Labour’s Regular (as opposed to XXL) majority is a good thing. Almost everyone agrees (except the Labour leadership and their whips, I suppose) that a Supersized majority of over 150 seats weakens Parliament and produces nasty democratic anomalies – bad laws like the hunting ban, control orders and ID cards, for instance.
Almost everyone also agrees that a third-term Blair operating within the limits set for him by a normal-sized majority and a badly dented political reputation will probably also be a good thing. He (and his team) will have to concentrate properly when drafting new legislation and work harder to convince his various constituencies of its usefulness. I’m looking forward to an interesting and bracing few years of revitalised and combative democracy.
What’s puzzling, though, is the generally bitter and twisted attitude of almost the whole political and media mainstream to the election’s outcome. Seriously, what were our alternatives? Try to be objective for a minute: would you – a person of good will, with an interest in the health and well-being of British democracy – have preferred the chaotic busted flush of the Conservatives or the half-baked political funhouse of the Liberals? Would you have preferred another Labour landslide? Or a hung Parliament?
Put your hand on your heart and tell me May 5th 2005 wasn’t as near to the ideal result as we could have hoped for. Democracy survived, showed its teeth in fact. The electorate, disengaged or otherwise, conspicuously failed to provide the prescribed ‘bloody nose’ for Tony Blair and British political life is healthier than it was a month ago. Now, for my sanity’s sake, can we stop whinging and get on with our lives?
Max Hastings thinks so and, on the face of it, the skewed voting system makes a revival look almost impossible, even for a party in good health. For an ageing party in electoral disarray, about to embark on yet another messy leadership contest and without a coherent policy platform, a real Commons majority must look scarily out of reach.
Michael Heseltine, on Today, says The Tories have ‘a mountain to climb’, needing 140 seats to get back to power. It’s remarkable to think that, in four or five years time, after twelve years of Labour power, Gordon Brown will have to do much worse – and be even more unpopular – than Tony Blair this time round to give the Tories even a sniff of power. The New Labour dream of a permanent Tory eclipse looks like it might come true but the culprit won’t be New Labour’s epic reengineering of British politics but the slow and unarguable forces of demography and social change.
Michael Howard is a slick political vandal disguised as a toff. When the histories are written this campaign will be remembered for his cynical ‘mainstreaming’ of a particularly ugly xenophobia. For short-term political gain he ‘normalised’ the language of the casual racist. Terms like ‘swamped’, ‘over-run’ and ‘out of control’ are now quite acceptable even in otherwise respectable papers. The tone of the debate has been sharply degraded. Being an immigrant in the UK will now be measurably harder than it was before Howard stuck his elegant oar in. British politics will be better for his departure.
Your activity for the afternoon: try to use this tiny picture of my invitation to tonight’s BBC election night party to create a duplicate good enough to get you into the party (of course, you’ll also need to copy the shiny bits on the other side too). If you get in, approach me and say: “you are Steve Bowbrick and I claim my five pounds”. If you give up and decide to stay at home, check out my flickr photostream after about 10.30 this evening for photos from my cameraphone (if I can be bothered).
Vote Labour, by the way…
The tension is unbearable. People (like Brian Walden in his Radio 4 essay) are saying that this is a dull campaign but I disagree. Could it be less dull? Blair’s Nixon moment will affect the outcome not at all (hardly anyone knows who the Attorney General is, let alone what his contribution to the conduct of war could possibly be) but the steady erosion of Labour’s position is going to make the last week almost unbearable for the Howard-averse (and the Kennedy-phobic).
Anyway, since I reckon there’s a reasonable chance that you Googled your way here, searching for ‘Hertsmere election‘ or similar, I need to make sure that if you have any interest in getting rid of James Clappision, our third-rate Tory MP, you need to vote Labour. Voting Liberal won’t work. In fact, according to Tactical Voter, if enough of you Liberals tactically switch to Labour, we’ll be rid of Clappison all together, which would be nice. Come on guys, do the right thing!
The prevailing mood of high cynicism makes it hard for me to say this but I have to say that this is a lively, fascinating, scrappy and wide-open election campaign. It’s exciting (tell me Sedgemore and the Oona and George Show and The Heckler and postal votes and all the other brilliant sideshows haven’t got you glued to your favourite news source!) and combative and fun.
Opinion polls aside, the three parties have a kind of parity of presentation that’s really quite impressive – they’re all doing an effective job but by sharply different methods and with intriguingly different results. Lay the three manifestos out on a table and you have a snapshot of a rich and intelligent political process.
If this campaign (which is the best I can remember) doesn’t revive interest in politics by at least a few percentage points then it’s probably not possible to do so (maybe we should just accept that). I don’t (can’t) admire the Tories’ mean-spirited effort but I have to say that, together with their opponents, they’ve produced an election campaign that’s a testament to this country’s vigorous and healthy democratic culture.
Nice to see Howard’s disreputable move into immigration and asylum come back and bite him but his campaign is still flatlining (I do like that phrase) and his team rebelling so, let’s face it, we’re going to see more of this ugly stuff in the next week or two. After all, if the Tories’ share of the vote does come out at the wrong end of the 30s as the polls almost universally predict, the blood-letting within the party will be spectacular and immediate: Howard will be spending more time with his family so quickly they’ll barely have time to get the kettle on. With his campaign in such trouble, any incentive he may have had to run a respectable and positive campaign has evaporated so I think we’ll see a strong return to type for Howard.
Remember, Mr Howard has form. His stock-in-trade while in Government was the slick and effective delivery of some pretty ugly politics: saloon bar nastiness like Clause 28, the absurdly bulging prison population and, of course, the pointless and divisive poll tax. Hold on to your hats.
Really. I am. Labour’s campaign is good. On stage yesterday, at the manifesto launch, the front bench was awesome – handing off and harmonising like The Beach Boys. Brown’s seething resentment is impressively under control – and I mean really under control (did they drug him?). There’s a seriousness and professionalism on show that’s reassuring. Blair’s cabinet looked, at the press conference, like an experienced, un-flashy board of directors and I think that’ll play well with even pissed-off voters. Howard’s unremarkable gang are going to need to lift their game a lot if they’re to stand a chance against Labour’s really polished team and the Liberals look, frankly, like the Three Stooges in this company…
Watch the BBC’s news coverage of the manifesto launch. Read the manifesto… and you’ll want to be reading Simon Hoggart on “a major serving of sound gristle”.