“Ed the Red?” or “Call me Dave”? – The Nation Awaits.
I have followed UK politics for most of my adult life and in recent years, I have also taken a more than passing interest in American politics.
In my late teens, I supported Harold Wilson’s Labour party, as I grew up in the 1950’s when the Tories ruled the roost, and like most of the younger generation at that time, I yearned for something different – a change….
After 6 patchy years of Labour government, I was a lukewarm supporter of the Tory government under Heath from 1970-74, and when Heath went to the country for new mandate, I was reasonably content when Labour returned to power.
In 1979, when Labour lost their overall majority during the so-called winter of discontent, I became a supporter of capitalist Thatcher as she embarked on her much-heralded drive to bring the country back to economic prosperity and re-assert its position in the world
The 1980’s was the decade when I returned to the UK from the far flung corners of the known world and settled into my 17 year career as a capitalist ‘fat cat’ in the city of London. My heroine was dear Margaret. But by 1990, like most people, I felt she had outgrown her time as PM.
As with the Heath Tory government, 20 years earlier, I was only a lukewarm supporter of John Major during his premiership from 1990 to 1997, and eagerly welcomed ‘New-Labour’ under the charismatic Tony Blair to lead our country on to bigger and better things.
The nation was fed up with the final, moribund years of the Tory government, as they seemed to have run out of ideas or even the will to do anything, other than maintain the status quo.
Unfortunately, we all know what happened under Tony Blair.
Several wars later, we have yet to uncover the alleged ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, which was the justification for losing so many young lives – on both sides of the conflict.
One could even argue that the war in Iraq was the trigger point for the birth of Al Qaida and spawned the 9-11attack on America and the other countless atrocities across the world that bear their hallmark.
I openly admit that I supported the war at the time, as like most of the population, I was not in possession of all facts, and I believed pretty much everything they (Blair, Bush et al) told us.
We are now in a different world – a world where no politician is believed, and a world where British politicians can’t even be trusted to put in a fair and legitimate expense claim without provoking a hue and cry.
Mandelson and Alistair Campbell may no longer be centre stage, but it is still a world where ‘spin’ is still king. More than ever in our political history, the name of the game is for politicians to prevaricate, obfuscate and ‘miss-speak’ whenever they are asked difficult questions – questions that their minders have told them not to give a straight answer to, under any circumstances.
We live in the world where every act, every speech and every interview is put under the microscope. Not only by the media analysts, but also by the opposing parties, who will jump from a great height on any perceived ‘slip-up’ or gaff.
These gaffs are invariably of a ‘personal nature’ – nothing to do with politics – as today’s politicians are pretty adept at avoiding political ‘banana skins’ because they never say anything of substance.
Thus, when Ed Miliband makes himself look an idiot by eating a bacon sandwich or he admits that he has two kitchens; or when Cameron confuses the name of the football team he is supposed to support, or releases unflattering holiday snaps, the media and the opposing political parties have a field day, and the headlines of derision run for days.
Here’s an excerpt from a Guardian article on one of Cameron’s holiday breaks in Cornwall.
He sits there flaunting his legs while sharing a moment with Samantha (his wife). Why does he think he looks good in shorts? The coffee, the studied casualness, the slightly fake air of it all – why is Cameron so keen to project relaxation? He can’t seriously be that calm. Perhaps the overstated holiday feeling of these pictures conceals a behind the scenes flurry of work that he has taken with him
Let’s face it – this is utter crap. I happen to admire much of what the Guardian stands for, but this ‘character assassination’ garbage is not worthy of them…
The media must be apportioned their share of the blame, but far worse than the media, are the politicians themselves. Prime Minister’s question time in the so-called ‘Mother of Parliaments’ has become a pointless anachronism and is the shame of our political system.
Every week, the MP’s act like overgrown, naughty school boys and delight in cheering and booing each other while the nation’s esteemed leaders try to score cheap debating points and make insulting jokes, at the expense of the opposing party leaders.
Surely we are better than this?
Is there any wonder that there is a deep apathy amongst people of all political persuasions? The truth is, we no longer trust politicians; we are sick and tired of being patronised and fobbed off with gobbledygook whenever we ask them important questions.
Who can ever forget the interview between Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, when Howard was asked the same question 12 times in a row and never once gave a proper answer?
And it’s got much, much worse since then.
Please, can any politician for once in their lives, admit that they – or their party – were wrong about something?
Everyone makes mistakes, especially governments and politicians, so why in God’s name are they not ‘man enough’ to occasionally admit that they are not always right. If they did, we might even forgive them and respect them a little more.
They just don’t get it, do they? They have been insulated for so long from the proverbial ‘man on the street’ that they don’t know how to behave with normal people. To make it worse, they don’t even realise that they are doing anything wrong! That’s the really sad part.
They probably have a smug smile of satisfaction on their faces every time they succeed in avoiding a difficult question.
Has anyone tried to analyse why the likes of SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon has risen so high in the public’s esteem and even affection? She is so admired that many in England wish that she was running for the UK Parliament.
So why is our dear Nicola so popular? It’s simple; because she comes across as a ‘woman’ of the people, very down to earth, and prepared to answer questions truthfully, no matter how difficult. It’s Not rocket science is it?
This is notwithstanding her party’s worrying policies. The SNP is now talking seriously about holding another referendum on leaving the UK, despite the fact that 6 months ago they told us that the question of secession was now settled for a generation.
Further, one of the cornerstones of SNP policy is to put an end to the current austerity drive without any serious attempt to cost their plans, or tell us where the money will come from?
As it is, over the past 5 years, the coalition government has increased the national budget deficit to the tune of £100 billion per year. So by any measurements, we have hardly been in an austerity drive – so criticised by SNP and the public at large.
But Sturgeon just wants to turn on the benefits tap and she tells us that it will solve all our ills. (Did anyone mention the word ‘Greece’ to her?).
But the public don’t care – they neither have the wherewithal or the desire to understand the fine details of macroeconomics. All they care about is a politician who looks and acts like one of them and tells the truth, even if that truth is unpalatable.
The appalling manner in which British politicians behave today has come about – in part – because there are few policy issues to choose between them. In their desperate attempts to win the public over to their side, they argue about the minutiae of policy or indulge in personal attacks as it is the only way – they believe – to attract votes.
I wonder what percentage of the general public has ever read a party manifesto or could even explain, in the broadest of terms, the differences between the major parties’ policies on, say: budget deficit reduction; the national health service; immigration; benefit cuts; taxation or even the European Union, (I exclude UKIP from this – but I did say ‘major parties’).
Their policies are so intertwined that if you dig deep enough, you will find that the Tories sometimes espouse traditional labour policies and vice versa. But hardly anyone notices because nobody really follows these intricate policy arguments and nobody really cares.
“BECAUSE ALL POLITICIANS ARE THE SAME!”
They’re just feathering their own nests and looking after their special interest groups. The Tories look after the grandees and the rich; Labour look after the unions and the so-called working classes, the Lib-Dems appeal to the Guardian reading entertainment and media industry, and so on…. At least, that is what most of the public and political commentators would have us believe, and who’s to say they’re wrong?
For my American readers who may not be familiar with British politics, let me explain some of this, by trying to compare the British parties with their American counterparts.
In America, you still have a two party system and up until recently, I think it would have been fair to say that both parties were pretty much to the right of the British Tories. Americans have always looked at Europe, including the UK, as being left wing socialist states.
But I think that during the past few years, the political colour of America has been changing fast, with the Democrats veering sharply to the left and the Republicans to the right, which means that never in the history of America have your two parties been so polarised.
On the ‘Democrat left’, you have a party that believes in ‘equality’ and that the ‘haves’ should subsidise the ‘have-nots’, that food stamps and benefits should be available to all, that the state provide for cradle to grave healthcare to those who cannot afford it, (including birth control and abortion), that the US debt should be allowed to grow for ever more, that there should be a free flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border, that same sex marriages should be allowed, and so on and so forth.
On the ‘Republican right’, the party believes in low taxation for all, that every citizen should stand on his own two feet and work for his own rewards, that the Federal government should dramatically reduce its level of ‘social’ expenditure, that they should ‘balance the books’ and control the national debt, that abortion is a sin against God, and that immigration should be severely controlled, that same sex marriages should be banned. There is much more – but you get the idea.
Here in Britain, the most extreme parties on either side of the spectrum are the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on the far right which believes in ‘Britain for the British’ and wishes to take the country out of the European Union, and on the left, we have the Green party, with its extremist ecological and ‘save the environment’ polices. UKIP has a touch of the Republican Party about it, and The Greens have a touch of the left leaning Democrats.
But neither UKIP nor the Greens are going to be elected in any serious numbers – quite possibly in no numbers at all. A vast majority of the electorate will be putting their crosses next to the mainstream parties in the centre ground, who are fighting for space and espousing almost identical policies.
Even the Tories, despite all their right wing bluster, only have a small rump of MP’s that really believe that Britain should leave the EU. If there is a referendum, (which is far from certain), I strongly suspect that in spite of our dissatisfaction with being ruled by those obnoxious ‘johnny-foreigner’ bureaucrats across the channel, we will vote to stay in.
Just like the Scots did in their own referendum, who voted to stay in the UK union. We are all afraid of major change, especially any changes that might make us poorer. So why take the risk?
Who will win next Thursday?
I really don’t know – does anyone? It’s far too close to call. I suspect that the Tories will be the largest single party but will lack an overall majority. This is in spite of a definite swing to Labour in England and Wales but unfortunately, Labour will lose nearly all their seats in Scotland to the SNP.
The most likely scenario is another coalition government, led by the Tories with the Lib-Dems as the junior partner; but much will depend on there being sufficient Lib-Dem MP’s re-elected to enable them to form an overall majority with the Tories.
All indications are that the Lib-Dems will have one of their worst elections in a generation and they may be all but wiped out.
Or… and I believe this to be a real possibility… if the Tories only fail by a few seats to have an overall majority, they may try to go it alone and rely on ‘fringe parties’ to support them on votes of no confidence.
In other words, there will be no formal agreements. The Tories will make some kind of informal deals with one or more of the small minority parties by promising support for their ‘pet’ projects. This will be in exchange for them supporting the Tories on votes of no confidence and other key legislation.
This may actually work more in the nation’s interests, as there will be no murky backroom deals made which we know nothing about.
It will also involve much closer public scrutiny whenever the Tories try to push through major legislation, as they will continually have a fight on their hands to persuade the fringe parties to back them.
If the Tories fail to obtain informal arrangements with fringe parties, (and this could well be the case), then it will fall to Miliband to form a government, provided he can obtain a ‘case by case’, informal alliance with SNP.
Who do I want to win?
Being a dyed in the wool capitalist for a many years, (despite my current impecunious state), my heart is with the Tories – just.
Osbourne has received an incredible amount of bad press and even out-and-out hatred from many quarters over his ‘austerity policies’, but in my humble judgement, he hasn’t done too bad a job.
In spite of the massive cutbacks on public spending, the nation has still increased its overall spending, year on year. Very few have understood this, and the government seems unable to explain it.
It is unlikely that Labour would have done any better during the past 5 years, and quite possibly, a great deal worse.
I’m not a huge fan of Cameron. He often seems to lack good judgement, especially in his choice of staff (Andy Coulson, Liam Fox etc.), but he does seem to be the lesser of two evils. Unlike Miliband, he has a certain gravitas that is required for someone such an elevated office.
Most important of all, at this delicate juncture of our nation’s history, he has had the benefit for five long years of experience as prime minister, which surely will put him in good stead for the ensuing five years.
I think it was a good idea for him to tell us that he won’t stand for a third term, (note that the furore over this has more or less disappeared – what a load of fuss about nothing). At least we know that the man in charge will be dedicated to the job for a finite period of time and is not someone who may become power crazy and try to go on forever. (shades of Thatcher…).
He will clearly wish to go out on a high and leave a good legacy behind him. Maybe if he is voted back in, he won’t be quite so partisan as he was in the past because he’s not up for re-election. That can only be to the good.
Now to Ed Miliband.
Frankly, in spite of all the silly stuff about his appearance, how he eats his sandwiches, how nerdish he sounds, and how many kitchens he has, I honestly find it difficult to imagine him as prime minister of a country that is still a significant player on the world stage. Can you really imagine him talking ‘statesmanlike talk’ to a Putin, or a Merkel, or a Netanyahu, or a Khamenei…?
Can you? Really?
Obama? Maybe, but that’s another story. After all, what the heck has Obama achieved on the world stage in the past 7 years?
Then there’s Ed’s brilliant Chancellor of the Exchequer – Ed Balls, who must surely be held at least partly responsible for the economic mess we found ourselves in in 2010.
It surely reflects on Miliband that he hasn’t had the guts or wherewithal to replace someone who is clearly a vote-loser. Yet some of the top Labour ex-ministers, such as Dianne Abbott and Alan Johnson are not even in his team.
Although I don’t necessarily agree with some of their policies, I have the highest regard for Abbott and Johnson, who are both intelligent people of high integrity and principle. Maybe that’s why they have been discarded….sad, ain’t it? There’s no room these days for politicians who are not out for themselves.
But whoever wins, I doubt it’ll make huge difference, as they will pretty much continue to tread that middle ground, trying to juggle their limited largess to those in need, and fund their pet projects. The Tories will allocate more funds to some social projects, and Labour more to others – but there won’t be a huge difference between them.
Whatever they decide to do will be trashed by the opposition. This is what makes the political process so sad. What the opposition should really do is applaud good ideas, and offer constructive criticism to the bad ones and offer up alternative ideas. Well-intentioned members of all political parties should sit down together and decide what is best.
What the opposition shouldn’t do is automatically trash everything that the governing party comes up with on principle – that it is their idea not ours, so it must be bad. Yet they have almost identical policies.
I truly believe that we, the people, are so tired of these silly schoolboy antics and squabbles over nothing, and a total failure to engage in meaningful discussions and admit when they get it wrong.
Politicians, one an’all – grow up! Please…..
Difficult times require brave, inspirational leaders….
I know… pigs might fly…