Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Progressive Minority

Brief thoughts. On the AV result, disappointed but not surprised. I'd be pretty happy to be a Tory just now with the apparent ability to steam-roll the Lib Dems when needed and Ed Miliband looking far from Prime Minister material. Stiffest opposition Tories will come up against will be from the public on specific issues, as seen with selling off the forests and as likely to be seen on NHS reform. Labour could do with some policy proposals soon rather than simply pointing to the cuts the whole time. Just trying to ride the coat-tails of public dissent won't work.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Pre-Election Round-Up

AV, the shag that nobody wanted; Cameron the Tory and Chris Huhne on the rampage; Celebrity endorsements in Heslington

So it looks as if Nick Clegg's 'miserable little compromise' is going to be defeated and it looks like it'll be convincing with ComRes polling a victory for the No campaign at 66% to Yes's 34%. The onus was on the Yes campaign to run a positive campaign to try and galvanise support for a change but, whilst it is true that No have run a cycnical, stultifying campaign, those at the head of the Yes campaign (including Gregg Dyke, our beloved Chancellor here at York) appear to have stumbled over their own sense of intellectual and moral superiority. Both camps have, to different extents, treated the public with disdain- No with their hyperbolic scaremongering and Yes with their implying that the current system leaves us in some kind of corrupt, tin-pot shamocracy ruled by kleptocratic elites.

The public has remained steadfastly disengaged, a stance bolstered by the events this weekend that have left the AV referendum as the rather dubious shag option in this weeks shag, marry, kill of news events. The apathy is not a new phenomenon however, and has existed from the start due to the simple fact that whatever result we get tomorrow, Yes or No, the UK will remain a functioning Parliamentary democracy with a disproportional system. A vote on PR might rile up a bit more of a fuss (though I would expect FPTP to still win), but a switch to AV is not an urgent remedy for the issues with our system (I still advocate a Yes but can see why interest is low). I expect that pretty soon after May 6th the referendum will be consigned to its role as a case study in A-level politics books of British apathy towards referenda.

The interesting bits to have arisen from the referendum have been its effects upon characters within the coalition. Ed Miliband rightfully stepped above short-term Lib Dem hammering to support the Yes camp but seems to have been more focused on Labour's local election push. David Cameron on the other hand, seems to have seen his support of No as a way to reach out to the Tory core, refusing to associate but also refusing to condemn the official No groups ruthless campaign of misinformation, whilst riding their coattails to victory, victory not being something Cameron has experienced much in National elections. The sense of confidence arising from this seems to have also helped him to find his true Conservative voice in the past few weeks, indulging in a bit of defending upper-class privilege and some good, old patriarchal sexism. Seeing as even a soft Tory Cameron failed to win a general election, I don't think his opponents should be too worried about his conversion to the kind of Tory that was so successful in 1997, 2001 and 2005 should give opponents much to worry about.

On the other side of the coalition, Chris Huhne's been kicking up a fuss about the Tories playing dirty. Likely aimed at winning some acclaim from the Lib Dem base, such histrionics have gained little traction with anyone else. The consensus seems to be that he's positioning himself as Nick Clegg's successor (for the Lib Dems to return as any kind of force in British politics surely Clegg's successor has to be Tim Farron), but he seems to have gone around posturing for leader in the way that a rhino might posture for a place in the penguin enclosure at a zoo. It's not very smart, it's been an ungainly spectacle and he's ended up looking like a fool.

It's a centre-left paradise here in the local council ward of Heslington, the ward that encompasses the inhabitants of the small village Heslington and the 10,000 or so students of the University of York who descend on it for thirty weeks of the year. We've (I say we, I voted back home) got just three candidates, one from Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, with not a right-winger in sight (quiet you New Labour/Lib Dem cynics). Labour posters are very much focused around attacks on Nick Clegg and the tuition fees policy, whilst the Greens have forged a decent presence and a candidate with lovely woolen jumpers (unfortunately he's not sporting one in his bio picture but I saw him on campus the other day and I can assure you he's got some great wolly jumpers). What's caught my eye, however, are the Liberal Democrat posters that carry an endorsement from none other that University Challenge superstar Andrew Clemo, captain of the York team who made it to the final in this year's competition. I don't imagine you get to many celebrity endorsements in local elections but the local Lib Dems have pulled of a coup with this one.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Infanticide, Fascists and Joanna Lumley

Due to a combination of a national referendum on the voting system, impending essay deadlines and the fact I've been I've been living on my own for the last week, savouring the smallest morsels of human contact at supermarket checkouts and library helpdesks, I've recently been thinking about bringing back the soapbox-in-his-own-bedroom that in this blog. In fact, if I were a religious man I could definitely see this as some kind of spiritual calling, what with the whole resurrection vibe this time of year. Alas I'm not, so instead it's just me providing some added volume to the deluge of opinion washed across the internet. Despite the great benefits brought to society by such a technological behemoth as the internet, one big issue with it is that, as a forum for all, it too easily allows petty arguing and the peddling of mis-truths to drown out the voices that hold the most precision and clarity. If the ongoing AV campaign has achieved anything, it is proving that such symptoms of 21st century society are not simply confined to online.

There is strong argument to be made for a change to the AV system, and there's also a decent defence to be made of the current system. Unfortunately, both camps have decided to neglect such arguments and instead have indulged in a lamentable festival of gimmickry, deception and shit-slinging, making a vote people never really cared about anyway even less attractive. Whilst the country lets out a collective moan of pleasure over embedded hierarchies, deference to unearned wealth and all the other outdated aspects of our constitution this Friday, the Yes and No campaigns seem intent on showing democracy to be a similar scam.

The pattern goes like this: The No capaign levels an accusation at the Yes campaign. They respond one of either three ways- one, the claim is false, hey, we'll see you in court, two, the claim is false, hey, isn't Nick Griffin going to vote No, or three,the claim is false, hey, look at all the celebrities who support us. The actual debate on the issue moves nowhere.

Example one:

No: AV will cost £250 million, killing babies and soldiers. In last years general election in Australia where the alternative vote was used, AV is believed to have been responsible for up to 12 infanticides and is also in the process of being court martialed for various military-based slayings. (The likely reason for the No campaign's focus on such a poor, distorted argument is probably due to their campaign is being run by Matthew Elliott, founder of bombastic, low-tax campaigners The Taxpayer's Alliance)

Yes: That simply isn't true. If you don't take it back we'll set Chris Huhne on you.

Example two:

No: AV will let extremist parties in. Here's Baroness Warsi who we wheel out whenever we touch on minority issues to say so. We realise she's both unelected and wildly incompetent but we haven't got a whole lot to work with.

Yes: That nasty fascist bastard Griffin supports you, so there.

Example three:

No: AV is a hugely complicated system that the electorate will struggle to get their simple heads around.

Yes: You underestimate the intelligence of the public. Look public, here's the wonderful Joanna Lumley. She sorted out the Gurkha's, remember, so she must know about politics. Well she's voting Yes so it must be better.

It's all a bit depressing. I voted Yes (postal vote), and genuinely believe it to be a fairer, more democratic system. A few months ago I was in favour enough to consider signing up to help locally with the campaign*. Unfortunately, the Yes campaign, baited by the No campaign, has become too focused on ephemera and likely hasn't done enough to overturn the prevailing sentiment in favour of first past the post expressed in the majority of opinion polls. We'll see on May 6th, but I fancy this may be rued as a opportunity missed, and all there'll be to show for it will be an 'outraged' Chris Huhne. I'd say the country loses.

*Kind of. I was in a bar in York where they have a noticeboard for local events and causes to advertise on. The Yes campaign had one of those posters where it's been sliced into strips at the bottom with contact details on for you to pull off. I went to pull one of these off, and ended up rather over-zealously pulling the whole thing off the wall. If the York Yes campaign ended up criminally understaffed I take full responsibility.