Last Thursday was a first for British politics. The three main party leaders had a live, televised debate for the first time in British history. No wonder then that it was so regulated and controlled as to feel very unnatural. Nonetheless it was both enlightening and slightly disconcerting, hopefully setting a benchmark for future debates both in this and in future elections. Given that this will be the first in a number of election based blogs in the lead-up to 6th May, I might as well get some of the basics down first. If you’re wondering, I won’t be voting on 6th May because I don’t turn 18 until June, and no, I’m not bitter or pissed of at all, don’t be silly.
Anyway the election is essentially fought between the three major parties. One of which is the Labour Party, led by Gordon Brown, who is the current Prime Minister. Labour have been in power for the last 13 years, having won 3 elections in a row under Tony Blair. Despite the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Blair didn’t do too bad a job as Prime Minister, things started going down hill since Brown took over in 2007 because he’s an uncharismatic lump of lard who seemed to have made a good chancellor until the economic collapse showed that he had not done as good a job as everyone presumed. Despite being wildly unpopular, the Labour Party will still get quite a lot of seats in parliament because a large number of the working class vote Labour on principle.
Likewise much of the middle and upper class will vote Conservative on principle. Otherwise known as the Tories, they’re led by David Cameron who is quite a lot better than the plethora of morons they’ve had leading them over the last 13 years in opposition. After the walking disaster that was John Major, who lost the election in 1997, the Tories have steadily rebuilt and modernised, by which I mean they’ve become as close to Labour as possible without actually being Labour.
It’s worth noting at this point that, while ‘Labour’ as a name has strong left-wing, socialist implications, the Labour Party are actually pretty central politically. In order to avoid offending anyone, Blair made the party as boring and insubstantial as possible in 1997 and won the election because of it. In order to win this election David Cameron has done much the same to the Conservatives, so we now have two major political parties in Britain with very little to choose between them.
Which leads us to the Liberal Democrats. The third party. The one that hasn’t been in power for 65 years. Their leader is Nick Clegg, who is slightly different from Brown and Cameron, but not much. There’s not much to say about the Lib Dems really because they’ve been a political non-entity for so long. They’ve never really had the chance to compete with the Tories or Labour on the main stage so has never been able to muscle their way into any sort of political power. It didn’t help that they had mostly useless fools as leaders until Clegg came along and, in part, revitalised them.
It’s worth just explaining the British political briefly so everyone is on the same page. Essentially we don’t vote for leaders, we vote for Members of Parliament (MPs) representing different parties. The country is divided into constituencies, each represented by one MP. We vote for which person we want to be sent to represent our constituencies in Parliament. The party with the most MPs takes power. For any piece of legislation to be made into law is has to be voted for by Parliament. This means that the party in power needs to either have a majority or the agreement of enough MPs not in their party to get legislation through. Usually the former is the case, although it seems likely that this time around no party will get an absolute majority in Parliament, leading to a Hung Parliament and the party with the significant minority looking to form a coalition. There are obvious weaknesses to this system, which I hope to go into some other time. I also have not mentioned the House of Lords because it’s a bit confusing to start bringing in stuff about a second house as well. Again I’ll go into that next week.
In terms of the debate on Thursday, I think Nick Clegg did best, offering himself (and his party) as a viable alternative to the other two parties. He had a great opportunity to tell people about the Lib Dems and their policies and took it really well. Nonetheless the debate was far from satisfactory. None of the three leaders displayed any evidence of being driven by any principles, it was all pragmatic, for-the-moment policies, none of which showed much consistency. They’re just trying as hard as they can to appeal to as many people as possible without promising things which are obviously unworkable.
This is indicative of the problem with politics, especially in this country. It’s no longer about what is best for the country or what is right on principle; it’s about what will get the most votes. Come election time, and indeed the rest of the time for anyone not in power, all that matters is whose face can appear the shiniest and whose policies can bribe enough people into voting for them. Elections are no longer battle between liberals, socialists and conservatives where principles and ideals matter; they’re headlong races for the centre ground with each party throwing principles to the wind and trying desperately not to offend anyone. Essentially it makes it boring as hell because if someone is interesting it usually implies that they are in some way objectionable to a group of people. In trying to remove any possibility to offence they remove any interest and actually make quite a lot of politics boring.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to dedicate the next two or three blogs to it, because it’s still quite interesting. More interesting that anything else that is happening.