am however quite impressed their leader, Alex Salmond, and recognise that the SNP is largely replacing Labour as the natural party of Scotland. I have been impressed with their Holyrood administration, although I have deep reservations relating to their freezing of the Council Tax and its repercussions to date; I would certainly support them over New Labour, but mainly on the basis of the ‘lesser of two evils’ formula.
My main concern with the SSP and the Greens is that they have this image of militant sectarians or sandal-wearing dreadlocked hippies respectively. I haven’t had much interaction with the SSP so far, however participation in anti-Israeli demonstrations seem to bear out the caricuture of militant socialists so far. As for the Greens, I’ve had quite a bit of interaction with them and they mostly live up to their image. Their isn’t necessarily anything wrong with either. Many of my friends are amongst them. Personally I find the ‘image’ a bit off-putting at times, somewhat artificial even, and I feel that it is perfectly possible to put forward the arguments rationally without giving people reason to dismiss one as a rabid red or hysterical hippie. Again though, they are ‘my people’ ideologically and I always seem to end up in their company (which I usually enjoy!) even though I don’t think I quite fit the stereotype.
So, who to vote for?
My ideal result for the next election would be for a basically hung parliament forcing Labour to work in a coalition of sorts with the Lib Dems, as well as with the occassional support of Greens and the SNP/Plaid Cyrmu blocks. My impression is that this would be sufficient to block the Tories, while also bringing Labour back away from its New Labour suicide.
Choosing how to vote though depends largely on the local constituency as a result. The objective is to keep the Tories out, while also send a message to Labour. Based on that, when voting in a marginal seat (where a handful of votes could change the result), I would advocate voting Labour (even if the candidate is New Labour) should the marginal be between Labour and Tory. Where the marginal is between Lib Dems and Tories, I would call for voting Lib Dem; and where it is Lib Dem and Labour, I would call for voting against New Labour candidates as a protest. In Tory strongholds, well, I would personally call for a vote for the Greens or SSP if possible in order to send a message, and similarly in Labour strongholds.