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Election reflections

May 26, 2014

So we’ve had the results of the elections for the European Parliament. This election is a curious beast in UK terms as it’s done by a form of proportional representation (PR), yet appears superficially similar to the traditional “first past the post” (FPTP) system we’re familiar with. It’s certainly different from the PR system we use in the elections for the Welsh Assembly. In the European election you get to vote for a political party who may field a number of candidates up to the available number of seats for a region, rather than for a particular candidate (who usually represents a political party) in a parliamentary constituency. Of course, the regions for the European elections are rather larger than the UK parliamentary constituencies such that in Wales there are 4 MEPs whereas we have 40 MPs.

In the past few European elections the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has managed to gain several MEPs, partly because the PR vote counting system has enabled them to gain seats from the second/third/fourth/etc. place vote allocations. At the previous election, they had 13 MEPs despite never yet gaining a seat in the UK parliament. Hmm.

To be clear, I regard UKIP as the most abhorrent political party in the UK. True, there are parties (tiny though they may be) with more extremist views, but at least they tend to be less – shall we say – coy about their views. It seems sometimes, however, that various UKIP candidates, councillors and (now) MEPs seem occasionally to let the veils slip, revealing their true colours. In the press and social media comparisons to 1930s Germany abound.

I was, until recently a Liberal Democrat supporter. When it was announced after the 2010 General Election that they were to form a coalition government with the Conservative Party I was anxious but cautiously optimistic that they would help re-establish the economy without allowing it to overheat in the way the Thatcher government did, which culminated in Black Wednesday as a strange desire to tie the value of Sterling to the then powerful German Mark resulted in spiralling interest rates and economic disaster. I also hoped that some of their sensible policies on (for example) university tuition fees and taxation would get into law while at the same time they would prevent the more extreme policies of the Tory right wing from being enacted. Sadly, I was largely wrong. While the threshold for liability for the basic rate of taxation may have been implemented, I am struggling to name any other successful LibDem policy. Instead, we saw a referendum for a change in the voting system from FPTP to a PR system called “Alternative Vote” (AV) that, it seems hardly anywhere in the world uses. The British voting public may or may not have understood how AV works but what was clear is that it simply didn’t care as only 42% of the electorate voted and AV was blown away without a trace. The price the LibDems appear to have paid for this has been Tory appeasement as we have watched the Health and Social Care Act passed with barely a murmur. We have seen the “bedroom tax” imposed. We have seen Universal Credit being introduced and the consequences are disastrous as more people fail to pay rents and Council Tax bills – a total shambles. We have seen Legal Aid not restructured sensibly but decimated. It’s now increasingly difficult to take action at an Employment Tribunal for wrongful dismissal. We’ve seen ministerial interference with the education system in the shape of the “free school” – which is a meal ticket for cranks and extremists to indoctrinate children while simultaneously failing to provide them with an education. And then there’s the “Help To Buy” system which is already leading to overheating of the housing market. The poor, the sick and the disabled have been demonised – we’ve seen suicides as a direct result of these policies and incompetent assessments stripping desperate and vulnerable people of money. And then there’s that great government success – the rise of the food bank. What did the LibDems do to protect the British public from the rank stupidity and the sheer crassness of these policies? Policies that threaten the very existence of the NHS – the invention that the United Kingdom is rightly proud of and – despite it’s problems and oft-justified criticisms – remains one of the best healthcare systems in the world http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/fund-report/2013/nov/1717_thomson_intl_profiles_hlt_care_sys_2013_v2.pdf

So, when you see me defending the NHS, I’m not doing it out of blind faith! Yes, the NHS isn’t perfect but privatisation is not the solution. Tory politicians seem so enamoured with US-style healthcare yet it’s ranked far lower than the NHS in world terms, costing about twice as much per person in terms of GDP and with a lower life expectancy. No.

The LibDems could have stopped the Health and Social Care Act, but failed to do so. Likewise the Bedroom Tax, etc. They have paid the price at the recent Council elections, losing 310 seats in England. The Tories lost 230 seats while UKIP gained 161 and Labour gained 338 seats. However, anyone reading the papers or watching the BBC news, for example, would think that Labour had been slaughtered while UKIP were now in charge in many areas. The reality is that UKIP control a grand total of ZERO councils! The same number as before the election.

UKIP have benefitted from a disproportionate amount of media coverage, but the seats gained have been very patchy. They did poorly in London, for example. The prospect of UKIP having any MPs, let alone being in a position to hold the balance of power if there was no overall winner is a horrific one, given their stated policies. The media coverage of UKIP in the last year has not just been disproportionate in terms of volume but also in content. You won’t find much said about their policies of scrapping the NHS, abolishing maternity pay and a single flat rate of income tax (thereby affecting the poorest the most) in the mainstream media.

But the saddest fact about the council elections of May 22nd 2014 is the voter turnout – just 35% overall. In other words, for various reasons, 65% of the English electorate did not vote.

What about the European elections? Here we saw the combination of several factors contributing to UKIP almost doubling its number of MEPs up to 24 and being the top party of all, beating both the Tories and Labour while the LibDems were almost eliminated from Europe, retaining just a single MEP from a previous 10. They have truly paid the price for their capitulation to the Tories and face a similar situation in the 2015 General Election according to the opinion polls. Is there ANY hope for redemption for the LibDems? To me, there is only one hope by which the LibDems can regain any credibility – even though they would still lose a whole host of seats. They should pull the plug on the coalition government NOW! Only then can they start out on the road to political redemption.

The turnout for the European election was a paltry 34.19%. This is shameful. The turnout in the 2010 general election was 65.1% – still bad, but nearly double the council and European elections. Just what is it with the British public and failing to vote? There are many quotations regarding democracy and voting that seem apposite. For example, if you don’t vote you get the government you deserve and if you don’t vote you end up being governed by your inferiors. Certainly seems true regarding UK politics!

Why do people not vote? Much has been made of statements about not voting made by Russell Brand. Blaming a daft actor for your not voting is pretty pathetic and overly simplistic as an explanation for a poor turnout – his statement has had basically zero effect on the turnout for council and European elections.

For many, they feel that their vote doesn’t count or that there’s no political party that truly represents their views. Often they may like certain policies of a party but vehemently disagree with others. To those who feel disenfranchised in this way I say – I can understand your reluctance to vote but it’s surely better to vote to ensure that the worst possible candidate doesn’t get in? Surely it would be better to vote for the least bad option in the constituency to prevent you ending up with your MP being, for example, a member of the BNP? Every vote counts and those with extreme views will always vote.

Others may complain that it’s inconvenient to vote. Sorry, this doesn’t wash. Anyone who is entitled to vote in a UK election can get a postal vote. It’s a simple, straightforward process. The voting paper arrives well before the election date and the instructions on how to vote are pretty straightforward. I’ve voted by post for some years now, even though my polling station isn’t exactly far away.

So what other excuses are there for not voting? Some people say they would like to have a voting option on the voting slip of “none of the above”, suggesting that somehow any votes cast for this option should be deducted from the votes for the candidates. I have no idea as to how this could be put into practice. Of course, it’s appealing to vote against something you don’t like, but it’s not really how politics works. If there was just a single issue to consider then we’d have a referendum rather than a general election. Rarely do we see single cause political parties or independent candidates getting elected to Parliament for this very reason.

Overall, I think there’s little real reason not to vote. What this election has shown is that  – not just in the UK – voter apathy has been a major factor in determining the outcome in many European countries while parties with extreme views make major gains, such as in France. What this shows is that the supporters of extremist parties feel sufficiently motivated to vote while the moderates and mainstream voters often just can’t be bothered. The only slight hint of good news from the UK elections for the European Parliament is that the BNP no longer have any MEPs. The problem is that the rise of UKIP means that much of the UK will be represented in Europe by a political party who wish to do more damage to Europe –  and UK interests therein – than even the Conservatives wish to do. Yes, there are Tories who wish us out of the EC but – much like the NHS – the solution isn’t to quit Europe but to reform it without destroying it.

The mainstream media have much to answer for in boosting the UKIP vote. Of course the right wing rags have provided ample ammunition to supply the fear that UKIP played on, largely ignoring any evidence that shows them to be wrong. But the BBC also has a lot to answer for, with many commentators on social media suggesting that BBC One be renamed “BBC Farage” as it seems hardly an hour goes by without him popping up on our screens somewhere and Alex Salmond complaining that the rise in the UKIP vote in Scotland is due to the BBC beaming in coverage with Scotland having no control over such matters. The mainstream media seem to be focussing their attentions on the gains made by UKIP while musing as to how this could have happened (hint – look in the mirror), while ignoring the fact that Labour also made great gains, being the top party in the council elections and coming second in the European elections and having their best performance in this election for 15 years. Labour does appear to have an image problem and what portrayal there is in the media is usually negative. They did many things badly when in power, but the current government are far worse. Labour needs to get its act together before next year to not just prevent the Tories from being in power but to prevent a lurch to the right as we’ve just seen in the European election. Many are saying that people will vote differently in a General Election and that it will be difficult for UKIP to gain any MPs. I hope this is true, as for me even a single UKIP MP is one too many.

It is your democratic right to not vote if you so wish, but please consider the consequences of your inaction as you may be condemning us to repeat the mistakes of history.

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Zeno permalink

    Well said, Paul.

    Excuse the religious language, but my current view is that the LibDems (yes, I voted for them at the last GE – and now bitterly regret it) are beyond redemption and my default position is that they cannot be forgiven for the sins they committed standing shoulder to shoulder with the SelfServatives. Even Clegg begging forgiveness in person would fall on my deaf ears.

    It might be possible – sometime in the distant future – for them to again become to the party we all assumed they were, but, at the moment, it would take a miracle to persuade me to place a X against the name of a LibDem candidate ever again.

    They betrayed my trust last time and allowed them to devastate society and the NHS. I no longer trust them. And it’s going to be an eternity before I ever do so again.

    • Clegg going would be one of many steps the LibDems would need to take in order to rebuild any sort of credibility. Problem is – who would take over? Not a single one I could think of as a viable leader. It’ll be many years before I trust the fuckers again.

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