Wednesday, 6 April 2011

But hang on - didn't they win?

Today has been a good day for our campaign. A retweet from the fantastic comedian Josie Long led to an explosion in other people retweeting us and following. Most of the comments from people about the project have been positive, and it's clear that our plan to admonish the Tories for crowing about 'winning' an election when they couldn't form a sufficient parliamentary majority to form a government on their own has really struck a chord with the public.

Not everyone feels the same way, however. Some have questioned the basis of what we're doing on the oldest grounds in politics: that we're being unrealistic. That objecting to the sight of a trust-fund millionaire claiming that a budget of swingeing cuts is justified on the basis that his party 'won' the election is immature. That we should  just put up with it, in fact, because this is the system and that's just how it works.

Except that that isn't how our electoral system works. The First Past the Post (FPTP) system of elections in Britain - whatever you may think of it in the light of the coming AV referendum - is designed to produce clear winners. In fact, this is one of the main justifications of FPTP in the eyes of those who endorse it as a system. FPTP is designed to lead to parties emerging with a clear majority in the Commons, even if they don't poll a majority of the national vote. Unfair? Perhaps. But decisive. FPTP leads to strong government because, most of the time, it produces a convincing victor.

Except when it doesn't.

FPTP is meant to be coalition-proof. So when it does produce a coalition, it's a sign that something's wrong. A sign that the public has lost confidence in those who claim to govern it. Undoubtedly, the public lost confidence in Labour at the last election. But the failure of the Tories to secure enough seats to form a majority government indicates that large sections of the population have no confidence in their abilities or agenda either.

The good showing the Liberal Democrats made on the back of Nick Clegg's surprisingly strong performance in the televised debates was, in its way, an illustration of how little faith the electorate placed, at that point, in the two main parties. Clegg seemed like something new: the banality of New Labour at its most moribund, of David Cameron's reheated Thatcherism and truisms about the deficit, threw Clegg, with his fresh style, touch of honesty and offer of something new, into sharp relief. The collapse in support for the Lib Dems in the aftermath of Clegg's shock decision to form a coalition with the Tories is a relection of how this sense of possibility has been so desperately squandered.

The sad truth of the 2010 General Election is that it was the election no-one won.

David Cameron's Tories, with the support of the Murdoch press, the clamour of sockpuppet pressure groups like the Taxpayer's Alliance, and the deference of a cowed BBC, were predicted to sweep into power on the back of a landslide akin to that enjoyed by Tony Blair in 1997. Instead, they only managed to gain a 48-seat majority - far short of the numbers they would need to govern on their own.

Labour, despite having averted total economic meltdown in the banking crisis, and having introduced some of the most progressive legislation since the postwar Atlee government in the course of their longest ever reign, were hamstrung by their very association with the crash, by their authoritarian attitude to civil liberties in the pursuance of the 'war on terror', by the catastrophic misjudgement of the Iraq war, and by the tabloid-fanned public perception of Gordon Brown. They did better than almost anyone predicted - but they, too, did not win.

And the Lib Dems came within a hair's breadth of being able to wield the real balance of power by offering 'supply and confidence' support to a minority Tory government - but threw it away to join one of the most ill-judged coalitions in political history, and have haemorrhaged support at the hands of an electorate hungry to punish what it sees as a betrayal. They lost too.

And so did we. As a result of the election no-one won, the British public now face an unprecedented barriage of cuts - cuts which even the Tories now admit go beyond the wildest dreams of Thatcher. Millions will lose out while bankers celebrate with even greater bonuses. The concept of a good education and meaningful adult employment is now further outside the realms of possibility for working class youth than at any time since before the Second World War. The Lib Dems, who seemed to offer so much hope to a demoralised electorate, are now seen as the most reviled members of a universally-pilloried political class. Now more than ever, Parliament seems like a rich man's plaything. After a few windows were smashed during last month's anti-cuts protests, media commentators and establishment figures fell over each other to clutch their pearls and ask how there could be such an orgy of violence. This writer looks around and wonders how there was so little.

For the Tories to claim that they 'won' the election is a slap in the face to the already demoralised people of this country, a populace who know - as the speed with which our campaign has caught on proves - that talk of victory in the context of such an inconclusive ballot is shallow triumphalism. If the Tories truly want to calm tensions and act for the good of the nation, then they need to show some humility and acknowledge how deeply they and their policies have divided and demoralised the country. And they could begin to do that by acknowledging what we already know - that neither they, nor anyone else, 'won' the 2010 election.

And if they refuse - then we're here to remind them.

No comments:

Post a Comment