Tomorrow, in the UK, there is a general election; I wrote something about it a couple of weeks ago, and I’d intended to leave it at that. But, actually, it is quite important, so perhaps worth another look. On the surface, the choice is between one set of career politicians making promises of all sorts of free stuff and another set doing the same. Of course, they both cry that their plans are ‘fully costed’ (one of the phrases of the moment) and that the others’ aren’t. They both tell us that the others are lying, and preparing for all sorts of nefarious changes as soon as they have grasped power. They all tell us what they think we want to hear.
The problem with that, of course, is that actually, they don’t really know what we want to hear. They are so wrapped in their own cocoons of self-importance, talking only to each other and the press who inhabit the same bizarre little village, where reality is that the public purse can be milked for everything - plasma TVs? duck-houses? switching residence (because, of course, if you’re a politician it’s your clear right to have two houses) to maximise tax-free gains? - that they largely believe the voters are stupid enough to believe in the magic money tree. Promise them whatever you like - after all, it’s all paid for out of taxpayers’ money, and there’s always more where that came from.
Bribes: no more, no less
But, and you can call me a hopeless optimist here, I do actually believe that the majority of voters do understand what’s going on; that the promises are bribes, no more, no less. You don’t have to be a genius - in fact, all you need to do is to turn your gaze backwards and look at recent history.
Could it change?
Does it need to be like that? No. We could have a sensible system. It is true that largely when our politicians talk about changing systems, they tend to look at how votes are counted and applied - first past the post or proportional representation of some sort. But actually, while there may be some value in considering that question, it’s not what I’m referring to. Wouldn’t it be good if, instead of a bunch of ‘career’ politicians, who go from university to special adviser to parliamentary candidate to MP to government minister without ever having to understand how jobs work where the payment doesn’t simply come out of the public purse (remember the abuses in the paragraph above?) and thus have only a minimal grasp of the realities of life for the majority of the electorate, we could have different criteria? Let’s say we had no MPs under the age of 35, because that would oblige them to have had some experience of the wider world first. Let’s say they could only serve two five year terms, so they couldn’t just settle back for life in a safe seat, knowing all the hard graft was behind them. And how about not parachuting in favoured candidates? Have an obligation for a candidate genuinely to live in his/her constituency? Of course, that would put the cat amongst the pigeons: Ed Miliband? Doncaster? Really? Or his brother - Sunderland? Or was it Middlesbrough? Did he know the difference any more than me? Or how about Swiss/Danish resident european bureaucrat Stephen Kinnock (son of Neil)? Got a lot in common with the heavy industry workers of Aberavon, hasn’t he?
But that’s for the future. The immediate issue is that there is an election tomorrow, and like it or not, we have to choose between what is put in front of us, not what would be our ideal. The Russell Brand no-vote approach is childish; if you don’t participate, frankly, you don’t have the right to complain - at least, that’s how it’s been since leaving the playground. So the choice may not be terribly edifying and in practical terms, the gap may seem very small, but somehow you have to choose.
To make it a bit easier, though, there is a deep philosophical difference; the real, serious political question comes down to whether the state serves the people or the people serve the state. Do you run your life, or do ‘they’ tell you how to do it? Settle in your mind where you are on that one and differences in the parties suddenly do begin to appear.
I wouldn’t disclose here what my view of that is, nor would I presume to suggest what anybody else should do - everybody has their own opinion. However, I can’t leave this subject without mentioning what I think is the most profoundly depressing statement I think I have ever heard from a politician - or actually, from anybody. One of those men who would be leader was recently proud to agree that he put political party before family. Not country, not friends, not the greater good, not the wishes of the majority; just political party. Think of that, as your pencil is poised over the ballot paper; political party means more than your family. Welcome to ‘1984’ ; roll on INGSOC and Big Brother.
The bottom of the barrel...
I wrote most of that towards the end of last week, because I thought we had probably hit the low point; but I was wrong. Look what they managed to scrape out of the bottom of the barrel over the weekend. Apparently, one of our putative governing parties has decided that Islamophobia will be a crime. Now, beyond a passing mention that religious tolerance in this country was finally achieved after pretty bloody wars a few hundred years ago and that tolerance implies the right to be negative as well as positive, it’s not the first half of the word that I think is worthy of thought. It’s the second bit. A phobia is an irrational fear of something (that’s a consensus between the major dictionaries, by the way). So I’m struggling to understand how an irrational fear of something - anything - can be a crime. It doesn’t make logical sense; crimes can be of commission or of omission, but surely nobody wants to take us into world where an internal, presumably instinctive, thought can be considered a crime? Would it be cynical of me to imagine that somebody is wilfully misusing the language to buy votes?
And then Sunday brought what must - please - be the absolute nadir of this electioneering. The stone of destiny, or the graveyard of sentient democracy. A political leader (?) posing with a giant tombstone, on which he had caused to be engraved a bunch of third-form debating society platitudes that he called his ‘pledges’. Apparently, should he win, it will be erected in the garden of a listed house in Westminster (good luck with that with our planning laws, by the way), presumably to remind him of the trite, vacuous drivel that got him elected.
Orwell says it all...
In the end, it actually gets easier to make the choice, doesn’t it? But I think we’ll all be glad when it’s over. Oh, and while ‘1984’ is the great text that shows where statism leads, have a look at ‘Animal Farm’ as well; there’s a list of ‘pledges’ chalked up in there. That worked out well, too.