As usual, in true Iranian fashion, I begin by whipping myself for not having blogged much of late. For once I’ve had a decent excuse – I’ve been finishing writing my debut novel, The Donkey in Winter, a black tragicomedy set in a dystopian near-future Britain. The action follows the dying days of a despotic buffoon in a failed state in the north-east of England as he tries to ward off the radical-conservative theocracy that has swept the rest of the country, and the fate of two ordinary lads who get caught up in the violence that follows. It’s fair to say it builds on a few of the themes I’ve explored in this blog. Let me know if you’d like a copy.
So to the election. Here, then, are my thoughts on the various parties on offer…
Labour – I must be fair to them (for once) and try to put their record in the context of what Britain was like in 1997. It wasn’t all bad, at first – the minimum wage, freedom of information, a more tolerant view of gay folk, a more peaceful Northern Ireland and even the Scottish Parliament turned out to be better policies than many people thought (less so the Millennium Dome). The good people of Sierra Leone will be eternally grateful for Blair’s intervention there – but the bombs we dropped so liberally on Serbia were a dark presage of things to come. In the second half of Blair’s decade, hugely increased public spending (much of it still not paid for, because of hazy PFI deals) plus very little in return equalled a bloated state; and mass immigration plus multiculturalism plus the war on Iraq equalled 7/7 – the day that, for me, will always define New Labour’s term in office. Typically, Teflon Tony escaped just in time to let Gordon handle the credit crunch. It’s easy to say the Tories would have done the same – perhaps, but the tripartite failure that was the Bank of England / Treasury / FSA was Brown’s doing, and the whole system was set up to ignore both the level of debt in the economy and the house price bubble that drove real inflation. We will live with the consequences of Brown’s idiocy for a long time to come, and he’s not the man to get us out of the mess he made.
As you know, Brown’s only notable appearance in this election has been during the hilarious Bigotgate (hilarious at his expense, naturally). The instant reaction on Twitter falls into three types: the ‘how dare he’ sort, the ‘we should stick up for immigrants’ sort, and the ‘but she IS a bigot’ sort. The last of these shows that there is still a remarkably widespread kneejerk response that equates criticism of immigration with racism – particularly when it comes in an unsophisticated form from an uneducated pensioner, which ought to be precisely the criticism we should tolerate most. Smearing those who disagree with you is bad enough; doing it to someone who fits that description is particularly shoddy: and the mindset is not encouraging for those of us who want to see a healthier, more cohesive society, to say the least. The same mindset insults anyone raising fears about crime by suggesting that, if only they didn’t read the Daily Mail, they would realise crime is falling.
Peter Hitchens is fond of quoting Peter Mandelson on his blog: “round about the time you’re utterly sick of saying something is when you’re beginning to get your message across”. So I will say again: above a certain level, racism will go up as immigration goes up. When the woman on the Rochdale omnibus thinks immigration is unsustainably high, we’re faced with two solutions: deal with the issue, or deal with the woman. Brown has shown which he prefers, though his hotheaded behaviour’s more excusable than that of his supporters, coolly trying to justify it. When did it become so fashionable to sneer at the poor and uneducated, and what is tolerant or liberal about belittling someone who expresses an opinion you might dislike, in words you might not yourself have chosen? The Labour Party stopped doing this (in public) a couple of years ago, belatedly grasping that excluding dissenting voices on immigration only helped the far right – but, as we’ve seen, many of their supporters still feel this way. Those of us who worry about racism, and the possibility of its getting worse, should be troubled by that. But perhaps this will be the election when the Gillian Duffies realise that the more they vote Labour, the less Labour care about them.
One misguided explanation for the rise of the BNP is that Labour haven’t done enough to explain the benefits of immigration to their traditional supporters (as is the conclusion of this otherwise very reasonable article). But this presupposes that immigration has benefited them – it clearly hasn’t. Not only has it undercut the wages of those at the bottom (and it’s easy to say ‘you can’t undercut the minimum wage’, but how many of the 1m+ illegal immigrants in Britain are on the minimum wage?), but, by giving them a permanent source of very cheap labour, it’s allowed the upper middle classes to sweep our 5m+ indigenous, permanently unemployed underclass under the carpet and keep them there.
So if, like me, you come from a middle class, liberal family, work in the public sector and have benefited from mass immigration, globalisation and neoliberalism, by all means vote for them – they’ll protect as many of our vested interests as they can get away with. If you’re actually working class – forget it. They clearly despise you.
Conservatives – for all that, I don’t blame anyone for being troubled by the idea of another Tory government: their past conduct always acts as a heavy warning against getting overexcited by Cameron’s One Nation talk. Having said that, I still think he has the potential (backed by some first-rate One Nation thinkers like Michael Gove and David Willetts) to be a decent PM, in spite of colossal stupidity over Ashcroftgate – but this is not the best election to win. None of the parties are being honest about the scale of the cuts to come – and I don’t blame them, because if any of them break the silence their popularity will plummet (as Clegg discovered when he spoke, in a flash of honesty, of “savage cuts”, and as Osborne did when he mentioned the “austerity” to come). Voters this year claim to want to be told the truth – but, in truth, we can’t handle the truth. For this reason, the figleaf of a deal with the Lib Dems would probably be the best result – for them and us.
Lib Dems – the surprise package of the election. Nick Clegg – memorably dismissed by a fellow commentator before the debates as “making Wendy Alexander look like Cicero” – has managed to speak the fiery old Labour language of fairness, before it all got perverted by bureaucracy and statism. Using ideas like localism for progressive ends – Brown’s aims through Cameron’s methods, if we’re being charitable – is an appealing thesis. We need a decent, honest, social democratic centre left in Britain, but for 13 years have had a vicious, corrupt gang who, among many other things, lied us into an illegal war that debased our democracy and cost a million lives, bought every one of the City’s self-serving lies, and whose last act has reduced us to within an inch of national bankruptcy. If you believe in liberal or social democratic politics you should want the party that has in times gone by been its main vehicle either to fail completely, or to devise a wiser philosophy in opposition. Either way, you should vote Lib Dem instead of Labour.
There are still plenty of contradictions in the Lib Dem platform, and plenty to belie their line that they are not of “the old politics”. For all their inspiring talk of local democracy, and giving power away from Whitehall, they’ve shown their own fear of democracy. Their last manifesto promised a referendum on the European Constitution, which became a shameful abstention on a referendum on the almost identical Lisbon Treaty. They reneged on this on the grounds that they would support a in/out referendum on our membership of the whole thing – then, when this was proposed in the House of Lords by a UKIP peer, quietly voted against it. So, beware of their claims to be so different from the other two.
I mentioned immigration and its effect on our underclass, which I think are both the symptom and the cause of many of modern Britain’s problems. The Lib Dem policy of taking everyone on up to £10k out of tax altogether is the best policy in the whole election, and by far the best way of incentivising work for those currently at the bottom of the heap. Whether or not the effect would be cancelled out by an amnesty for illegal immigrants, as they also seem to want, is hard to say.
SNP – I actually think they’re doing a reasonable job of running Scotland (which, largely thanks to Annabel Goldie, who rather undermines her boss’s scaremongering, has become a good advert for hung parliaments), particularly on education, but find it hard not to be put off by Salmond’s Caesarian egomania. His target of 20 seats seems as hyperbolic as ever. If the Tories win, expect our canny FM to drive multiple wedges between us and them. Whether or not you approve of this ultimately comes down to whether or not you want to break up the UK, but any argument in favour of unionism is massively outweighed by all the arguments against Labour.
UKIP – some appealing populist policies, and not just on the EU, but unfortunately they’ve thrown their lot in with the climate change denial lobby – and by that I don’t just mean a few dissenting engineers and geologists, but genuine headcases like Christopher Monckton. Their yeomen base might not be too happy to discover the libertarian small print about drugs, the BBC and the NHS either. Nigel Farage – who, ironically, is precisely how I picture a low-grade bank clerk if and when I think of one – could provide some of the best drama of the night if he beats the Brownnosing Speaker, but I wouldn’t want more than one MP dragging a Cameron government off to the unworkable right.
Greens – likeable people, uncorrupt and more intellectually coherent (though still socialist) than they used to be, and very good locally. I still think they’re wrong about nuclear power, but I must apologise for smearing them in the past when I suggested they were on the EU gravy train – it seems that, like some of the more noble Lib Dems and unlike Labour, they have an idealistic view of Europe which doesn’t allow them to accept the institution as it currently stands. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if one or two of them get in – especially as it might make more Labour support go in their direction in future.
BNP – see above. If they do well, it won’t be Gillian Duffy’s fault – it’ll be Gordon Brown’s.
Assorted Communists, Trotskyites, Gallowayists, etc – a bit like the BNP, but with anti-Semitism instead of white racism.
In conclusion, my advice would be: anyone but Labour, except their offshoot party the BNP. My constituency (Glasgow North) is Labour held, but 33rd on the Lib Dems’ target list, requiring a swing of 6%. Albeit with the reservations listed above, they’ll be getting my tactical vote on Thursday.