Monday, May 26, 2014

10 Lessons from the Elections

     1. The BNP no longer have any MEPs

But with far right gains across Europe, there is still much pause for thought.

     2. Nearly 2/3s of the electorate didn't vote

This is the really troubling factor.  In both the local and the European elections, most people didn't bother to show up and vote.  Voting is a right that was hard won, but which now seems an irrelevance to most people.  This is not a sudden phenomenon, unique to these elections.  It will need patient, long-term hard work to re-engage people with politics.  Unless and until this work is done, politics is dangerously becoming a minority sport.

     3. The European Parliament has a democratic deficit

I am instinctively pro-European, I believe in working with others.  I am a reasonably intelligent and fairly well-informed person.  But I still don't know how the European Parliament works, nor what it's real function is.  Is there any wonder that people don't vote or vote against it?  When a Parliament is located in a different country, then it needs to work harder than ever to explain what it does and how it does it.  There is currently no evidence of this, despite the election results this weekend or in previous years.

     4. It's politics Jim, but not as we know it

With the rise of UKIP, and a Lib Dem wipe-out, appeals to what 'normally' happens ("Parties in government do badly"; "The opposition should be making more gains at this point of the electoral cycle") smack of lazy commentary or excuses made by politicians who are making it up as they go along.  They do not help our understanding.  Any journalist trying this approach should be placed in the stocks.

     5. The Green Party has steadily grown

The Greens were the UKIP of 1989, taking 15% of the vote and shocking the major parties.  However, the voting system meant that they achieved no MEPs.  Their steady progress in more recent years, with an MP in Westminster and growing numbers of councillors and MEPs is one of the untold stories of these elections.

     6. UKIP

Love them or loathe them, UKIP are a real electoral force.  They have two policies - restrict immigration and leave the EU.  Everything else they make up as they go along.  That allows them to be flexible on local issues, but makes the concept of a UKIP manifesto rather difficult.  But to criticise UKIP for this is to miss the point.  They are a mixture of protest party, the Plague-On-All-Your-Houses Party, and single issue campaign.  It's very effective.  How long they can continue to manage to be all things to all people remains to be seen.  I suspect they'll be a force in the General Election next year.  Should they ever come to run a local Council, that might be the undoing of them!  They attract some fairly unsavoury people as their candidates on occasion.  Hence the racist, homophobic and generally loathesome comments that have been highlighted in the press.  Farage is getting better at party discipline, but needs to be careful that he is attracting such people.  There's also the question of the lack of attendance but full expenses claims that UKIP MEPs make.  But unless and until they settle into being a proper political party none of this matters, much to the annoyance of some.

     7. The Lib Dems and the dangers of coalition

The Lib Dems seem to be carrying the full weight of public disapproval for the government, which is hardly fair given that it did seem in the interest of the country to enter the coalition in 2010.  In part, this is because a good quantity of Lib Dem voters gave them their vote in order that they could keep the Tories out.  When the Lib Dems let the Tories in, those votes are withdrawn.  There are many in this position.  There have also been some spectacular failures in coalition: the tuition fees u-turn, especially given the prominence given to the pledge in campaigning; and the AV fiasco, campaigning badly for a voting system they didn't even want and setting back reform to the voting system by a generation.  But it also reflects changes in politics.  Gone are the days when Labour and the Tories traded huge majorities (1983-2010) that didn't reflect those who voted for them, allowing space for a third party.  It has all got closer, and the Lib Dems are a casualty of this.  Add to that the reforms of the Labour Party since 1992, and the reasons for the 'Dem' in Lib Dem (dating back to the SDP leaving Labour) have gone.  Do we need the Lib Dems anymore?

     8. The BBC's reporting

This has not been as bad as some of its critics make out.  UKIP are the story of the moment and so get a lot of press.  Much of the reporting has been due to the scrutiny asked for by UKIP's opponents, and the BBC has asked the hard questions as well as the easy ones.  It does, however, seem to write the story early and then make the results fit.  That has largely meant that few hard questions have been asked of Conservative Party.  It has also woefully ignored the Greens and the non-voters.  There has been little European questionning of candidates for the European Parliament, and that against a background of EU-Russian tension that makes it even more important.  There has equally been little local questionning of candidates for local elections.  Both sets of elections have been seen as variations on Westminster politics.  That's not good enough. Not for the pre-eminent news service and not for local and European government.  There are just too many holes in the BBC's reporting at present.

     9. What's not being talked about?

There's been nothing on the political agenda about how to restructure a financial system that brought us close to ruin.  Nothing about how to make paying tax a duty on all, and not something the rich and multi-national companies can avoid.  Nothing about how to deal with the climate crisis that continues even if no-one is talking about it.

     10.  Our Democracy is in need

Politics is removed from most people.  The Westminster bubble is very real and seems also to include the media (perhaps especially the BBC, or is it just that I'm most disappointed in them).  That contributes to the lack of voting, the death of membership in political parties, funding scandals and so on.  Our politicians are professionals, and have known little else in their working lives.  But politics is far too important to be left to the politicians.  We need a politics that is rooted more in communities, with all the tensions and blind-spots that they have.  UKIP, by working outside of the Westminster establishment, could be part of the solution here.  But by definition they cannot be the whole of it.  Democracy requires debate and that needs more than one party.  We need a vision of democracy that is more than just around elections but that requires democratic effort all year round.  The Red Tory and Blue Labour movements are the only things connected with the mainstream parties that have shown any sign of offering such a vision.  David Cameron flirted with Red Tory, but seemed to drop it when it got hard.  Ed Miliband seems still to be in touch with Blue Labour, but much Labour policy remains to be written.  It does beg the question of what kind of a community vision the Lib Dems can offer.

No comments: