06 May 2010

Why I'm not voting - yet!

It’s General Election Day here in the UK – and I am not going to vote!

This is not some misguided protest – it’s simply that the election has been postponed in our constituency - sadly because of the death of one of the candidates. Who knows what the situation will be by the time we get to vote on 27 May, in the first by-election of the new parliament?!

Even so, it feels decidedly strange not to be voting today – I almost feel guilty about it! As an adult, I can’t remember an election day (of any sort) when I haven’t voted. But it’s good to know that, unlike many around the world, I will get my opportunity.

I am by temperament and tradition a Labour supporter – sadly a rare breed in this part of the world – so any reflections I have need to be read with that in mind. But here are a few things that have struck me about the Election Campaign just finished.

I suspect that the Prime Ministerial debates on TV (the first in UK history) have had a marked effect on the outcome of the election. They have certainly focussed media coverage even more closely on the party leaders and their styles, rather than on the substance of policy.

However the remarkable fact is that, in spite of all the efforts of parties and their managers, the polls have remained static. The one exception to that is, of course, the striking improvement in Liberal Democrat ratings after the first TV debate – from which point it seems we have genuinely had a 3 party contest.

Most remarkably, in spite of a tame media, the Conservative leader David Cameron’s previously unassailable lead in all opinion surveys not many months ago has now dwindled to the point where he may not even command a majority in the new Parliament.

The spectacle of the Conservative Party campaigning on “Change” has seemed to me to be one of the sick jokes of this campaign!

The clue is in the title, people: they’re Conservative!

Cameron has been outflanked – why did he ever agree to the debates? – by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who actually does propose real change: including a much-needed change to our voting system.

Instead of coherent policies, Mr Cameron and his party are content to trot out a load of hackneyed rubbish about the “evils” of “Big Government” which they contrast with an ill-defined, back-of-the-envelope sketch of a “Big Society”. This is another sick joke to those of us who remember the leader who shaped the modern Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher. Mrs Thatcher famously declared “There is no such thing as society” and governed on an “everyone for themselves” basis which laid much of the foundation for the grotesque conduct of today’s bankers.

The fact is that without the actions of “Big Government”, skilfully and courageously led by Gordon Brown, our banks would have failed and our economy gone down into a brutal Depression, taking the lives and life-chances of many, many people with it. The Tories “hands off” approach to the banking crisis would have been truly disastrous – and yet now they tell us that Government is the problem!

But, as Mrs Thatcher’s pal Ronald Reagan would no doubt have said, there I go again! I have become a bore on these topics during the campaign – ask my wife!

In the absence of a Labour Government, which really does seem to be beyond any reasonable expectation, my hope is that as a result of this election a true progressive coalition will emerge: a Government willing to govern for the good of the many and not the few. And, please, a Government determined to change our dreadful electoral system – which it seems will be discredited still further by any of the likely outcomes of today’s election.

I’d certainly vote for that on 27 May, if it were on the ballot paper!

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