A two-day deluge of summer rain after a dry spell, and the river rises six feet in the night. But the water was only six inches deep to begin with. Result: no flooding. The water is six feet deep to begin with, rises another six feet, result: major flooding. That’s what happens with our ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system. If you’re coming from way behind, chances are you’re not going to win a seat. Come second with a 15% swing, and at the next election with the same swing you’re odds-on favourite to win.
People are going around after the election muttering that UKIP, with 3.9 million votes and a 15% swing, has won only one seat in Parliament; the Conservatives, with 7 million votes on a 4% swing, have won 331 seats. Unfair! No, it’s because the Conservatives had more first and second-place candidates from the last time, while UKIP started with none or with those who previously came near the bottom.
At the next election, UKIP’s new second- and third-place candidates could well win their seats. It will depend on the leadership, their policies, the prevailing political and economic conditions and the presence of a more persuasive alternative, whether they win more seats or not to burst that riverbank. It will not be because of the unfair electoral system, but because it takes years for any party to build a commanding lead – a valuable ‘test of time’ before the deluge.
We are such short-term thinkers nowadays, we can see matters only in terms of the last and the next elections. That is why it was so easy for the Conservatives to portray the last Labour government as reckless and economically inept. How quickly we have been persuaded to forget Gordon Brown’s towering reputation for economic prudence and his world leadership in resolving the global crisis that threatened to bring down the entire banking system of the West.
How easily we ignore the fact that while he may have saved the system, it’s the Conservatives who have saved the bankers. Productivity was always higher under the last governent than this. And, while under Brown the economy was growing healthily at over 2%, under Osborne it has barely moved at all.
Meanwhile, the Bank of England has been printing money like it’s going out of style, simply to keep the interest rate at a record low of 0.5% – not that struggling consumers would notice – enabling the Tory Chancellor to quietly borrow £billions more than his annual target, without extra cost either to the coffers or his reputation.
I’m fed-up with being vilified in the press as a ‘wealthy pensioner’, simply because other sectors of the economy have been worse-hit by austerity and crazy property prices.
In fact, the property prices where I live are not crazy at all. My modest two-bedroomed terraced cottage has just been valued at the same price I paid for it, ignoring the cost of improvements I have made, four years ago! If the house were somehow magically transported to Central London it would no doubt be left empty by its new Russian owners, and worth £millions. But it would have a new basement… Here in the country, I cannot sell it for £150 thousand, basement or not (just a pretty garden).
As for we ‘wealthy pensioners’ getting special treatment because we all vote Conservative (I never have), it may be the case that the State pension has been ringfenced and has continued to rise with inflation at a rate ahead of that of public-sector workers. However, inflation is at a record low, and while a rising tide may lift all boats, some boats are already lower in the water than others.
My State pension, plus two tiny annuities and some investment interest, puts me in the £13,000-a-year bracket – and makes me a taxpayer. I’ve got a few hundred pounds in savings. Wealthy?
But, you know, I can live on it – just.
Pollsters and pundits were telling us for months that we were in for another hung Parliament – no party with an overall majority – only this time it would be more complicated to form a governing coalition because of increasing support for minority parties: the Scottish Nationalists, UKIP and the Greens. In the event they were all wrong – as I predicted! – David Cameron’s party secured a slim majority.
Now the prevailing media wisdom is that without coalition partners, Cameron is nakedly exposed to his own Eurosceptic backbenchers and might be bounced into bringing forward a national referendum on whether or not to remain a member of the European Union.
Should that happen, it looks like the country would narrowly vote to stay in. But even that could prove to be wildly optimistic, given the Farage factor. And the prognosis then is that the dominant Nationalists in Scotland would bring forward their own referendum and the Scottish voters, who are thought overwhelmingly to want to remain in the EU, would vote to leave the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Patriotic English voters would then row Britannia out into the Atlantic and sink her beneath the waves they think we still rule.
It’s an interesting thesis, but it takes no account of where the EU itself might be in two years’ time, following ‘Grexit’ – Athens’ massive debt default looming a few days from now, the inevitable exit from the Euro under German pressure and expulsion from the EU that would probably follow.
Why would Scotland want to leave the United Kingdom to join a fragmenting, bickering, economically unstable Europe, in which all the old, failed centrist governments have gone and only weird and frightening Eurosceptic extremist parties are in power? (Because it’s better than being stuck with the English? Don’t answer that!)
The elephant in the room, hopefully to see that wearisome cliche for the last time, is France. What if Marine le Pen and her eminently reasonable but Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, anti-German, Islamophobic Front Nationale party were to be occupying the Elysée Palace by then? On recent showings, it’s not out of the question.
To save my sanity, I stopped taking The Guardian newspaper three years ago, but yesterday I had to be somewhere where I might have had to sit around for a while, doing nothing, so I just thought I’d buy one and check. Post-election analysis, new editor…
But no, all the same leader-writers and well-padded columnists are writing all the same right-on, liberal-lefty things from the safety of their Hampstead eyries, the music never changes.
No-one pays me to write this blog, sadly, but The Scott Trust, owners of The Guardian, seem perfectly happy to let lovely old Polly Toynbee draw a pretty reasonable whack for turning out the same column, over and over again.
Only this time, I let some of my famous anger slurp over the top of my cup. How does a journalist with, what, 40 years’ experience as a frontline columnist for a major national newspaper get away with writing crap like:
“Should we have known the way the wind was blowing? By the pricking of our thumbs, many of us Guardian commentators (sic) felt in our travels that we didn’t see Labour leaping over its gigantic obstacles…. thundering unanimity of the polls… drumbeat so loud…
“After the raw agony, a long dark night of the soul awaits Labour – and that began before the chimes at midnight… Who will lead them down which fork in the road? The field is wide open… Labour must not rush to any wrong judgments. Let dust settle…. way out of this abyss. Take the pulse of a new government… regroup… hold the fort… blather, blather…”
We all have our off days, but just how many leaden cliches, GCSE-level literary quotes and excruciatingly mixed metaphors can one highly respected social commentator wring from the damp hankie of electoral loss, I wonder?
Time to go, Pol. Gizza job.