The General Election campaign is, as predicted, truly dull. The outcome is still on a knife-edge, and government will change dramatically after the election if it’s a hung parliament; but the road to the results has begun a long, uneventful, unremarkable meander. There have been no interesting or radical policies, few personalities, and sadly fewer gaffes.
It’s just dull, dull, dull – nothing to look at, nothing to stop and take interest in, and no change in the scenery. The General Election campaign is like driving through the south of Scotland.
We had, of course, the first big debate on TV the other night, and I learned little from three politicians talking about mostly domestic issues that, due to devolution, were an irrelevance to a Scottish audience.
I thought that to try to keep myself interested through this campaign I would write about some of its most interesting features; but of course there aren’t any. So instead, I’ll just put the boot into (most of) the parties in turn, starting with the Liberal Democrats.
Liberal Democrats: Winning Here
Have you seen those posters on the TV where the LibDems are campaigning in strongholds or where they are a close second, where they boast that they are “winning here”? They’ve used them a lot over the years, and while it’s a powerful message it is also a disingenuous one.
Firstly, what’s good about winning in the ongoing sense? You want, surely, to have won (past tense). You can’t claim power and do anything with it if you’re too busy winning. You need to be yesterday’s settled winner in order to be a good changemaker.
And secondly, so what if you’re winning here? What difference should that make to the strength or otherwise of your policies and candidates? Does the fact that you’re winning here mean that your message is less worthy in places where you’re losing, or that the fact that you’re winning here makes you any better than a party with good ideas who’s not winning here? Of course not. You may as well tell people not to vote for you if you’re far behind.
After all, that’s what they do about other parties…
X can’t win here
We got a leaflet through the door the other day telling us that it was a straight choice between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in our constituency (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) and that an SNP vote is “wasted”. They are basing this on the fact that at the last election our MP was elected with Labour close behind and the SNP and Tories quite some distance further back. So on the face of it, they seem to be telling the truth.
But let’s remember – the voting has not started yet, and actually nobody has any votes. The previous victor is not even the MP as of about a fortnight ago because parliament is technically dissolved. Nobody is in the lead here because nobody has voted yet.
And why is an SNP vote wasted here? It boosts the SNP’s nationwide share of the vote, it makes them a better third than they would be otherwise, and if enough people switch to them they may even come second or first. Theoretically anything is possible. All the candidates are currently on zero, so it’s all to play for.
Of course, that’s just arithmetical semantics. What really annoys me about the “X can’t win here” is that it is a cynical manipulation of the first past the post voting system the LibDems themselves are supposed to hate. As highlighted here on Mark Easton’s BBC blog, they are being a bit, well, liberal with the facts in some of their graphs and statistics on similar leaflets around the country when actually they should be playing fair and winning votes on the basis of their policies and candidates.
For years, and still today, the LibDems have been appallingly treated by the disproportionate voting system we use. This is because the profile of the MPs returned at each election ignores all votes that were cast for losers, and therefore harshly punishes parties like the LibDems whose vote is spread evenly throughout the country and often cast for second or third-placed candidates. To be such a genuine victim of the system and then manipulatively take advantage of it is dishonest, cynical and undermines their argument for a fair voting system. There’s nothing wrong with targeting resources to make the most of the difficult electoral system, but to effectively lie to people when for years they were the victim of precisely the same message, is disgraceful hypocrisy.
Loss of radicalism
That leads me on to another point. The LibDems used to be famous – loved and loathed – for their embracing of radical constitutional change in the way the country was governed. They used to be the lone, strong voice calling out for reform of Westminster; putting the case for joining the euro; campaigning for freedom of information; and unashamedly calling for tax rises. Many opposed such things, but at least the majority who liked such things knew there was a party standing up for them.
Now, you barely hear a peep about such things. Where is their evangelistic message about the advantages of the euro? Where is their clear-cut call for tax rises (and boy, do we need them just now)? And where is their urgent highlighting of why we need STV as a voting system?
On the other night’s leaders’ debate, LibDem leader Nick Clegg touched upon a fair voting system once or twice but didn’t prioritise it or explain its benefits, and he let Gordon Brown get away with saying that the two men agreed on electoral reform (they don’t; Labour’s proposals are awful and I’ll go into that in a later post). Yes it’s a complicated subject for discussion and hard to campaign on, but STV is one of the single most effective ways of regenerating our democracy, and the LibDems are very nearly silent on the issue.
The LibDems’ two previous leaders, Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell, were removed in rather unpleasant ways for being apparently alcoholic and too old respectively. Leaving aside the discussions about whether those matters were worthy of removal, the fact that the putsches were done in very nasty ways has smeared the image of what is often regarded as the “nice” party.
Who’s to say they won’t do it again, or that Nick Clegg doesn’t have blood on his hands from either of those moves? He may be blameless but many senior people in the party are not. It’s a nasty and vulgar form of politics that really doesn’t have a place in a decent society.
There are plenty more reason I can think of, but I will not make this post any longer than necessary. And while the LibDems have their attributes, their campaigning message undoes a great deal of their good work in my eyes.
So yes, I’ll not be voting Liberal Democrat on May 6.