Robert Hampton

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6th May 2015

Ballot Dancer

Note: this post is quite long. I’ve tried to rewrite it a couple of times, and each time it still ends up quite rambling. It doesn’t say all I want to say; for example, it barely mentions the Greens (which I’m not happy about) or UKIP (which I am much less unhappy about). But voting takes place tomorrow, so I’ve more or less run out of time to say anything about the election. On the basis that the text below probably makes about as much sense as any other comment on this unusual and unpredictable election, I’m posting it as-is.

TLDR: Labour aren’t perfect, but Ed Miliband as PM is the best possible outcome.

Opinion polls are rubbish. Seriously.

During this campaign we have seen two or three new opinion polls released each day. Generally, one shows a slight Labour lead, and Labour supporters get excited for a couple of hours, until a different poll comes out showing the Tories a couple of points ahead. Average them all out and both parties are in a dead heat. In fact, the polls have barely moved since the start of the campaign on 30th March.

Politicians are fond of saying that the only poll that matters is the one on election day, and they’re probably right this time. We could easily see a rerun of 1992 when the polling got the election result spectacularly wrong. On the other hand, the polls could be right, and both Labour and the Conservatives could end up more or less level in terms of seats.

(As an aside, my friend Ian Jones’s UK General Election blog is an excellent source for number-crunching and statistics)

In short, we are going into Thursday’s election with no definite idea of what the result will be. Lots of commentators are saying it is the most exciting election in living memory. Yes, it’s exciting – the same way I’d be excited if I didn’t know whether my birthday present was a gold watch or a lump of dog shit. If this election goes the wrong way and the Tories somehow get back in, I think it would be a disaster for the country.

In previous years my vote has usually gone to the Liberal Democrats. I had high hopes for them in 2010: the country was gripped by Cleggmania and it looked like the party was on the verge of a breakthrough. I even had an “I agree with Nick” sign in my window.

At the same time, Labour in 2010 seemed like they were at the end of the road: exhausted and out of ideas. I thought a spell in opposition would be the best thing for them.

Now, after five years in coalition, the sheen has well and truly gone from Nick Clegg and his party. Yes, they’ve restrained the worst excesses of the Tories and they had to make compromises, but on a host of other issues (tuition fees, welfare cuts) they have been just a bit too happy about supporting the Tory plans. The Lib Dems held up their end of the bargain as junior partners in coalition, but got very little in return: their plans for electoral reform sank without a trace. They are going to get hammered at this election.

I had made up my mind to vote Labour since at least last year. Until a month or so ago, I was expecting to cast my vote grudgingly. Labour were very much a “least worst” option, rather than a positive choice. However, things have changed a bit since then. The launch of the party’s manifesto, a much more upbeat document than I expected – and which won the approval of Captain Picard – certainly helped matters.

However, the big surprise has been Ed Miliband. Since the day he became Labour leader, he has been bombarded with opproprium from all sides – real, bile-filled stuff that goes beyond reasonable political comments and into nasty, personal attack territory. He stabbed his brother in the back, he’ll take Britain back to the 1970s, he’s the puppet of the trade unions, he can’t eat a bacon sandwich, and so on. As recently as last year there were rumblings of discontent in his own party and it looked like he could be forced out.

However, in a turn of events which even his supporters couldn’t have fully anticipated, Miliband has emerged from the past few weeks looking really quite good. He held his own in the debates and survived some fairly aggressive questioning from Jeremy Paxman and some guy from Yorkshire. In interviews, he showed a human side that has not previously been visible – declaring a love for Manic Miner in the 1980s. He was mobbed by a hen party in Chester and earned his own hashtag – #milifandom – where teenage girls discussed the Labour leader in the kind of reverent tones usually reserved for Harry Styles.

Then he went to see Russell Brand, a move which may prove to be either be a stroke of genius or a colossal blunder, depending on how the result turns out (and which newspaper you read). Until last week, Brand’s message was “don’t bother voting”, so it’s reasonable to wonder just what Miliband thought he would achieve, but Brand gave the Labour party an endorsement of sorts. If that gets even a few more people out to the polling station, it will have been worth it.

So yes, it’s been a good campaign for Labour (we won’t talk about the tombstone). They would probably be on course for a narrow victory, if it weren’t for Scotland, where the party is facing an almost total wipeout thanks to the SNP surge.

Yes, the SNP have thrown a tartan-tinged spanner in the works. It’s hard to believe that the SNP lost the independence referendum, such is their momentum now. Their popularity cannot entirely to be chalked up to fanatical nationalism on the part of the Scottish people; it’s really down to a wider sense of disillusionment with the Westminster establishment. Hell, I think half of the constituencies in the north of England would vote for an SNP candidate if there was one on the ballot paper.

Nicola Sturgeon has been described by the right wing press as “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. She certainly is one of the best politicians out there, and a formidable presence in the campaign.

Sturgeon also wins points for actually using her Twitter account like a (sort of) normal person and not just spitting out timed tweets with 140-character manifesto extracts. In all of her appearances, she comes across as a genuine person, not a policy robot emitting soundbites and slogans like so many other politicians.

However, the SNP are not entirely above the odd bit of dodgy dealing – their cosying up to Rupert Murdoch, which resulted in the Scottish Sun backing the SNP while the English edition simultaneously attacked them – shows that they are not so far apart from the old-style politics they are trying to distance themselves from.

The SNP could be a big presence in the next Parliament, and Sturgeon will be keen to turn the expected victory into a lasting dominance of Scottish politics. If she succeeds, I believe there is a good chance that, within the next couple of decades, Scotland will hold another independence referendum, and this time vote “Yes”.

Thanks mostly to the SNP surge, it looks like we are heading for another Hung Parliament, and a much more messy situation than in 2010, with the Tories and Lib Dems unable to form a majority. The “anti-Tory bloc” will probably have more seats, but will the Labour party be able to work with the SNP and others?

The Conservatives, helped by the friends in the press, are talking up the so-called “coalition of chaos”; the idea that Labour would have to be “propped up” by the SNP. The story goes that the SNP would essentially dictate terms to Miliband and the Labour party, resulting in a Scottish-dominated agenda at Westminster. Compulsory kilt-wearing! Caber tossing in every school! Fluoride in drinking water replaced with Irn Bru! Such is the fear in England that Ed Miliband has been forced to declare that Labour will not do any “deal” with the SNP.

I don’t think that the SNPs position is as strong as is made out. In theory, they could bring down a minority Labour government, but they would risk alienating their own supporters if they side with the Conservatives. Their main demand – for Trident nuclear weapons to be scrapped – will probably fail because both Labour and the Tories support it and would easily have enough votes to get it through the House of Commons. Unless, of course, the Tories voted against what is perceived to be in the national interest for short term political gain, but that would be a grubby, opportunistic move, and I can’t imagine the Tories doing anything like that.

The Tories are trying to create as much fear as possible about the SNP holding sway in Parliament. It’s a good tactic for them, because they don’t have much else to campaign on. Cameron has had a shocker of a campaign. For much of it, he has looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. He desperately tried to duck out of the debates this time round. Much of the early stages of the campaign seemed to involve attacking Miliband, and when that didn’t work, there was no plan B.

The Tories plans for the next five years also came under scrutiny. Having spent the last five years talking up their fiscal prudence and responsibility, they started dishing out promises all over the place with no information as to how they would be achieved. £8 billion for the NHS? No problem! £12 billion cuts to welfare? We’ll sort it out somehow. There you go – don’t ask too many questions!

The campaign has been entirely run on the “divide and conquer” basis. Divide Britain neatly into two compartments – the “hard working families” and “them”. The identity of “them” varies from day to day: take your pick from immigrants, welfare claimants, the poor, the trade unions, the Guardianistas. These are the enemy within; the factions that are preventing the country from being truly great. During the campaign, they have added Scotland into the mix. Vote Tory, goes the message; we’re the only people who will protect you from “them”. In fact, if you don’t for us, you’re probably one of them. The scary thing is, it might just work.

It’s impossible to deny that most of the changes brought in by the Tory-led coalition have impacted upon the poor and vulnerable the most.

Cuts to legal aid, introducing large fees for employment tribunals, limiting access to judicial review – all moves which restrict access to justice and proper legal redress, but which was portrayed as “cutting red tape”.

The bedroom tax, a spiteful piece of legislation which has caused misery to people across the country because they lived in a house which wasn’t exactly the right size for them.

Changes to the welfare system which have led to a massive increase in the number of people using food banks, which Cameron had the gall to claim was due to “better advertising”. People had their disability living allowance stopped because they were judged “fit to work”, only to die a few weeks later.

If the Tories get back in, we’re looking at more of the same, and worse. Take a look at the proposed shopping list for the next Tory government: Leaving the EU, a organization which, though flawed in some ways, has brought massive benefits from free trade and cooperation between states. Scrapping human rights laws, which removes an important protection for people against the misdeeds of the state (incidentally, how did “human rights” become such a negative term)? The right to buy your housing association property – a short-term bribe which will have long-term consequences as it will increase shortages of affordable housing.

And of course, more cuts, as the ideological crusade continues. We’re promised £12 billion of welfare cuts in the next Parliament. The Tories are vague on where the axe will fall, except to say that the disabled and elderly will be spared. Everyone else should be very, very afraid.

Public service cuts will continue too. Unsurprisingly, it’s areas outside of Tory heartlands that are worst affected; Liverpool has lost £173 million in funding since 2010; the city may have to cut all but essential services by 2017 if cuts continue.

We’re told that this is necessary to sort out the country’s finances, and that everyone must do their bit. “We’re all in this together,” to use the oft-quoted line (stolen from High School Musical). However, the top earners in society all the time, the rich get richer while the rest of us struggle on. London becomes a playground for rich oligarchs while ordinary people are forced to move further and further out to find an affordable place to live. It’s “trickle-down” economics, but the liquid that’s trickling down onto the rest of us is not water; it has a slightly yellowish tinge and an ammonia smell.

This could be the most important election for many years. It’s a stark choice between the continued austerity and fear from the Tories; or the still austere, but much more hopeful choice of the Labour party. The choice we make could reverberate long beyond the five-year term of the next Parliament – depending on the outcome of this election, we could see Scottish independence and an exit from the EU happen within the next few years.

On Friday morning and afterward, there will be claim and counterclaim about the “legitimacy” of the party which ends up forming the Government. Ultimately, in the court of public opinion, it may come down to the percentage of votes each party receives. This means it is important to cast a vote, even in the safest seats.

I will be staying up most of the night to watch the results roll in, so join me over on Twitter, where I will either be gleeful, despairing, or somewhere in between.

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