Thursday, 5 May 2011

Vote 2011 UK

Today, a minority of people in the UK voted on local elections, and on the referendum on changing the voting system. The results aren't in yet, but there are several points worth making about it right now.

The BBC's Nick Robinson has argued, in the hyperbolic style picked up from his days as ITV's chief political editor and still not yet got rid of, that this is the night the coalition government really didn't want to happen. The two parties, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, who have been governing together, having to fight against each other.

And it does look like the LibDems will be heading for wipeout, and that the AV referendum will be a resounding 'No'.

Partly because Labour are lacking any defined leadership and so have not provided any kind of strong opposition, and purely out of self interest have been split down the middle on AV (First Past the Post, the current UK voting system, is massively beneficial to both Labour and the Conservatives as it generates 'safe' seats - hence the Conservatives winning more elections than any other party in the 20th century without any more than 40% of the vote) there is no one seen as a clear alternative to the Tories, and yet, there is widespread anger, mainly from the left (but from across the board on the NHS and tuition fees) against the coalition. Tory voters are generally happy about their party's being in government, and while there will most likely be Tory losses tonight due to the high watermark from which they start, one can't help but think that Labour should be doing better.

The problem is that, as it has been for a while, everyone in politics is trying to be a centerist, and so the Labour party aren't 'left' enough for reactionary 'left-wing' voters, but they view the LibDems, who they may have voted for on the basis of Iraq or 'keep the Tories out' tactics, as betrayers of their principles.

I've already discussed Nick Clegg recently, although it is worth mentioning on the NHS that Lansley's plans were so far advanced from the start of the coalition that they must have been in place pre-election, and that the Tories had no plan to keep to the coalition agreement not to initiate a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The LibDems weren't expecting it and as they didn't have any alternative plan it is likely they were caught out, as was the NHS itself, by the swiftness with which the Tories pushed them in - leading to the push back only taking place now, nearly a year later. The Lib Dems get blamed for letting the Tories get away with it, but it does appear as if they were more wrong-footed than intentionally complicit in this case.

In a way though, that's not the point. The Peoples' Front of Judea of the Left in Britain are far happier tearing strips out of the Judean People's Front, rather than the right, purely because they expect the right to be their enemy, and so don't get as angry about it as they do those people who they thought would not behave in the way that they have. Hence the kicking of Nick Clegg and the LibDems rather than the Tories and David Cameron. Some LibDems have the same attitude, particularly a now former councillor in Liverpool. Things are not looking good, and there is a very real chance that voters have decided that they don't like coalition (due to the inevitable broken promises), so vote down AV and wipe out the LibDems at the local elections this time, and the general election next time.

In such a scenario, Labour would have to improve massively to get itself re-elected anytime soon, as the chances are that the Conservative vote would hold up given Cameron's position and the realligning of the electoral boundaries that remove the bias towards Labour.

It does appear, though that it is in the traditionally anti-Tory North of England that the Lib Dem vote will really collapse, whereas in the South the hits may not be as bad. That may suggest that the voter split in the South was between Tory and Lib Dem, and in the North between Labour and Lib Dem, which could lead the Labour North to return back to its original party of interest.

The AV referendum though will be, if it fails, the real tragedy. Screwed over by being so early in the Parliament, and so at the height of the anti-LibDem feeling (which may lessen over time, or if Nick Clegg resigned) and brutally attacked from the Conservative-funded 'no' campaign, this is the sole chance to change the Victorian system still used in Britain for something a little more proportional. If it fails, which seems likely, it won't come around in a generation, and the lies and self-interest of those who have everything to gain from First Past the Post, Labour as well as Conservative, will have denied the British voters an opportunity for their views to count in a more proportional way. This would have shaped the parliament a little bit more in the make-up of the country. It enfranchises the people, can help connect them to politics without the kniving, conspiratorial idocy of necessary tactical voting and can only help.

The fact that the change is so small, so incremental, led to lukewarm responses from proportional representation-advocates, and the most stringent arguments were made by the 'no' side because the 'yes' campaign always felt like they were looking, Bullseye contestant-like, at what they could have had with PR. But British politics has gone through such turmoil over the last two years, with the expenses scandal, Nick Clegg, and the coalition policies, that this change might help change things for the better.

One can but hope.

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