Another election has passed in the UK. All over social media hands have been wrung left and centre as people seem to think people who voted were stupid, misled, wrong and selfish.
I couldn’t disagree more. I’m very happy with this election, because:
- more people voted than 5 years ago. It was toxic and corrosive to democracy that as little as 50% of the electorate (or even less in some places) voted throughout the noughties. If I had my way it would be compulsory to vote, but assuming there are problems with that too (and there are) all that can be done is encouraging people to vote by engaging them in real debate. Part of the issue here IMO is polls and polling – they were inaccurate this time around anyway, but I can’t help thinking that more people would vote if they didn’t “know” the potential outcome (what about banning them the week before an election?);
- the BBC unwittingly found a format for a debate that actually shines a light on the bullsh1t politicians say by letting real people ask the questions. This was all because David Cameron weakly didn’t want to debate with Ed Miliband. In reality both of them had the fight of their lives, not against each other, but with the public that frankly didn’t believe what they said and didn’t accept anodyne sound-bites as an answer. Ultimately Miliband was destroyed before that audience simply for not apologising for the last Labour government having overspent. The customer is always right, even when you, on a reasoned basis, disagree with them. He should have just apologised and then had Liam Byrne racked or something to make himself feel better. More of this kind of thing please. I don’t really care what politicians say to each other, but they cannot stage-manage or talk in sound-bites to real people;
- the wheels had been quietly falling off the economy for weeks as people began to believe weeks if not months of horse trading could create instability – that all began to change for the better quickly once the results became clear (and having sat in the trenches in 2008, I will never take the economy for granted ever again). Thankfully the world’s a little easier place than 2010 when pretty much anything other than what actually happened (the coalition) could have sent Britain spiralling into a Greek-style situation quickly; and
- it’s become clearer that political navel-gazing and a limited focus on your supporters isn’t sufficient to win elections. The Tories tried this in 2001 and 2005 and now Labour has tried it too. A government needs to appeal to the country, not just its supporters.
As to the results, I’m less enthused by the prospects for the future. The Major government, in similar circumstances, was a disaster and was a major reason (sorry for the pun) why I, like many others, supported a government of a different hue in the late 90s. However, none of that means people have got it wrong. They were offered choices and they chose. Perhaps they liked the possibility of another Labour government less than another Tory-led one. Perhaps they voted on local issues and because they felt entrenched MPs did nothing for them (Scotland?). Perhaps they felt that they had been left behind by the existing political system and politicians more generally (UKIP, who must have hoovered up as many Labour votes as Tory ones, or the SNP in Scotland). Perhaps a combination of mistrust (of U-turns) and uncertainty did for one minor party (the Liberal Democrats’ former voters seem to have headed back to the Tories and Labour respectively).
Ah the Lib Dems, left with a parliamentary party that could fit in a people carrier and a former leader choking on his deerstalker. Tuition fees did for the Liberal Democrats. They didn’t need to, given that they were effectively structured as a progressive graduate tax that no one on a lower income would need to pay – why weren’t the Lib Dems making more of that? It seemed ludicrous to me that Labour promised to reduce tuition fees, given in terms of progressive politics that, well, wasn’t very progressive. I do feel sorry for Nick Clegg given that he did the right thing by the country and managed to pull the coalition into doing lots of progressive things that George Osborne claimed credit for.
I’m less qualified to talk about Scotland as I’ve never lived there, but having lived in Wales I can understand how people’s frustration with established politics and politicians could have boiled over into a wipeout of Labour in Scotland. I don’t take the view this is part of a change of view on independence (though the SNP core is obviously the 45% of scots who voted for independence), but rather that Scots were fed up with being taken for granted by politicians who paid them no heed. Sadly, I also think they found Ed Miliband an uninspiring leader in comparison with Nicola Sturgeon, who regardless of your political views has to be recognised as an inspiring politician. I can’t help thinking that if Gordon Brown was still Labour leader, the SNP surge would have foundered. Oddly, in Wales, the party taking seats from Labour is the Conservatives, not Plaid Cymru with its widely admired leader. I can only assume that having had many years of devolved government result in “Old Labour” policies and problems, an alternative on the left was less appealing than one on the right. The Labour loss of Gower (which has elected a Labour MP since 1906) to the Tories is as astounding in some ways as what happened in Scotland.
The story of the night in Wales has to be the MP who received a vote via an anonymous voter who drew a penis next to his name on the ballot paper. Glyn Davies, elected in the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire, said he was grateful, even though he was not sure the artist had intended it. “One voter decided to draw a detailed representation of a penis instead of a cross in my box on one ballot paper,” Davies wrote. “Amazingly, because it was neatly drawn within the confines of the box the returning officer deemed it a valid vote.” Well done that returning officer IMO 😉
Although one point the prospect of a European referendum filled me personally with dread, I have some hope for the future. It seems to me that the country had to do something about Europe, otherwise the concern represented by UKIP would fester and expand in the way that concern with the entrenched politics of Scotland has just boiled over. A new Labour leader would do well to change position and support the referendum while campaigning for a vote in favour of our membership of the EU (and supporting the renegotiation efforts rather than taking the temptation to turn them into a political football).
A recent point of concern on social media seems to be the electoral system in the UK, given (1) the SNP sweeping the board in Scotland with just over 50% of the vote and (2) fewer than 200,000 votes result in three MPs for Plaid Cymru but 3 million plus votes resulting in one MP for UKIP. I do wonder though where all of those people now calling for a long look at our electoral system were when the Lib Dems managed to force a referendum on a form of proportional representation in the last parliament? The turnout in that referendum was about 40%. When people offer you a choice, ask why and learn about it at the time.
So don’t wail about they election result. The country voted, for better or worse. Your party may or may not have done well. That isn’t because everyone was wrong, or was selfish. In this election a significant majority of the electorate seem to have decided politicians weren’t listening to them and their concerns and voted accordingly. If you think the politics of the new government is wrong, campaign or vote against it at the next opportunity. But don’t blame the electorate because the overall result isn’t what you would want. That’s akin to saying everyone should think the same. Luckily, we don’t all live in North Korea.
Taken with my Nikon D750 and Leica M240