Monday, 26 April 2010

Election Fever is high - though we ought to be thankful for small mercies,

With just 10 days to go before our General Election the party campaigns is the main news item every day. I must confess not to be bored by it (yet). In this country the campaign lasts only one month, whereas I get the impression that in the USA, for example, it goes on somewhat longer. In his much-missed weekly radio talks, 'Letter from America', the late Alistair Cooke used to tell how Americans never ceased to be surprised when they learnt of the relative brevity of our campaigns and that on the very day after the election the winning new (or the previous) Prime Minister is ensconsed in Number 10 Downing Street and immediately starts to govern. This time, however, it could be especially interesting as every single poll for some weeks past has been projecting that no single party will have an absolute majority in its own right, and therefore the winner between Conservative and Labour could have to seek coalition with the 'middle party', the Liberal Democrats. The latter is really 'middle' only in name as it has been for some time the most radically progressive of the three main parties. It is also the party for which I shall be casting my vote. There's a web-site available which asks you about 2 dozen questions and, based on one's answers, tells you which party comes closest to your ideal. I had been expecting the Green Party to have come out on top for me but it actually came second. It was also good to see in the latest TV debate between the three main parties, the Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, declare that he isn't a 'believer'. It won't do him any harm overall. He may, in fact, attract additional votes by saying that. But I wonder if a party leader in the States could get away with saying that if he wanted to be in serious contention. Wouldn't it be a 'kiss of death'? (But I think I saw recently that Walter Mondale did say just that when he was the Democratic Presidential candidate.) Anyway, so Lib-Dem it will be for me, even though the party hasn't gained its own majority to rule here for 80 years now.
I'm also thankful that there is no significant religious vote in this country. There have been occasional pathetic bleatings from church voices but they are never more influential than 'noises-off'. In the 4 decades I've been voting, they've never had a significant enough sway with any party to matter. A few days ago a group of Scottish Catholic bishops urged that no votes should be cast for candidates who supported abortion-choice and civil partnerships. Although their remarks were reported in the news (as a 'minor' item) their opinion is hardly going to make any difference at all. (Btw What brass neck it is for Catholic bishops to lecture others on their views of 'morality' - in these times above all!)

I'm also relieved that we have no radio 'shock-jocks' nor any equivalent of 'Fox News'. Although our view of these are inevitably skewed through a trans-Atlantic lens, what I do see and hear I'm truly appalled at.

On the downside here is the fact that we don't have fixed-term Governments. The Prime Minister can call an election any time when s/he wants, as long as it is within 5 years of the previous General Election. Right through a government's term we hear calls for an election from the opposition parties time and time and time again. A real pain. But much more important is that our first-past-the-post voting system is hopelessly unrepresentative, giving disproportionate power to the two biggest parties. In our last election (2005) Labour received just 24% of the total vote yet gained a 60+ majority of candidates over all other parties combined - more than enough with which to govern alone. We are being told that in the forthcoming election it is just conceivable that Labour could actually come 3rd in terms of total number of votes cast yet could still have a majority in Parliament. Scope for reform, I'd say - but of course the two biggest parties resist suggestions of change as it's in their interests to maintain a system that works in their favour, whether it's Labour or Conservative, so we have never-ending ping-pong between them. But calls for a change in the voting system are currently louder than I've ever heard before, so maybe...just maybe.....
I also envy those countries which have a written constitution. The British one, such as it is, depends on a mish-mash of convention, judicial precedent and other nebulous concepts, all subject to varying interpretations. Of course a written constitution is subject to interpretation too, but at least it is enshrined in non-abstract black-and-white, which most people would find reassuring.

So all in all, an interesting fortnight or so ahead. (Yes, I did see Jon Stewart's amusing talk with John Oliver.) Meanwhile, with fingers crossed for something better, I'll be watching developments with intense and blogging further on the subject.


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  2. I am enjoying learning more about the British election process. I think the Lib-Dems will do much better than anyone is currently predicting.

  3. I do hope so, Larry, but the electoral system is waited heavily against them. A third party getting a third of the votes would still give them only a fraction of the number of seats of the two bigger parties. Still, after the PM's gaffe yesterday (overheard describing as a 'bigoted woman' a member of the public who'd always supported his party) anything can yet happen.