We live in interesting times. An Icelandic volcano with a name which looks like the Pass-Key encryption into my Photoshop software has burped and reminded us all too clearly of its existence, and every aeroplane in Western Europe has been grounded. My holiday to the Carmargue in Southern France duly bit the dust, or more accurately the ash, so I’m sitting here at home venting my spleen and writing increasingly vitriolic letters about the Pension Scheme I run, rather than taking pictures of pink Flamingoes against a blue Mediterranean sky, whilst drinking a cool beer in the warm Provençale sunshine.
Now that the window of opportunity to reinstate the holiday a couple of days later has completely shut, they all start to fly again. Bastards. All, that is, except the Royal Air Force fighters we have paid Billions of pounds for to defend us from the murderous attacks of our scheming Cold War Russian foes. The Tornados are grounded because the Icelandic ash apparently screws their engines up particularly badly - a good time to invade perhaps. I have to say I’m not sure I’d have announced that little nugget of news to the world on Nationwide TV, but maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps their bombers use the same engines.
Anyway, the country is gripped (I think) in the build up to a General Election, and flocks of political chickens are about to come home to roost for those who look after us so diligently in Westminster. Whether to lay the Golden Egg, or shit on the floor of the cage, we will shortly find out.
At first, when the campaign started, it all seemed like the same old “Yes you did, No I didn’t” argument between the two main parties who have dominated British politics for nigh on 100 years. Then, for reasons which I haven’t quite got to grips with, a decision was made to have a series of TV debates in this country for the first time. Debates held between the THREE main protagonists in the British Political system. Yes, there is a third, although you don’t get to hear much about them. They’re called the Liberal Democrats, and in the main, their voice is sidelined, deliberately I suspect, drowned out by the noise from the other two main parties.
And yet, look at the votes the Lib-Dems got in the last election. Firstly, less than two thirds of the British electorate actually voted (61.2% for the pedants), and of those 36.9% voted for the Labour Party, 33.9% for the Conservatives and 23.1% for the Lib-Dems – not that far behind.
This actually means that the Labour Party’s mandate was endorsed by only 22.5% of the country’s electoral role. Nearly 80% of us either wanted somebody else, or couldn’t be bothered, didn’t want any of the candidates etc, etc, etc. I am not qualified to pontificate about the pros and cons of Proportional Representation, except to say that a system which gives us the situation above does not seem right, and does not seem fair. They bang on about the need for strong Government, and “Look at Italy”, but “They would say that, wouldn’t they” in Mandy Rice-Davis’s immortal (or is it immoral) phrase.
The last 5 years have seen massive issues raised in this country, things which will be looked back at in years to come as seismic, and potentially life changing. We’ve had a religious zealot (by the name of Blair) who, almost single handedly took this country into an illegal war. We’ve had a Chancellor, now an unelected Prime Minister, who has finished selling off the Country’s “Family Silver”, who has led a positive campaign to eradicate any sensible level of regulation within the Country’s banking system, who has poured unbelievable sums of money into the National Health Service with far less benefit than we have the right to expect, who is part way through the ruination of the country’s education system, and who has presided over a systematic takeover of the rights of the Individual in this country in a way that would have given Stalin a fair degree of satisfaction, had he been in charge. He and Blair have also been the individuals in charge of emasculating (or attempting to emasculate) the Judicial system, the Parliamentary legislative system, of politicising the Police system, and creating a New Labour labyrinth of “Jobs for the Boys” - His Boys - in a breathtakingly brazen and quite appalling way. We’ve all watched, powerlessly we thought, while it was all going on around us.
And 4 out of 5 of us didn’t even vote for him. It’s the Politics of the Madhouse.
If we want the country to be run by One Man – in Brown’s case One Man who has never even been given a mandate to lead us – and a bunch of unelected cronies, then fine. But let’s have a referendum to agree a change in this.
To police and mould all this, the more sinister political systems of America, the focus groups, the pinpointing of the small minority of voters who swing the marginal constituencies, the ruthless smearing and bad-mouthing of any dissenters, the continual pressure to be “on message”, with no individual thoughts being brooked or allowed have all been brought into play. The Drones, the Apparatchiks, the Control freaks have taken over.
So, back to this week. Some bright spark came up with the suggestion that for this election we’ll have a series of TV debates. Not just between the two “main” parties, but one including the Lib-Dems as well. Quite what these clever souls who think about these issues in the Labour and Conservative Back offices were thinking is beyond me. Gordon Brown is always going to look like “Yesterday’s Man” in that sort of company, and on any issue raised, the question “If you’ve been in power for 13 years, why haven’t you already done something about it?” is one he simply can’t answer. He’s on a hiding to nothing.
As far as the Tories are concerned, with the current Government’s performance being so shambolic, Cameron and his men should be miles ahead, hardly able to see Brown’s cohorts in their rear view mirrors. But that is not the case. Cameron, however he seems to put himself over simply does not cut the mustard. There’s something about him that just stops you believing in him. He’s not a saviour, and I suspect he knows it, and it all seems a bit “manufactured” and “Top-show”.
The third guy, who, I suspect less than 5% of the British public could recognise from his photograph up until 10 days ago, must have seen this TV debate development as “Manna from Heaven”. A chance to stand alongside the Big Two, show he can talk, show he’s got something about him, lay out his thoughts in a way he has been totally unable to do until now. No baggage, no “History”, no “Form”.
Why, in heaven’s name, did they both agree to do it?
But, agree to it they did. And just look at the result. New kid on the block, Nick Clegg, for that is his name, is suddenly on everyone’s lips. They got 22% of the vote last time when no-one even knew who the Lib-Dem leader was, so what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks time? Clegg “ambushed” them both in the two debates to date. It almost doesn’t seem to matter what their policies are, here’s someone new who isn’t tainted like the others. It may not be true of course, and there may be carpets to be lifted, and skeletons to be found, but that’s all in the future, and on May 7th, it won’t matter. In the way the political game is played today, Perception is All, and Now is Important.
I have absolutely no idea how it’s all going to turn out. The really exciting thing is that I’m pretty sure that nobody else does either. Pandora’s box has been opened, and what’s flown out, let alone in what direction it’s flown, is anyone’s guess. In the same way that a Division 2 volcano in Iceland can, at a stroke, bring the European air transport system to a halt, a couple of hours of prime-time TV can throw all the British political balls high in the air. The thread on which we all dangle is very thin. Little things can make big changes, and we’d do well to remember that.
It does seems very sad and telling however, that one man, whoever he is, in 3 hours of Talking Heads on TV can seem to transform the UK public’s views on how their country should be governed. You’d like to think that the policies and beliefs of the parties, and the strength of their candidates, would be the major factors, but maybe that’s not true anymore. Whoever said that we get the politicians we deserve may not have been too far away from the truth.
As a principal, I don’t want such power to be in the hands of one person, and the systematic and progressive stripping away of the checks and balances within our political system have worried me increasingly over the last 10 years. Maybe, as a way to give a bit of moderation, a “hung” parliament, and the probable consequences of Proportional Representation may be the way to go. Who knows?
But Churchill’s comment in 1947 is still worth reading – “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." We still need the common endeavour of a bunch of intelligent, honourable, far sighted individuals to take us forward – one where wisdom is still seen as a key ingredient. You don’t get that from one man, and a return to a wider spread of views in the Body Politic would be something I’d like to see given a chance.
Cue Bob Dylan – “The Times they are a-Changin”, or is it “Don’t think twice, It’s Alright”. Or maybe even “A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall”?
Roll on May 6th.