Sunday, 25 April 2010

A very British revolution?

I’m a member of the Liberal-Democrats, my football team is Newcastle United and I’m a fan of Worcester Warriors in the rugby. I can speak with some authority on false dawns, raised expectations and ultimate disappointments; although on the flip-side it has also taught me to enjoy the good times along the way.

The second leaders’ debate seems to suggest that the increase in the Lib-Dem poll position would appear to have traction, leaving us in second place with Labour just behind and the Tories slightly ahead. But whether that will transfer into votes and how this national trend will play out locally, with all the vagaries of the ‘First Past the Post’ system appears to be quite unfathomable. It has at least been refreshing to see the political map shifted and the conservative press have a collective nervous breakdown.

Labour and the Tories are both clearly surprised and unsettled by the yellow surge, which begs the question why? Was it arrogance, a sense of entitlement or were they just hoping two party politics would always remain, even though we’ve had three party politics for thirty years? The position the old guard find themselves in, is not in itself merely an infatuation with Clegg –a honeymoon which the voters have foolishly foisted upon them caused by the leader’s debates. We may be witnessing something entirely different, a revolution in the grand old traditions of all British revolutions since our bloody civil war – simmering and gradual and bloodless ones being led by improbable characters.

There are many parallels in the 2010 election with the one in 1924 – Britain’s last gentle revolution - Lloyd George had destroyed the Liberal party seeking his own personal power at any cost, there was an amicable toff trying to recast the Tory party from a ‘nasty’ image which was still haunting it and a wily operator casting himself as outsider against ‘the two old parties’ and presenting himself as ‘real’ change. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

I’ve spent much of the last decade wondering what the point of Labour is (and to a lesser extent the Conservatives), in the 21st century. The Labour Party was a rational expression of the socialism that the then large and recently emancipated working classes justifiably demanded. They wanted reform more quickly and radically than the Liberals of the middle classes were offering, and by the 1924 general election they overtook the Liberals to become the dominant progressive force in British politics. The Liberal agenda of individual freedom was swallowed by ideas of collectivism, but have we not now come full circle?

Now that old the working class is now largely part of the middle there seems to not be so much desire for socialism anymore - social democracy maybe, but not socialism. This was in my opinion what accounted for the 1983 Alliance splitting the progressive vote causing Labour to have to redefine itself, and if the Falkland’s war hadn’t luckily changed the game for Thatcher, could have ended in a very different result.

The ‘new’ Labour rebrand promised so much, but I think history will remember it harshly for being nothing but a cynical mirage. Blair and Brown built a government which seems to have had only one driving ideological principle – namely to win power and then to cling to it at any cost. They shamelessly bought favour from the right wing press, and whilst promising change to liberal voters, their leadership leapt straight over their heads to the left wing of the Conservative party. They told their core vote to shut up, for they had ended Labour’s time in the wilderness, threw a few bribes to floating voters at elections and failed to deliver much in the way of the progressive policies that the British liberal majority clamours for.

The Conservatives – despite their laughable change rhetoric – are exactly the same old Tories they always have been and always will be. They are there for the wealthy, the traditional, the little Englander, the xenophobic and big business, dreaming dreams of non-existent golden yesteryears; in fact all that has changed is that Labour have become unpopular, so they have assumed that means power is theirs to claim again.

Whether the public really want a Liberal-Democratic government is questionable. What, however is crystal clear, is that over a third of the electorate are indicating that they don’t want either a Conservative or a Labour government. They want the Lib-Dems to be there when the next government are discussing cuts, or taxes, and most importantly on political reform – looking over their shoulders and interjecting on the public’s behalf. The First Past the Post system has been shown to be exactly what those of us outside of the duopoly have said it was for decades. It is undemocratic, unrepresentative, corrupt, and delivers this country five year tyrannies that only a fraction of the electorate have voted for. No British government has actually had a mandate since Atlee in 1945.

There needs to be huge and sweeping changes to our system of government. We need to have a stronger and fully elected second chamber. That there are still hereditary peers in the House of Lords is frankly disgusting. That our constitution is so vague and malleable, combined with a corrupt voting system which means that we live in only a notional democracy is utterly unacceptable. In fact we would not be able to join the EU if applying today, as we would fail its democracy criteria. Hooray I hear the right-wingers shout – but even they would have to admit that this is a sorry state of affairs that cannot continue indefinitely?

I can understand that the Conservatives and Labour (the consequence seemingly has only slowly dawned on Labour this week) want to protect this corrupt system, for strong third parties and proportional voting systems mean an end to them forming elected dictatorships. I passionately believe that a plurality of parties is far more democratic, if over half the electorate vote for a coalition, then it has a real mandate. We could work together, cooperating to get things done and the vested interests would have less influence in our governance. People could go and vote for what they believe in, not for what they dislike least.

A proportional system would ultimately result in a Labour split along the lines of the SDP and old Labour traditionalists. The Conservatives would split along their European divisions and would see the Greens entering parliament. It may well perversely split the Lib-Dems as well. We would see much higher turn out when every vote counts and everyone can potentially make a difference. If nothing else can be learnt from this election, let it be this: when people can see that they have a voice, they become engaged with the political process.

Surely even the most partisan and biased Tory or Labour supporter can see that the time for reform has come? Whether we get that reform this year or not – it will come sooner rather than later – the great British public always get their way in the end.


  1. Passionately written! I agree with a lot of it, but in practice have some questions about the logistics of a hung parliament, especially with how tribal the system in Britain has become! Particularly since Blair. MP's across the house loath their political opponents. The Conservative Party went from being the 'opposition' to the 'enemy' All will be revealed tho.

  2. I think it's the tribalism that the floating and abstaining voters have had enough of; especially after the expenses. Anything could happen now. People could be bullied into giving the Tories a majority, Labour could miraculously come through on the blind side (better the devil you know), or any permutation of coalition or minority administration. Things will definitely not be the same post May 6th. If Labour don't win there is a good chance that Miliband and Mandleson v Balls and Whelan will become a bloodbath. The Conservatives will at the slightest opportunity tear itself apart over Europe. The Lib-Dems are essentially an alliance of two groups united in very similar cause, but a split is always a possibility. It is at least interesting this time round. I could be wrong, but think PR would be best for the moderates on all sides in the long run.