GE2015 minus 05: the ‘holding your nose’ election

Posted: 2 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
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Just before the 2005 general election, Polly Toynbee, suggested that people might want to ‘hold their nose’ when voting Labour, but that they should vote Labour anyway.

The last few weeks has convinced me that she was not only on the mark ten years ago, but that some very decent proboscis grasping will be necessary this election as well. And not only for Labour. I’ve come across very few people who are voting for a party (yeah, I know we vote for candidates, not parties, but you know what I mean) with nary a concern in their mind when doing so. Well, with one exception: UKIP; many of those who are voting for UKIP are doing so with a wholehearted support that would be frankly worrying if it was for any other party and is downright scary with UKIP.

Right at the start of these daily election blogs, I set out my views on UKIP, and they’ve not softened in any way; if anything, they’ve hardened, and I genuinely didn’t think that was possible. If you’re voting for UKIP and express support for their policies*, well, that for me is the very essence of me respecting your right to hold those opinions while detesting the opinions themselves and thinking anyone who holds such opinion is either a knave or a fool. Feel free to let me know which of them you are.

(*policies. heh. They’ve only one policy they give a shit about; they’d chuck every other policy overboard if it meant getting to continue complaining about belonging to the EU. They don’t actually want a referendum, you see. They’d lose, and lose big. What they want is to continue to complain about the EU, complain about not getting that referendum, and having their MEPs play the system for every penny they can screw out of the EU for their own benefit.)

But as for the other parties, well, there are very few people I know who agree with all of ‘their’ party’s manifestos. Almost everyone I know who’s voting Labour thinks that the most important thing is to get the Tories out, and what a Labour government would do in its place is less important than making sure David Cameron et al aren’t in any position to do much after 7th May. That’s slightly unfair. They do care what a Labour government would do, which is why so many will be squeezing their shnozzles when they use that stubby pencil to mark an untidy cross in a box in five days’ time. Lots of people who’ll vote Labour will do so firm in the knowledge that the Labour party isn’t left wing enough for them, that while austerity will lessen under a Labour Chancellor, it won’t cease. They’ll vote for Labour, while being uneasy at some of the flagship policies put forward by Ed Miliband and the front line politicians. They’ll vote Labour knowing that while it’s the Tories who call themselves a broad church, it’s Labour who has potential Secretaries of State who are as far apart politically as its possible to be while remaining in the same party. And moreover, some of those sitting around the a Labour Cabinet table will be pushing policies that belong to a Labour Party the voters barely recognise. And yes, there are some people who’re voting tactically, who aren’t natural Labour Party supporters, but who recognise that the Labour Party candidate is the best placed in their constituency to stop someone from another party getting in, whether that’s a Tory or a Liberal Democrat. 

And that’s Labour. The Conservatives live (or at least have lived during the past five years) up to their ‘broad church’ label more now than at any time in the recent past. You’ve had Iain Duncan Smith, a man who must have undergone empathy and competency bypasses at some time in 2010, sitting around the same Cabinet Table as Ken Clarke; the difference couldn’t have been clearer, either in integrity, honesty, intellectual rigour or political smarts. You’ve had Michael Gove, a man notable for being unable to be more arrogant if he tried – and that’s saying something considering his fellow ministers – sitting at the same table as Dominic Grieve, possibly the most respected Attorney General of either party in the last twenty years. And, of course, you’ve had George Osborne, who can be fairly contrasted with anyone in the government who knew what the fuck they’re doing.

The Tories are currently polling about the same level as Labour, give or take a percentage point. Which means, you’ve probably guessed, that I know some people who’re voting for their Conservative Party candidate. And I do. Not as many as are voting for other parties, but yeah, some who’re planning on voting Tory in just under a week. But I don’t know anyone who’s planning on voting them without grudgingly doing so. There are lots of reasons why they’re voting Tory: some just don’t trust Labour, some desperately do not want Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, some who genuinely think austerity needs to continue no matter what. Now, these people aren’t evil. They’re not horrible people. They just don’t want the recovery – such as it is – to be put at risk and they think it will be under Labour. And they’re reluctantly prepared to put up with IDS and Osborne and their ilk to get that done. And again, there are some people who’re voting tactically, who aren’t natural Conservative Party supporters, but who recognise that the Tory candidate is the best placed in their constituency to stop someone from another party getting in, whether that’s a Labour or a Lib Dem candidate. 

And then there’s the Liberal Democrats. Again, while I know a few people who simply won’t, can’t trust Nick Clegg the Lib Dems this time around, I know more than a few people who’ll vote for the Lib Dems despite the last five years, not because of them. I’ve not hidden my views that I think Clegg et al were right to go into coalition with the Tories, and my main anger at them is blowing the genuine opportunities they had to influence policy, instead wasting their political capital on an electoral reform referendum and House of Lords reform. If only they’d have used that capital to good effect. But, politics is full of what if’s and rarely do they help matters. But most people I know who’re voting Lib Dems are absolutely voting tactically, in seats where they are – or were – the best chance of stopping either Labour or the Tories… or in a couple of cases the SNP.

I must confess to being in a similar situation. While I’m not displeased with our current MP, since it is a Tory/Lib Dem seat… (not exactly a marginal, but was LD until 2010*) I’m faced with the choice of voting for an MP I’m not pissed off with or for a candidate whose party I think wasted their opportunity when granted it.

Or for voting for a party that genuinely doesn’t stand a chance. Hmmm. I’ve still got five days to decide, eh?

But either way, I’m likely to be holding my nose when I do so. 

Small edit to add the following, in which cartoonist Ralph Underwood nails the situation for many people with his ‘real’ ballot paper:

  1. Polly Toynbee has been holding her nose for 20 years. She is joined by 90% of the UK population. It is a natural position for any voter in any constituency. Polly’s position is that this problem only affects safe seats and it’s because we don’t have PR. PR is not called PR by people who want PR it is called ‘fair votes’ because for some reason all the other people who live in constituency ‘x’ are sheep and vote for anyone in a (blue, red or gold) rosette.

    Other old parties are called out at preserving the status quo, which by definition means, they want ‘unfair votes’. So nothing like preparing your ground with weighted language.

    Politicians are not debating ‘fair votes’ because they are interested in democracy. In fact political parties are intended to maximise votes and gain power. The LibDems want PR because they want more seats. Parties that score on the national opinion polls but can’t win local contests get no seats. The cry is that xxx million voted yyy and got 0 MPs.

    So the first bit of political honesty is that parties call for PR because they don’t win with FPTP. Whether you are for or against most political parties will take the position that favours them. Its not about democracy in some pure philosophical debate.

    The next question is what form of PR is being proposed. The Lord Plant review for the Labour Party documented more that 70 variations of PR.

    The EU elections went PR because the EU was pressing Britain to go with the rest of Europe. Tony Blair chose the party list system. This specifically means you cannot vote for an individual candidate and political parties create a ranked list. For Labour this meant that perceived non-Blairites were put to the bottom of the list even if they were incumbents. The party bureaucracy now took control of the party lists and hence a list of nobodies ended on the list. It’s not surprising that the European Parliament lacks gravitas (with the exception of Farage and co). This is because the party list system has purged the kind of local selection that FPTP provided. This system is most favoured by political parties across Europe to get control out of the hands of people and into the hands of party central management and spin doctors.

    The case for PR is often put that when votes are ‘fair’ voters turnout. Well since the first outing PR in European Elections voting has gone down not up. When UKIP ‘won’ the 2014 European Election it hardly made the political pollsters adjust their results because they know that the European Parliament is a parliament of party placemen.

    So if increases the power of party management and does not dramatically engage voters then surely it stops one party domination. Like the Scottish Parliament. In 1997 it was said that PR was essential to stop Labour dominating the Parliament a squeezing out the other parties. So a complex PR system was devised specifically to prevent one party domination and to force coalition politics.

    That went well didn’t it. The voters didn’t co-operate and SNP dominates the Scottish Parliament.

    However its clearly unfair to have Governments elected on 30 odd percent of the vote right?

    This mathematical approach to politics misses an important point. If PR succeeds in creating perpetual coalitions is it fair for voters that put an x beside a programme see that programme negotiated away in a dark room post election. Just because party x gets 35% and party gets 20% doesn’t mean that 55% will agree than the post election settlement is something they would want.

    The LibDems got into the negotiation in 2010 because they pledged to abolish tutition fees. If their voters got a second chance after reading the coalition agreement how many seats would have been lost by disappointed voters.

    What we can say with some certainty is the 100% of voters didn’t vote for the coalition agreement.

    Does this mean that ‘fairer votes’ necessarily leads to unfair results?

    Like the crime where 2 people are arrested an each blame the other. The voter now has both LibDems and Conservatives both saying that the Coalition agreement was not their fault but a compromise they had to make.

    There is a constitutional route to dealing with democratic deficits. That is to recognise that democracy is more than just votes. You need ways of having the people’s voice heard over the bureaucratic self-interests of party systems, corporate lobbiests and self appointed elites. By this I mean a credible second chamber and a system to hold the executive to account. You also need an easier way for the public to have judical review over bad laws.

    If the primacy of Parliament was created to destroy the political elites created by monarchy the electorate needs to demand the breakdown of the Parliamentary political elites created over the last century. Simply reorganising the counting of votes is demonstrably no real improvement on democracy.

    Until then most people will be doing that nose thing.

  2. And don’t get me started about the last 20-30 years (at minimum) over here in Canada…

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