Saturday, 7 May 2016

Exploding hubris - Sturgeon, Goldsmith and a broken system

The 2016 electoral aftermath demonstrates the continued requirement for constitutional change over much of the UK's electoral landscape.  There is much mulling-over to be carried out, and much spin to be excised.  For no party was it either a disaster or an unmitigated triumph, and the smarter observer with an analytical tendency will wait until the outcome of the European referendum before even starting to offer prognoses for the future.

It was perhaps symbolic that election day headlines included a shambles in the London Borough of Barnet.  Having chronicled its various foibles, it was unsurprising that the incompetence of its outsourced IT and the hubris and arrogance of its leaders and officers would result in not merely minor polling irregularities but a situation where, in a closer contest, the entire legitimacy of the electoral process would have been called into account.  

Richard Cornelius, the Council's out-of-touch, extremist leader, and Andrew Travers, a faceless, unaccountable Chief Executive and Returning Officer, should be held culpable for allowing a farce to occur on their watch.  Sadly, these days, the culture is not of responsibility and personal integrity, and there is bound to be a whitewash that blames a minor official and leaves those who take maximum snoutage for their alleged and undemonstrated leadership skills continuing to profit off the taxpayer, while never accepting that they should carry the can for their own organisation.  There are several words for them, mostly involving language that would be unparliamentary.

This was a backdrop to the London Mayoral contest.  A week ago I speculated that the vile smearing attempt by Goldsmith was the last throw of the dice, and so it proved.  What was disgusting was the lining-up of a number of senior Tories to condemn their own campaign only after the safety of the polls closing, which will do nothing for the efforts made by more genuine Tories to position their party as a reasonable centre-right force.  Meanwhile the architect of the campaign, or at least the puppet-master, was receiving a knighthood, demeaning an already-compromised honour system.  Arise Sir Lynton, from the sewer to the gutter.

What was satisfying, though, was that this hysterical demonising failed to work, and the election of Sadiq Khan should be seen in the context of popular disgust at the way in which shady individuals consider politics to be a matter of purchase rather than persuasion.  Whatever Khan's merits or demerits are will be demonstrated in the months to come, but his dignity in the face of the most repugnant assault from the Goldsmith camp and the amplified, if not manufactured, side-issues on his own side, will provide at least some goodwill.

In Scotland, the campaign narrative had been focused on the near-inevitability of an SNP majority.  Given that the electoral system has been designed to be proportional, the likelihood of this was never as certain as the narrative indicated.  The success of the SNP's appeal in the 2015 General Election was to hold the Tories accountable, and in 2016 for Scotland this was not quite such a strong force.  Labour's implosion needs to be seen in this context, but the narrative around Tory success needs to be tempered by the fact that they secured less than a quarter of the vote, and that was on the basis of a deliberate distancing from the current Westminster administration.

Labour's bind continues.  Corbyn's narrative is not working universally, although the level of obloquy has not given them much chance of success given the attempt to play the man not the policy.  They have not made progress in areas where they should be doing well, and in bellwether areas have gone backwards.  Yet success in London and maintaining a local government lead in southern English cities demonstrates that the situation is much more fluid than the idiot media's inability to count beyond a two-party national system can normally encompass.

Pluralist politics are here to stay, and this needs to be welcomed.  In Scotland and Wales, the electoral systems reflect this and provide space for electoral preferences beyond the tactical.  For both Labour and Tories, the long-term reality is that their support is fragmenting and that the traditional party boundaries are much more fluid.  If they wake up to this, and it will probably be Labour first, then constitutional reform may become the key issue that could unite a broad group of voters and parties after 2020.  The issue will not go away, irrespective of the referendum.

Much more thinking is needed, as the system continues to demonstrate an inability to deliver a representative or credible outcome.  The defeat of Goldsmith and the clipping of the SNP's wings are signs that the electorate may be getting the message that the system is their to reflect their wishes, rather than what is imposed upon them - and there is now the space to move this forward.  Perhaps.

However, in the meantime it is amusing to note that the Liberal Democrats now have more first-past-the-post seats in the Scottish Parliament than the Labour Party.

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