Friday, 6 May 2011

Today, I'm ashamed of my country

It's been a horrid few days. The Conservatives have barely been touched in the local elections and now a catastrophic defeat for the Yes to AV campaign is pretty certain. Yes, Labour has gained many councils, which is obviously something to celebrate. But these have been taken off Liberal Democrats, and though I'm no fan of them, it is the Tories from whom we should really be taking councillors.

We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way we vote, to reform the old and unfit system and usher in a new, fairer politics. England, stubborn old England, has overwhelmingly snubbed that opportunity. Why? Well, the Guardian's Tom Clark has compiled an excellent list of 10 reasons why the AV referendum was lost, which pretty much sums it up.  

AV isn't the best system, but it was, or could have been, the start of something wonderful. Had the country voted yes to AV, we would have taken our first small step on the path towards more extensive electoral and parliamentary reform. As it is, Blue England, who is scared of anything new or different, who cowers in the face of change and progress, has said quite categorically that it's happy with living in a country with a fundamentally unfair and broken voting system. We can now kiss goodbye to any electoral change for a long time. PR? Forget it. We must fight for it and for fairer, more pluralistic politics, but the chance of victory is small. 

So, this is England and this is the English people. In his Guardian piece today, John Harris suggests that this week's results have "punctured the 'progressive majority' myth". I fear he may be right. Perhaps we are a small "c" conservative country. After all, the Tories have come through these local elections unscathed and the public have blocked any chance of electoral reform. How depressing. 

What will be the results of this week's events? It's anybody's guess. Local Lib Dems, now totally disconnected from the Westminster body, must be feeling more and more angry with the Conservatives and their own party leader. They've propped up David Cameron, allowing him to pursue a right-wing agenda and drag their party's name through the mud in the process. The relationship is dangerously parasitic; the Lib Dems are seemingly getting nothing good in return for entering into the coalition. Council losses, AV failure. What's in it for them? All this spells revolt, but whether or not they actually will do is another matter. If a General Election is called, they face annihilation. But should they get out quick before they truly descend into the depths of political history? I wonder. As for Clegg, I doubt he'll resign, even though he has become a universal figure of hate and a total liability. 

And Labour? They've taken a lot of councils from the Lib Dems, but it's the Tory swing they should really be after. I don't think they're ready for a General Election (should one be called), especially based on their performance in the local elections. I'm waiting for the day when they come into their own. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm hopeful. Labour must establish itself as the progressive alternative, it must come up with real policies rather than just opportunistically criticising the coalition's every move. These results can only spur on the party and mobilise its activists. As is true for the whole left-wing of British politics. If I was head of, say, the TUC at the moment, I'd be planning another rally in London. We cannot stand by and allow a repeat of Thatcherism to drag this country back to the 80s. 

So that's that. No AV. We were so close, and now we're further away than ever. Today, I lost my faith in politics and the English people. It'll come back, I'm sure; I still have an insatiable enthusiasm for change and reform. But for now, I'm saddened and profoundly disappointed. I still dream of PR, of a fully-elected second chamber, of pluralistic, co-operative politics, of a left-wing government leading this country towards true Northern European progressiveness and of a better society. It is, indeed, a dream. And one can't help but feel that today's events have made it even less likely to come true.

1 comment:

Stafford Ray said...

So there you are Sam! Been looking for you and was directed here by Helen.
Yes, in Australia we do have Preferential Voting and I always wonder why Britain and the US don't.
If only two parties contest an election, 'fist past the post' works but as soon as a third party enters the contest, almost always the winner does so on less than 50%approval. As you say, coalition governments work well. Here right now we bave a mis of Labor, Greens and Independents and are experiencing reforms that would not have happened had one party achieved total control.
Nice writing Sam.