Opportunity knocks

A number of commentators have in the last few days been attacking David Cameron for so actively pursuing the idea of live TV debates between the three "main" party leaders, on the grounds that – with the huge lead in the opinion polls the Tories had at the time the debates were agreed on – he had everything to lose and nothing to gain from tackling his opponents face to face in front of the nation.

To be strictly fair to Cameron, though (and I'm doing so purely as mental exercise), the debate wasn't theoretically such a bad idea.

Brown is abysmal on TV. Cameron vs Brown alone would very likely have sealed the deal for the Tories, and I think it was reasonable for Cameron not to be too scared of Clegg either. I saw him give a speech in Wales on the news this morning, and he was awful – slow, hesitant and vague.

But the thing that really struck me this weekend was watching Have I Got A Bit More News For You on Sunday night. (I don't bother with the initial broadcast of the show these days, because why would you want to watch a shorter, inferior version when you can get 50% more jokes and less clumsy editing a couple of days later?)

Shown at the same time as the debate, and therefore in ignorance of it, the disdain and contempt shown to the Lib Dems in the show looks quite extraordinary now in the context of them leading the opinion polls. The London media mocks and/or ignores the Lib Dems so relentlessly in this way, and has done so for so long, that it's quite understandable for the closeted denizens of the Westminster Village to dismiss them as a threat with barely a second thought.

But I believe that both Labour and the Tories still hugely underestimate the degree to which they are loathed by the public post-Expensesgate (and post-Iraq and post-other stuff too), and the extent to which voters are sick of their cosy turn-about carve-up of government. And a precedent exists even within these very islands for what happens in that situation.

So much of recent events parallels what those of us who take an interest in the Scottish Parliament have been observing for years. Like the Lib Dems, the SNP have almost no support in the media, which ignores it when possible, is mocking at best, and openly and viciously hostile the rest of the time. It came as quite a shock to everyone when in 2007 the electorate refused to do what the press told them, and voted the SNP into government.

We were then told, much as we're being told by Labour and the Conservatives now, that a minority government would find it impossible to govern, yet the SNP has enacted the large majority of its manifesto pledges. Others for which they couldn't generate a consensus have fallen by the wayside, which is the way it should be in a democracy.

(I'm personally not necessarily all that fond of democracy as a method of governance, but if you're going to have one that's how it should work.)

And in Scotland Labour constantly – and I do mean constantly – shrieks in its panic that a vote for the SNP (a social democratic party positioned to the left of Labour on most issues – sound familiar?) is really a vote for the Tories, a party still despised in Scotland since the Thatcher era.

It continues to do this, amazingly, even as a Labour chancellor openly and publicly promises public-service cuts worse than Thatcher's, using those very words. Apparently, and fairly incredibly, Labour expects the electorate not to notice this contradiction. (In fairness, voters in the urban west of Scotland have spent the last 20 years showing that they might actually be that thick.)

The reaction of the two big dinosaurs to the surge in Lib Dem support shows just how little they grasp what's happening. Clegg generates a big political advantage out of pointing out the negativity of his two opponents, and their reaction is to crank up the negativity, except turned against the Lib Dems rather than each other.

This is exactly the same strategy Labour has employed in Scotland against the SNP, where it has brought them no success whatsoever – the SNP still has a comfortable lead in Holyrood polls, despite being the party of government, in a recession, facing a uniformly hostile media which blows up the tiniest stories into drawn-out scandals, and having had to abandon several of its highest-profile policies.

Labour and the Tories have announced their intentions to go on the attack against the Lib Dems over issues like Trident and Afghanistan, seemingly arrogantly oblivious to the fact that the Lib Dems actually speak for the majority of the electorate on these matters. If the next TV debate, which is on foreign policy, follows these lines (and assuming Clegg doesn't turn up drunk or wearing a swastika armband or something), expect another surge in Lib Dem support.

I've been resisting accepting the possibility of a hung parliament, because I didn't want to deal with the awful pain of having my hopes crushed when it didn't happen. But it seems more and more to be the will of the British people, and it appears to be more unlikely with each passing day that even our sick, cynical travesty of a "democracy" will deliver any party a majority.

That would be the most exciting thing that had happened in UK politics in my lifetime. Because it's very hard to see that even Clegg (who I'm far from convinced by) could fail in those circumstances to deliver major electoral reform, of a sort which could well prevent any party from ever again trampling over the expressed wishes of the British electorate by achieving a huge Parliamentary majority – effectively a dictatorship with bogus "elections" once or twice a decade – from a small minority of the vote.

(It's particularly intriguing, and indicative of the bemused arrogance of the media and the two "main" parties, that even now the best-case scenario being proposed for the Lib Dems is being kingmakers, holding one of the other parties hostage until they agree to electoral reform. But if the polls stay as they are and the Lib Dems win the popular vote, even though our corrupt system would almost certainly still give them far fewer seats than either of the other two, Clegg would have the moral authority and mandate to lay a claim to the keys of No.10 in his own right.)

What's on offer in just two and a half weeks' time is, for the first time in the history of the United Kingdom, a true democracy. Bizarrely, it's not possible to directly vote for the thing that we want. But the power is – for the first time in generations – genuinely in our hands. We're smart enough to figure out how to make it happen. Pray that we don't blow it.

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13 Responses to “Opportunity knocks”

  1. Watching HIGNFY after the debate made me think "they're probably going to have to come up with some new jokes about the lib dems for next week"

  2. weren't you on the beach?

  3. At night? What are you, nuts?

  4. Caught up with Radio 4’s Vote Now Show programmes over the weekend, which were equally laughable for all the wrong reasons, just dismissing the Lib Dems out of hand.

    Kind of gutting that Clegg’s Paxman interview was pre-debate. It just came and went with no real fanfare. Were it to be happening now, a big song and dance would be made about Cameron and Brown bottling it and him being the only one willing to do it. It’d be tricky for Clegg to bring that up again now without him looking petty.

  5. Failing old media Says:

    Labour and Tory, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, getting a big majority and raping and pillaging the country for the next few years is my biggest fear over the coming weeks. It would be very exciting to get a result like you are suggesting.

    The media coverage has been shameful. Viciously attacking anyone outside of Labour and Tory (event to the point of being outright dishonest), with Liberal and SNP being primary targets, and ignoring the rest to avoid giving them a chance go give their alternate viewpoints and solutions. They've also shown their willingness to carefully avoid reporting stories that make the main parties look too bad – such as the Labour council leader scandals, gangster associations and drug-taking/dealing (etc., etc.). Yet when Alex Salmond is asked what something divided by zero is (and gets it right) they report it everywhere and falsely accuse him of being wrong in an attempt to ridicule him. "Fair and Balanced"? "No Spin Zone"? It doesn't help that the TV and papers are owned by fewer and fewer people (including American Republican/conservative types). The BBC being a primary culprit in this is particularly disgusting to me, but it is undeniable at this stage. 
    The voter apathy and the years of effort they've put into convincing or conditioning us to avoid voting for any alternative parties out there (Lib, Green, etc.) has been holding everyone back, but hopefully the last straws are being reached.

    I have lost all faith in the BBC, the media in general and our government. It cannot be trusted.

  6. One very nice side effect of the Lib Dems gaining power was pointed out by an ex-editor of the Sun, in a piece in the Guardian today:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/18/clegg-media-elite-murdoch-lib-dem
    Basically, Clegg hasn't been bought by Murdoch because Murdoch (and everyone else in London) never thought it was necessary to buy him. 
    This even goes further than the SNP, who Murdoch has at least pretended to care about (if only in Scotland).

  7. Failing old media Says:

    Also, anyone using the line "throwing your vote away", in the context of voting outside of only Labour and Tory, should be tarred and feathered and ran out of town as the weaselly, manipulative and dishonest rogues that they are.

    All too often it's said by people transparently hoping to get you to vote for them or their choice of party.

  8. xbendystevex Says:

    Excellent stuff as usual. It's nice to see I'm not the only one that thinks democracy isn't a great idea for governance!

  9. With respect to your point about the foreign policy debate:
    Whilst it's true that the Lib Dem's policies on Afghanistan and Trident (though to a lesser extent, as the polls I've seen recently seem somewhat divided) are in line with those of the majority of the electorate; it seems likely that a large part of this debate might also focus on the EU and Britain's position in it.
    There are few issues which divide the electorate more than Europe; and I think the Lib Dem's position of being far more pro-EU than the other two major parties could cause them to lose much of their recent gains in the polls.

  10. We did a thing at college in Waste-Of-Time-Type-2 (Otherwise known as RE), where we all said who we were going to vote for. I was one of the 2 who said Lib Dems, and both of us said we didn't expect them to win. The reason? Everyone else who said Labour/Tories said they were voting for them because they didn't like the other.
    That there is a big issue, and one that needs to be rectified. There are much more Lib Dems than people think, but First Past the Post makes it impossible for them to get in. They should've been in power ages ago if we didn't have FPTP.

  11. The Tories in particular certainly think Europe is the Lib Dems' Achilles heel. I'm not at all sure that much of the electorate actually gives a shit about it, apart from the more rabid Tories who wouldn't have been flirting with the LDs anyway. But we'll see.

  12. What EU? Says:

    Most people's concerns are on the local (often just their council area/authority) level when they are asked about topics or if you bother to talk to your neighbours. Most people when asked in polls are just spouting the lines they've been fed by the papers, parrot fashion. Their real concerns are crime, mortgage, job security, etc.
    Very few people sit up at night worrying about the UK's positioning in the political structure of the EU. That's just politician gibberish and talking points, for the most part.

    It's a world away and there are more urgent and closer things at hand to worry about.

  13. We can now vote directly for what we want.
    Just so happens some friends and I made a website (launched today) that will hopefully increase the chances of a hung parliament even further. It really does seem like the best chance for our country at this point. Our website allows you to enter a post code and it'll use our planned voting system to tell you who you can vote for in your constituency to increase the chances of a hung parliament. It's mostly based on safe seat data and playing to different odds in different constituencies.
    We'd really appreciate it if you could post about it and help spread the word.
    http://www.hangbritain.org
    http://twitter.com/HangBritain

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