Saturday, 4 April 2015

Tories revert to type, and still don't get pluralism or Scotland

I deliberately eschewed the televised "debate" between the party leaders, for a number of reasons.  The first was ennui, which is a dreadful acknowledgement that the progress of this General Election campaign is already somnolent and predictable.  The second was a reluctance to commit two hours of an evening to a choreographed parade of carefully-spun hubris.  Thirdly, the idea of either Cameron or Farage on screen before the watershed was enough to suggest that a recourse to polyphony and whisky was better aimed at preserving sanity.

As noted earlier, the 2015 General Election is unpredictable in its outcome.  However, the run-up to polling day is just reinforcing the stereotypes and the garrulous messaging of spin doctors.  Miliband and Cameron have clearly got an informal pact to talk down any prospect of post-election co-operation with any other party, which will hardly do their credibility any good if there is no overall majority for either party.  Cameron has, on the other hand, not made any denial of his willingness to co-operate with the Kippers should they not implode in a cauterising maelstrom of racism, bile and idiocy.

What is perhaps more interesting is the shrillness of the apparatchiks.  Miliband has probably shaded the first week of the campaign, given the low expectations of his performance; the resulting Murdoch-ordained monstering is fascinating to behold.  Yesterday, the Scum took a novel line of attack that Mister Ed has never downed a pint in one nor exposed his backside in public - epitomising the kind of politicians that only the Kippers tend to embrace.  The pseudo-respectable end of the Murdoch propaganda machine is currently pumping out anti-Labour propaganda and scare stories, as far as a cursory perusal of the tabloid front page next to the Grauniad and the FT is a reliable guide to the thinking of the malevolent oligarchs.

At this stage of the campaign, the Tories would have been expecting solid gaffes from Labour, and unleashing their attack dogs would have been delayed for some considerable time.  Instead it is clear that their assumption that sufficient momentum will be gained from incumbency and the misleading signs of recovery is looking shaky.  Labour is not making the mistake of attacking the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories, and all is well in the conventional two-party narrative.

What is stirring in the undergrowth is the expression of pluralism.  The debate was carefully managed by the Tories not to be a head-to-head between Bullingdon drone and North London eggheads, and, from the analysis and the post-session replays, it appears that this has backfired on the Tories.  The narrative of austerity and the inevitability of a shrinking state is not bought into by the Nationalists in either Scotland or Wales, and the Greens are able to make a more convincing pitch for refocusing public expenditure when their policies are not scrutinised for coherence.  Even the presence of UKIP, spreading lies, homophobic bile and ignorance, means that the dribbling Tory right are presented with an alternative to a mushy compromise between insanity and reality.

Much as the debates in 2010 upset a simple bipartisan narrative, the 2015 campaign is being defined not by the choice of Prime Ministers, but the fissile nature of an unfit electoral system and its capacity to deliver uncertain outcomes.  The regional and national divisions will confound those who follow GB-wide opinion polls - it is not being too optimistic to hope that a pro-Labour swing in London will deliver many Tory scalps beyond the national expectation.  Incumbency and local issues may play a much more critical role in this election than the metropolitan sophisticates are prepared to contemplate, mainly because this requires an acknowledgement that the electorate's views are not solely defined by what they are told is an acceptable method of thought.

Nicola Sturgeon's performance has generally been seen as strong.  She needs to beware of the Clegg effect, as for the first time many people outside Scotland have been exposed to the SNP's coherence and radical credentials.  Whether these are genuine or not, the way in which the Tories have reacted to the suggestion that the SNP could be influential has been to portray the Scots as backward, kilt-wearing loons unfit to influence Union-wide politics.  This has been comprehensively exploded, and the aim will now be to discredit the Nationalists.  Unwise choice, given that even a reduction in SNP votes will not result in an increase in the Tory representation in Westminster that would make a difference.

Cameron spent much of the lead-up to 2010 suggesting that Labour had broken Britain.  The irony is that his own actions have achieved this - the fractured polity is a reflection of the inability of a two-party system to accommodate an informed debate and different perceptions of reality.  Rather than recognise this, and embrace this, the Tories and, to a lesser extent, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are trying to pretend that this isn't happening.  The irony is that, for those of us who are outside Scotland and Wales, the best hope of reflecting this through a modern constitutional settlement is to vote for the candidate best placed to unseat incumbent Tory MPs and deny future ones, and to vote pluralistically where it doesn't matter.  On one level, this is a non-partisan election.

Coalition has endured, whatever its errors and mistakes.  The Liberal Democrats may not benefit from the recognition that the world does not stop when there is no party dominant in the Commons, which may come to be seen as a noble sacrifice.  Any election result that reverts to the pre-2010 type would be unlikely, and what we are not getting from the Tories is any recognition that this will be the case.  The Tories did not win then, and won't win now.  Ensuring that the overall result has at least some reference to the distribution of views and votes is one priority, reflecting the pluralism and political maturity after polling day is a much tougher challenge and it is not likely to be openly discussed over the next four weeks.

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