Monday, May 03, 2010

Election: some final thoughts


Decision day is almost upon us, so I suppose that it is time for mine. Contrary to almost all expectations, this has been an interesting and policy-focused election campaign, and is the most "exciting" of my lifetime. The race is close, and we seem to be moving inexorably towards a hung department, mostly due to the TV debates. Yes, I criticised the idea and, yes, I stand by much of the sentiment; if you are going to have debates, though, they should be like the ones that we have had. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of substance, the relatively intelligent level of discourse, and the low level of emphasis on "presentation". All sides had their moments, of course: David Cameron's "I met a black man!", Gordon Brown's terrible pre-written jokes, and Nick Clegg's "I AM ANGRY ALL THE TIME".

Talking of Clegg, the rise of the Liberal Democrats has been the force invigorating the campaign. Over the years, the mainstream media (be it Tory or Labour) has effectively ignored or downplayed the third party, but with Clegg front and centre in the first debate it was impossible to ignore. The people listened, and the people liked. The traditional no-hopers were being allowed to have equal time to promote their policies, and what's more they were reasonable, populist, and not pie-in-the-sky. Unless you read the Mail or Express, which will have told you that the Liberal Democrats are crazy Stalinists who wish to bulldoze your grandmother's house with a Nazi tank powered by Iranian oil bought with our new currency, the Hitler Euro. And then fry your baby with garlic and serve it on a bed of pomme puree. Pomme puree! Not even good old British mash!

I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that is basically what they said. Anyway, we have come out of the debates with a 3-way battle for power. Due to the LibDem surge, my original prediction of a narrow Labour victory is looking increasingly unlikely; indeed, Labour may actually end up third in terms of the popular vote (but certainly not in terms of seats). The remaining options are a hung Parliament or Conservative victory. The latter is too horrible to comprehend, but enough people seemed to have cottoned on to Cameron to prevent that. When you have got Charlie Brooker and Peter Hitchens rallying against you, it is fair to say that there is scepticism over a broad range of views. Brooker nails it:
He isn't even a man; more a texture-mapped character model. There's a different kind of software at work here, some advanced alien technology projecting a passable simulation of affability; a straight-to-DVD retread of the Blair ascendancy re-enacted by androids. Like an ostensibly realistic human character in a state-of-the-art CGI cartoon, he's almost convincing – assuming you can ignore the shrieking, cavernous lack of anything approaching a soul. Which you can't.

I see the sheen, the electronic calm, those tiny, expressionless eyes . . . I glimpse the outlines of the cloaking device and I instinctively recoil, like a baby tasting mould. Don't get me wrong. I don't see a power-crazed despot either. I almost wish I did. Instead, I see an avatar. A simulated man with a simulated face. A humanoid. A replicant. An Auton. A construct. A Carlton PR man who's arrived to run the country, and currently stands before us, blinking patiently, blank yet alert, quietly awaiting commencement of phase two. At which point, presumably, his real face may finally become visible.

So to the hung Parliament, which now looks most likely. Despite the Tories' attempts to scaremonger the possibilities, I think that the public is more or less reconciled to the idea of coalition or minority government. Maybe living in Scotland, where it has basically worked, helps matters. The hung Parliament may be the sea-change that we need here, delivering vote reform and collaboration to create policy that actually makes a difference. Next Friday (and onwards) could be very interesting... The spectre of a Conservative majority does, howerver, make me very nervous.

So what about my vote? I've narrowed it down to SNP or LibDem, and have now read both manifestos. I liked the gist of both of them, to be honest, and agreed with the majority of what the Parties said. The SNP manifesto had a nice font, made nice populist points, and won points for its positive (rather than slagging off the opposition) outlook. I did, however, feel like a lot of the ideas were nice but the means of achieving them were not adequately explained; that comment also applied to the Liberal Democrats to some degree. The SNP also danced around the elephant in the room a little, saying that they favour independence, outlined their version (which sounded like hyperdevolution to me), but did not go into the mechanics of how it would work. The UK is not just going to give up North Sea oil and a heap of its military bases...

Comparing the two parties there is not much to choose between them in my mind, with a hybrid of the two being the ideal. Seeing as that is not going to happen, I think that in this election I will be voting Liberal Democrat. My seat is close, so a vote from me will contribute to the 1300 needed to swing it from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. I would like to reward them for a good campaign, and hopefully contribute to the hung Parliament in the process.

So there we are, I have come all this way to end up where I started, voting Liberal Democrat. It has been an interesting journey during the campaign, and at the start I honestly thought that I might vote Labour. I don't buy the media narritive on the last 13 years, and have seen many positive things from them. I believe that Britain is a better, fairer, more modern country because of what they have done. And the SNP: now they are seriously on my radar. It is very, very likely that they will get my vote in the next Holyrood election.

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