Demonising Tories…or anyone…is so last century…

Now that the smoke of battle (and confusion) of General Election 2010 has cleared and we have a Coalition Government that hasn’t yet been proven to be the spawn of Beelzebub, can I make a suggestion that demonising anyone in politics – even Tories – is not a good move?

Twenty five years ago, during the Thatcher years, a few of us on the Left made the observation that it was potentially unhelpful to refer to the politics espoused by her Government as ‘Thatcherism’, even as a shorthand.  Our argument went that if you attach a name to a branch of politics in that very overt way, then as soon as the individual dies, quits or gets voted out of office then, almost by definition, that form of politics disappears from the scene.  There is a historical precedent; whilst 99% of everyone called the political beliefs of Hitler and his followers Nazism or Fascism, a few people in the 30s – often doctrinaire Communists – referred to it as ‘Hitlerism’.  Whereas we’ve been able to spot Nazism over the decades, spotting the politics underlying ”Thatcherism’ seems to have been harder – the monetarist and ‘Shock Doctrine’ policies of the Chicago School have come back repeatedly to haunt us in many ways, culminating in the years of Bush Junior Government in the US.

This last election has been truly bizarre, with people repeatedly warning me about ‘re-electing Thatcher’ in the form of David Cameron.  The irony is that some of the folks who’ve been most vociferously demonising Thatcher and the Tories were in the twenties and early 30s – in other words, when Thatcher was in power these folks were either foetuses or snot-nosed kids. 

Demonising any individual politician is fraught with danger for those doing it; unless your target is very obviously evil incarnate (in which case the vast majority of people will see it anyway and you’re ‘preaching to the choir’) then folks will just regard it as sour grapes and ‘ad hominem’ arguments.  One thing that has started happening in recent times in the UK is that people have become disillusioned with the political process, politicians and the whole schoolyard ethos that seems to have permeated British politics for the last 20 years.  The demonisation of one individual or party by others involved in the same ‘game’, so to say, has all the elements of ‘pot calling kettle black’ and people have responded to it accordingly.

It IS last century – just look at the nonsense at ACAS last night when BA Chief Willie Walsh was surrounded by a good old fashioned British ‘leftie rent-a-mob’ that seemed to belong more in the 1970s at Grunwick than in 2010.  The union chief was furious, ACAS was embarrassed and angry, Walsh commented on the disgust he felt in the situation he was in.  The demonstrators focused their chants on Walsh, and have probably significantly damaged chances of settling the dispute.  Seeing the placards from groups like ‘Socialist Worker’, for those of us who were in the Labour movement in the 80s and 90s it was like a return to old times with the ‘Usual Suspects’ – the professional hecklers and agitators who have no great desire to settle these disputes but simply seek to benefit from them.

Boys and girls, that approach is over.  It was always pointless and now people see it for what it is – egotistical tantrum throwing by typically over-privileged, under-occupied political performance artists.  If you want to achieve change in our society – get involved with genuine community groups and put your  backs in to getting some work done.  Demonising the opposition is childish and pointless.

The farce of the 2010 General Election

Less than 2 hours after the closing of the Polls in the UK’s General Election, it’s clear that there have been some cock-ups in the logistical management of the election that makes most developing world elections look like the Acme of organisation.  Let’s face it – this is THE most important election for probably probably 20 years – and one might have expected that such an election would be run in the most professional, efficient and effective way possible.

Unfortunately, it appears to have been organised by people who make Fred Karno’s Army look like the SAS.  Let’s just take a look at what seems to have been happening in the last few hours of polling.

  • People turning up to find massive queues at their polling station, going away, coming back repeatedly, then finding themselves being turned away when the Polling Station closes at 10pm.  Although in some places, people queueing when the Polling Station has closed have been taken in to the Polling Station and allowed to vote.
  • Other people turning up to vote to find that there aren’t enough Ballot Papers and so they can’t vote.
  • People in some places have been turned away an hour BEFORE the Polls closed, and have been told that they Polling Station can’t handle the queues. 

In other words – some Polling Stations have been under-resourced, badly staffed and inadequately supplied.  How can the Local Authorities and the Electoral Commission have allowed such a sorry and anti-democratic situation to arise?  After all, it should not have been a surprise that there would be a higher turnout in this election than previous ones – people have been excited by this election in such a way that I’ve not seen for some years.  We might therefore have expected the Returning Officers and Electoral Commission to take this on board and plan accordingly.

In my own polling Station I saw no more staff than usual, but did witness a higher throughput of people than I’ve seen for some time.  It was the first time I’ve actually queued to vote for as long as I can remember, despite the fact that the turnout is only a few percentage points higher than previous elections, going by the current returns.

So what’s happened?  For what it’s worth, here’s my twopence-halfpenny.

  • Perhaps in some places people left it too late to vote; there were stories about people going to vote at 6pm, finding a queue, then coming back an hour later, finding another queue, then going away again and then finally getting in the queue at 9pm…..why not stay in the queue at 6pm?  Polling Stations are open for over 12 hours – perhaps folks could get their arses in to gear a little earlier if they are determined to vote?
  • Returning Officers clearly have lacked guidance and possibly understanding of the Law in the way in which they have reacted to the queues – some have kept the station open after 10pm, others effectively closed it before that time, etc.
  • Has there been additional time taken in distributing the ballot papers and handling enquiries about Council elections as well as the General Election?
  • Has there been enough staff at Polling Stations, and has the staff been used effectively – when I voted it appeared that 3 members of staff were only capable of processing one voter at a time.  Why weren’t additional staff deployed to reduce the queues earlier in the day?
  • Have some Local Authorities tried to save money by cutting staff?
  • Have attempts been made to save money by printing Ballot Papers to suit the projected turn out rather than printing one paper per voter and a few hundred extras ‘just in case’.  It’s not friggin’ rocket science!

So….if any of the seats where this nonsense has happened generate narrow results then we could see challenges and possibly re-runs.  It looks like the rules have been ignored, and there’s been clear incompetence at a local level.  Let’s hope that lessons are learned and at least a few heads role where needed.

When slogans are not enough

I was 18 years old in 1979; people of a certain age will remember that year as being the start of the ‘Thatcher Years’ – the start of 11 years of Tory Government that was characterised by radical right wing policies, many originating from the Chicago School of Monetarism, jingoistic manipulation of the electorate in a popular war (The Falklands).  The economic policies ensured a destruction of large swathes of British manufacturing industry, steel and coal, and it might be argued that it was a ‘mild’ form (relatively speaking) of the shock and awe school of political change that alumni of the Chicago School had already inflicted on Chile and other countries in the 1970s.

I entered the workforce in the middle of all this, working in Education for 18 months or so before becoming self-employed in IT, and witnessed the destruction of the communities in which I’d grown up and the politicisation and vilification in the media of family and friends in the  mining villages and towns of Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.  I witnessed troops used as policemen and experienced roadblocks that prevented free travel within the UK.  It’s safe to say that those years coloured the political views of a whole generation – and still do today.

Which is why I could initially understand the surge of groups on Facebook and other online communities with names like ‘National Don’t Vote Tory Day’.

And after a while I began to think that this is rather a dumb and negative way to decide who to vote for.  To start with, it’s 13 years since a Tory Government – twenty years since Thatcher lost power when the great and the good of the Tory establishment decided that she was a liability and threw her out in a coup.  You need to be at least 31 years old to have actually been an adult under a Tory government, but it seems to be within the under 30 age group that this sort of group is popular.

As will be known to anyone who reads this blog or follows my tweets, I have little time for New Labour.  I have little time for the Tories or the Liberal Democrats either.  Which, I appreciate, means I have some serious thinking to do before the General Election.  I believe in small Government, subsidiarity and local, sustainable communities.  I believe in freedom of speech and expression, reduction in the intrusive powers of the state and controlled and managed immigration to the UK based on a points system for economic migrants and proof of oppression in the last country they were in for political asylum seekers. I believe in strong defence, continued possession of a tactical nuclear weapons capability, healthcare free at point of delivery, and a benefits system as a last ditch support for folks who genuinely need it.  I’m interested in seeing whether a flat rate of taxation would work, along with reduced red-tape for business, closer scrutiny of banking institutions, no further formal integration with Europe, repeal of the majority of Human Rights legislation and replacement with a written constitution.  And on a more personal basis, reform of copyright, patent and libel legislation to take on board the fact that the world’s changed.

In other words, a rag-bag, hodge-podge of policies which no party will offer.  But at least I’ve thought about what I believe in, and can make most of it join up.  Which is where the ‘Don’t vote Tory’ sloganising is ridiculously naive.  Wheeling out any party as a bogey man – especially one out of power for 15 years – is daft.  I demonise New Labour when, in my eyes and against the principles and policies I personally believe in, they deserve it – I’d like to feel that folks who’re signing up to the ‘Don’t Vote Tory’ sites have at least thought through their own political views and aren’t just signing up to the latest ‘slogan of the month’ based on what happened before many of them were actually old enough to directly experience it.

Slogans aren’t enough; I’d say one thing – if you disagree with a party’s politics, know WHY you disagree with them.  Think about it.  If you don’t like any of them, vote for the one that you disagree with least.  There’s an assumption of trust and competence here, which I’m not sure we can give or expect from any of the major parties this time around. 

I’m still to make my mind up.  I have significant issues with New Labour and the Tories; I was sort of leaning towards Liberal Democrat until I looked at their policies on Europe and Immigration policy, and I’m not convinced that their finances add up.  And I’m still not capable of trusting them on civil liberties and issues of Government intrusion in to the lives of citizens. 

But for crying out loud – please, please, think about it.

The obligatory General Election Post

Some years ago, a joke did the rounds about the first Albanian astronaut.  The main thing you need to know is that at the time the joke was told Albania was a head-bangingly totalitarian Marxist state with total media control.    Anyway….

Albania manages to launch an astronaut in to orbit, and Radio Tirana announces the fact with great pomp and circumstance.   The country goes wild, and there is much celebration.  Which goes on for days.  Anyway, after a few days Nico turns up at the office looking a bit of a mess, and his boss hauls him in for a telling off, particularly about his wrinkled shirt and tie.

“It’s not my fault, boss, i’s the fault of that damn astronaut…”

“How come,” says his boss.

” Well, the only thing on the radio for the last few weeks has been about the astronaut, so I turned on the TV. There was nothing on there except for stories about the astronaut and his family.  So I went to buy a newspaper – again, full of stuff about this guy.  Same with magazines and books – nothing but stuff about this guy.  I bought some records and tapes – all full of songs about the bloody astronaut…all the muzak in the market from the loudspeakers, even the hold signal on the telephone…all this bugger!”

“OK, but how does this explain your shirt and tie?”

“Well, I didn’t dare turn the iron on to iron anything because I was scared that news of the astronaut might come out of it….”

And that’s sort of how I’m starting to feel only a little over a week in to the campaign.  The news media are doing their best to make the event in to a super-duper, highly exciting news event, but it’s hard going.  And I think there are a few reasons for this. 

We’ve lost faith in politicians and the political process.  They’ve proved themselves singularly unfit to govern in the last year or so through their attitude towards expenses and the like, and it increasingly appears that politicians of all parties the world over have been unable to manage national economies when confronted by global interests such as the banks.

There is a higher level of distrust of politicians than at any time in my memory.  The current government claimed they wouldn’t increase income tax in the Parliament – they lied.  They lied about the circumstances around the invasion of Iraq. They’ve introduces law after law that erodes our basic civil liberties.  From the opposition parties we have heard very few loud protesting voices.  The Liberal Democrats are so keen to achieve some element of power that they won’t even give a straight answer as to how they would determine which party to support in the event of a hung Parliament.  I’d like to think that this is because they’ll play each vote on it’s merits, but given the fact that it was Liberal Democrat peers who tightened up the Digital Economy Bill, I don’t particularly trust them either.  And the Tories – those of us with long memories know that the Tories were just as bad liars when they were in power.

I have no idea how I’m voting yet.  The best I’ve got so far is a few precepts, in order of application:

  • I will vote for whichever party will not introduce more laws that stifle our civil liberties – even better the party that will revoke some of the more outrageous laws bought in over the last 13 years.
  • I will vote for whichever party undertakes to keep the hand of State out of my day to day life – i.e. that will impose a smaller Government on me and that at least does something to decrease the red tape I encounter trying to run a business.
  • I will vote for whichever party promises to give me an effective and streamlined public sector and health service – not the bloated monstrosity we seem to have today.

All bets are off for me; I won’t be voting for a minority party – it will be either one of the ‘Big Three’ in England or a spoilt ballot paper.  I’m old enough to remember the impact of the unions under Callaghan in the late 1970s, and the economic devastation wreaked on the economy by Thatcher in the early 1980s.  Oddly enough, on a personal basis I’ve always been better off under the Tories and suffered under Labour, but would never consider voting Tory because it went agaisnt my attitudes about society.  How ironic that NuLab, therefore, have introduced policies that attack our liberties in ways that the Tories would never have dared.

I have no idea how I’ll be voting.  Watch this space and if I work out what I’m doing I’ll tell you.