Eastleigh by-election, 2013 Tactical Voting Crib Sheet

Long ago (2011), some concerned citizens got together and tried to change the way we elect our politicians here in the UK. We wanted to switch from the fatally flawed First Past The Post to a more healthy Alternative Vote system in which voters would be free to vote for the candidate that best represented their beliefs.

Alas, it was not to be. So rather than voting because of agreeing with candidates, the voters of Eastleigh will once again be voting based upon whom they hate the most. So, to aid in their bile, I have put together a simple voting crib sheet to help them work out how to really stick it to Miliband/Cameron/Clegg.

Hate: Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg)
Vote: Labour (John O’Farrell)

Why: Eastleigh is a Lib Dem/Conservative marginal. This means that other parties are unlikely to win and thus the electorate should tactically vote depending upon who they dislike the most out of these two candidates. Voting for Labour would drain the Liberal Democrat vote, sending a message to Nick Clegg that his party has been rejected by the left. Don’t fear, the conservative vote will hold up and the liberal democrats will lose, hitting those pesky lib dems with a double whammy – they lose the seat, and face a resurgent labour party. Clegg will be crying in his soup before the day is out.

Hate: Labour (Ed Miliband)
Vote: Conservative (Maria Hutchings)

Why: If Labour can’t make inroads in the south (even with a charismatic candidate like John O’Farrell), then they have no hope of winning the general election. A victorious conservative party would prove that the electorate was supporting the austerity cuts and all of Ed Balls’ whining was pure poppycock. Osborne would be able to stand up in the commons and say, “Hey, turns out people LOVE cuts. Eat that, Miliband!” Ed will be crying in his porridge before the day is out.

Hate: Conservatives (David Cameron)
Vote: Liberal Democrat (Mike Thornton)

Why: The conservative party have managed to convince themselves that the reason for their poor poll ratings is that they are being watered down by those pesky liberals. When people say, “Boo! No to cuts!” What those Tory back-benchers hear is, “Boo! No to weak-and-restricted- not-going-far-enough cuts!” A victory to their coalition partner (and arch-nemesis) would shut them up good and proper. Why vote Lib Dem rather than Labour? A victory/swing to the Labour party will be dismissed as merely the natural process of a by-election. The Labour party is bound to harvest votes as it is in opposition. Voting Lib Dem sends a strong message it is Conservatives, not government, that is being rejected. Cameron will be sneezing on his eggs benedict before the day is done.

So there you have it, tactical voting in a nutshell. Cynical? That’s First Past The Post for you.

What Can The Green Party Learn From The Liberals?

Today, Natalie Bennett addressed the Green Party conference with an attack on Labour, claiming to be the real party of opposition. This is rather reminiscent of the claims the Liberal Democrats used to make, back in the days when the Conservative Party was proving to be a useless opposition to Labour. So it is clear the Green Party are hoping to fill the void the liberals are going to leave in the next election, so what can they learn from the Lib Dem’s mistakes?

1. Don’t Try To Be Everything To Everyone
In opposition the Liberal Democrats managed to pull together quite a wide range of philosophies ranging from the libertarians to far left socialists. This ‘coalition’ soon fell apart the moment they entered government because it became quickly apparent that these factions simply can’t govern together. A party should make clear its philosophy and from that philosophy all policies should spring. The Green Party needs to be clear and at times ruthless now to avoid a similar exodus of support should its popularity rise. True, it can gather more votes in the short term by claiming to be both a champion of civil liberties and punitive on polluting behaviour, but philosophical inconsistency causes far greater trouble later on.

2. Never Rule Out An Energy Source
The Liberal Democrats spent a great deal of time being fiercely anti-nuclear, and yet once in power the reality dawned that if we are to have energy security we will need a whole raft of energy sources. To claim it can all come from renewables and energy efficiency (whether true or not) smacks of the old conservative line that cuts could be made simply through efficiency savings – too good to be true. If the Green Party gets realistic, then their message might go further.

3. Compromise Isn’t Betrayal
In the last election, one of the central planks of the lib dems attack was that the other two parties had repeatedly broken promises (most notably on tuition fees). Whilst the facts of the matter are that coalition compromise is not a betrayal, the perception is far different. Labour and the Green Party have fuelled the public perception that if a party doesn’t fulfil a manifesto pledge in a coalition, it is a betrayal of their supporters. Unless the Green Party works to educate the public on coalition politics they are doomed to the same fate as the liberal democrats, because if they want to enter government it’s going to be through coalition, and that means compromise.

Election Pain and Tactics

As the AV Referendum nears, both sides of the Coalition are beginning to gnash their teeth and growl across the wide pit that is government. So simpler would it have been if this was a Coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour. In such an instance, the Labour rebels would have been hushed up, turning the divide into a simple government vs opposition debate. Instead the Coalition is split along party lines, with a rather confused Labour party joining both groups, like teenagers trying to start a scuffle in the playground. It is a cluster-fuck of epic proportions.

It is perhaps the unpredictable nature of this referendum that has everyone on edge. The polls seem to fluctuate quite dramatically depending upon who you ask. One minute the ‘Yes’ group are flagging, the next they’re pulling into the lead. On the day it’s all going to come down to who can get their vote out, and with so many Lib Dem voters disaffected, this could dramatically hamper the ‘yes’ campaign.

Rather more predictable is the local elections. Expect a slaughter of the Liberal Democrats, big gains for Labour, and a Conservative Party holding firm, mainly because the Tory voters have nowhere else to go. The week following the inevitable disaster for the Lib Dems is going to be followed with countless interviews with disgruntled ex-liberal councillors blaming Nick Clegg for it all. I have no doubt that there will be many calls for his head and the end to the coalition, but this would be a dire mistake.

Nick Clegg will not survive another general election. This is true, yet it would be so even if he wasn’t unfairly carrying the blame for every unpopular decision the government’s taken. Being the smaller party, the Lib Dems were ultimately the ones who had to make a choice to join the coalition or not. The Conservatives pulled over in their white fiesta and said, “I’ve got sweets in here if you’d like to get in?” and the Lib Dems were the ones who had to decide whether or not to climb on-board.

This pact makes any electoral campaign difficult. Do you hammer the coalition partner, or side with them? The idea of Nick Clegg and David Cameron taking bites out of each other in a televised debate is preposterous. The only sensible option for a smaller party facing such circumstances is to formally end the Coalition in the run up to the general election, elect a new leader and campaign as an individual entity. Sleepwalking into an election as the junior in a Coalition could easily see them getting dumped by the Tories, the moment they secure a majority.

Would this mean that the Lib Dems would be distancing themselves from the Coalition? Certainly not. Such a process is all part of the reality of Coalitions, and the Lib Dems should be proud of what they’ve gained from such a weak hand. At the moment the public and the Labour party don’t understand how coalitions work and it is the duty of the Liberals to show them.

The only other option available would be to merge the parties, and that would be very messy indeed….

The Fight Begins

The political scrap over the AV referendum began today with the ‘no’ campaign being launched in London. The government is confident that the bill will be passed in time for the deadline, so it looks like in May we will vote on whether or not to switch to the tragically flawed ‘Alternative Vote’ system of elections or stick with the outright corrupt ‘First Past The Post’. Already the two campaigns are growling at each other, and it’s going to be a hell of a dirty fight.

I looks like the ‘no’ campaign is going to be driven by labeling a ‘yes’ vote as a vote for Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister is the most unpopular man in British politics (God knows why, did I miss a week in the news when he raped a puppy in Trafalgar Square?) and the enemies of reform are going to exploit this to their advantage. Expect hundreds of rabid students turning out to vote alongside Murdoch on this one. How utterly bizarre.

The big question seems to be what will Cameron do? This campaign is going to be one long smear against Clegg, so can Cameron afford to be seen endorsing it? Probably not, but if he doesn’t turn out to campaign against AV then his own back-benchers may well turn the cannons on him too.

The biggest problem the ‘Yes’ campaign faces is getting its supporters excited enough to turn out. Those who care enough to want the voting system changed generally want PR, recognising that while AV is better than FPTP, it is still unrepresentative. The campaign needs to convince these people that to fail on this hurdle out of some idealistic protest will not help them get PR. In fact, the opposite will happen – FPTP will be enshrined in our political system for another generation.

A lot of nonsense is going to be thrown around over the next few months. Expect more disinformation similar to tuition fees, selling of forests and NHS reform. Will the British public fuck themselves over one more? It would be funny if not so horribly tragic.

London Looks Pretty Daft From Over Here!

It’s the day after and some Lib Dems are still standing. It seems someone was on hand with a knife to cut the nooses and drag each and every one of them into parliament to make them actually vote. The vote passed, but only just. Around half of the liberals rebelled, voting against, with a handful abstaining. It is sad that they felt they had to oppose it, given that it is generally agreed by any independent body that studies the figures that this is a much more progressive bill than the current state of affairs, but then those protesting outside weren’t interested in such frivolous things as ‘facts’.

I was watching from Prague as the vote came in, rather thankful to have found BBC World on my hotel TV set. The BBC were flicking between the inside of the commons, packed to the gills, and parliament square, even more crammed. In the segment I saw they were interviewing a student who was claiming that it was the police who’d been provoking the confrontations. Fair enough, I can understand that. But then they went to a gentleman beside him, an English Teacher, who said that this bill ‘brought in by millionaires’ was damning his students to pay 30 quid a week, a sum poor families couldn’t afford.

This statement alone shows the amount is disinformation floating around the minds of the protesters. No-one is going to be made to pay up-front. They will pay back their fees when they begin earning over 21k – when they can afford it. The concept of making higher earners pay more is a LEFT policy, not a RIGHT one. A lot of students who fail to get high earning jobs will never be made pay back the full cost of their loans. Why? Because if you can’t afford to, you won’t be made to.

But such logic was beyond the British public gathered in London yesterday. There were calls to “bring down the neo-liberal state”, though what they wanted to replace it with I can’t imagine. Labour? A bunch who brought in detention without charge and invaded Iraq? Yes, I guess they were much nicer, let’s usher them in!

What was most tragic was the sense of doom in the crowd. You would think the legislation being passed was to end education entirely, rather than ask students to contribute once they begin earning. “They have voted away our futures,” one said whilst being interviewed by the BBC. What utter nonsense. Perhaps they’ve voted away a trip to the pub, or a takeout tikka-masala, or whatever 7 pounds a week would have bought you. That’s not your future.

It sounds like I’m anti-protest, but I’m not. I’ve been on quite a few protests in my time, it’s just they were over strong moral issues like war, nuclear armourment, or infringement of civil liberties. This is an issue over how to finance a service through difficult times. Something to debate about, sure. Something to write to your MP about, definitely. Something to get into a scrap with the police over? Er.. not really. It’s embarrassing how selfish our students have behaved. Utterly, utterly embarrassing.

Oh, and any who claim to be anarchists who attended the protest: anarchism is about freedom from the state, ie. Universities being free to charge for their services, and civilians being free from taxation to pay for services they don’t support (in an anarcho-commune universities would be funded through charitable donations). Clearly these numbskulls think anarchism is about kicking in a window. Idiots.

Two Households, Both Alike In Indignity

It’s been tough for the Liberal Democrats and Coalition supporters over the past few weeks. Many on the liberal flank of the unholy union have been getting jittery, talk of rebellion on the forthcoming tuition fees bill is rife and the party is openly mocked for renegading on their pre-election pledge.

But for those who have struggled to understand how a coalition works and are horrified by the Liberal’s concessions, they should keep a close eye on today’s announcement by Ken Clarke.

If free education is something close to a Lib Dem’s heart, then crime sits in every Tory’s gut. Before the election (and indeed, probably before any election) the Conservatives campaigned under a ‘tough on crime’ banner, promising more prisons, harsher sentences, and abstinence programs for drug addicts.

And yet, despite these promises to their electorate, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has announced that instead of creating more prison places, there will be less. Less prison places, more community sentences. Why? Because the evidence suggests that prison does not work, and community punishments do.

“I think the prison system is not doing some of the things it’s meant to do. That’s stopping us preventing the rise of a criminal under-class who commit more crime when they are out.”

Ho ho ho. What a crazy mixed-up world this is, when a conservative party is proposing sensible policies on crime. He also wants to put more emphasis on putting drug addicts into treatment instead of prison and identifying inmates with mental illnesses.

This could all be straight out of the Lib Dem’s Big Book of Crimefighting and no doubt those of a liberal persuasion will be delighted. One significant delight is the dropping of the Tory pledge on mandatory sentences for carrying knives. On this Clarke said:

“Serious knife crimes will get serious prison sentences, but we’re not setting absolute tariffs.”

This will anger many Tories who campaigned under a ‘tough on anyone who looks like they could be a criminal’ stance, and indeed there is already talk of a rebellion from Tory back-benchers.

But this is the price of a coalition. Without the Liberal Democrat wing there is no chance Ken Clarke would be able to push this ahead. Indeed, it is doubtful such a sensible and liberal conservative could hold such a position in government at all. This will anger many conservatives, but the reply is the same as it was to the lib dems who are getting ansy about the tuition fees: you didn’t win the election so you have to compromise.

The fate of Ken Clarke’s proposals may well rest in the hands of the lib dems. If they rebel on Thursday over the education bill, then that will give an excuse to the Tories to rebel over crime. And this will cause a downward spiral to the end of the coalition, a snap election, and ultimately victory to Labour who will slime their way back into power without a shred of conviction between them.

We wait with baited breath.

How Many Students Does It Take To Screw A Party?

How easy is it to trick a student? From looking at the escalating (I refuse to use the term snowballing) protests, I would say ‘very’. The Right always lives up to its reputation of being made up of arseholes and right now the Left is truly showing itself to be as thick as two short planks.

Next Thursday the Lib Dems are going to line up and collectively hang themselves, just before the vote on raising tuition fees. Perhaps then, with fifty or so yellow corpses dangling from London Bridge, people will finally say, “gosh, they really didn’t want this did they?”

For those Lib Dems who don’t obey the party whip and do themselves in, they will be forced to choose between fucking the country, or fucking themselves. Ouch. Tough.

Because, despite the many moral and philosophical reasons why education should be completely free, this current proposal is about all we can do for the time being. We’ve got no cash, so sorry students, you’ll have to pay the state back once you get a fancy job with your degree.

But that’s not what the student protesters think. They have fallen for Labour’s line like a twelve year old girl being offered cigarettes by her seedy English teacher. Labour are claiming that the cuts to public finance are the part of some ‘whim’ on depart of the government. “We wouldn’t be making these cuts”, they bellow, sounding like a scumbag father, kicked out of his family home for spending all the family allowance at the bookies, then telling his children that if he was in charge instead of their mother, he’d buy them that Xbox she claims they can’t afford.

“These are ideological cuts” they cry, but this statement is meaningless. Any debate on what should be spent by the state is ideological. It’s ideological to make those spending commitments in the first place, and then just as ideological to cut them. The motivation might be based upon facts, but the act is always ideological. Claiming this is in some way new or bad is quite frankly moronic.

There’s a lot of chatter about students becoming radicalised into the socially active students of the 60’s. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the truth. There doesn’t seem to be any urge to right the wrongs of the world, just a dissatisfaction at getting a bill at the end of their course.

Students are so gullible they believe that bad headlines and angry comments at Question Time means they are making progress for their cause. What they don’t seem to realise is that Britain is obsessed with bad headlines and angry comments. We thrive on it. We don’t really care about the cause, we just want to moan. In a couple of weeks we will have moved on to the next issue to rant about and student fees will be forgotten. It’s our way.

But the Lib Dems, swinging from their ropes, won’t have forgotten. They’ll remember quite clearly never to try to help students again.

A Tentative Return

It has been a long time since my last post. The world of politics has been ticking along, mostly with Labour trying to break up the coalition like a jealous spotty teenager without a partner to the prom. And that is all they’ve been doing – their leadership race is even duller than the last Lib Dem one, and that’s quite an achievement! It seems only the Tories can have a decent leadership battle, probably because their contenders always range from the mad to the outright deranged.

Still, better not speak ill of the new “allies”. A lot of Lib Dems are furious with their party for getting into bed with their arch-enemy. So much so that the party’s approval rating is dangerously low. But I’m not angry, not in the slightest. I’m actually very proud. This was the grown up thing to do. No, more than grown up, it was heroic. The Lib Dems threw themselves on the hand-grenade that was a Tory Government, shielding the rest of us from the worst of the blast. We may not realise it, but the Lib Dems have saved us from destruction, even if it means they’re blown to bits in the process.

If you scroll back through the history of this blog you’ll find a lot of bile about Cameron. I stand by those statements, the man was god-awful during the election campaign. But now that he’s been freed from his back-benchers and grass-root supporters by the liberal wing of the coalition, he’s doing quite well. It’s very odd, but I can feel the resentment ebbing away..

Perhaps this is all a cruel trick and in a couple of months I’ll be screaming blue murder, but for now all is pretty good. It will be better if the lib dems stop stuffing up and getting caught up in scandal (I’m looking at you David Laws and Chris Huhne) and instead got gutsy and started following the lead of California (more on that to follow in a couple of days).

Outside of politics I’ve been working on the next collection of short stories. It’s called “Doctor Tetrazzini and His Life Affirming Theory” and will contain follow up stories to both “Rotten Philosophy” and “The Frog’s Paw”. More information to be given shortly.

Best Of A Bad Situation

Every MP in each of the main parties must now be wishing the result had been slightly different. The Tories must be kicking themselves; if they had only a slightly greater shift in their direction, they would never have had to do a deal with the Lib Dems.

For the Liberals, just a few more seats to them or Labour would have meant a progressive alliance, something that would have sat much better with their grass-roots.

Labour was left in the uncomfortable position of losing the election, but not by enough. In the party’s interest, this was an election to lose. Lose and regroup is the aim of all tribalist members of Labour. Sadly for them, they had just enough seats to make a “rainbow alliance” possible, so had to go through the false dance of entertaining the notion. When the talks fell apart they revealed themselves as the tribal and selfish clan they are.

So the bizarre situation of a Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition has arisen, sending shock waves through both parties, and Labour rubbing its hands with glee. Fuck the country, Labour’s thinking, this will shoo us in next time for sure!

But will it? And will it be the disaster the Liberal Democrats grass roots think it will be?

Throughout this campaign I’ve been supporting the Lib Dems with the main opposition in my mind being the Tories. In a coalition I always assumed the Liberals would side with Labour. If the seats had fallen slightly differently, that is no doubt how it would have gone down. As it was, Labour made it impossible. The Liberal Democrats did not have that choice. A rainbow coalition needed support from all the nationalist parties, and Labour announced very quickly it would not work with the SNP, putting a nail in the coffin of that idea.

So it was either allow the Conservatives to form a minority government, or join them in coalition. Many Liberals would vomit down their shirts at the idea (as I’m sure many Tories are doing right now too), but if they think calmly for a moment, they will see this is the best choice out of a barrel of shits.

David Cameron is under fire from his party. He didn’t do as well as he’d hoped, and they are claiming it was because he pursued the centre ground too much. They wanted him to retreat to the right more on immigration, tax, deficit reduction, crime etc. In a minority government he would have been at their mercy, and so the party would have been dragged to the right, giving us a ghastly conservative government reminiscent of the 80s.

With a coalition with the Lib Dems Cameron has instead been dragged to the left, firmly straddling the centre ground. Indeed, he is now forced to maintain a social liberal stance to hold the coalition together. By sacrificing the country’s goodwill, Clegg has saved us all from Conservative back-benchers.

Not only that, but he’s got Liberal policies being enacted and conservative policies scrapped. By forcing the two parties to work together, the Liberals can now try and shape conservative thinking in their direction. We could be on the cusp of a new era of socially liberal politics. Before he became party leader, Cameron was on the extreme social-liberal progressive wing of his party. Sadly, in all his time at the helm he sank further and further away from that. Now that he’s in bed with the Lib Dems, he might just have the courage to return to his roots.

Of course, in all likelihood it will end in tears. These are two parties that loathe each other and pull in very different directions. What we may see is a split that’ll dwarf anything that ever existed between Brown and Blair. But perhaps the obvious gulf between Cameron and Clegg will help ease the divisions? Disagreements might be seen, less as a betrayal, but as a genuine and expected tussle of ideas.

Only time will tell, and already the Liberals are feeling the pain. I sympathise,but congratulate them. This isn’t what any of us wanted, but they’ve done the best with the hand they were dealt. This is grown up politics, crossing the line and doing deals with those you disagree with. I can’t stand Cameron, but I’m glad he’s got Clegg in there with him, keeping an eye out for all of us.

The Death Of Nick Clegg

Image supplies by Liberal Democrats on Flickr

Image supplied by Liberal Democrats on Flickr

If opinion polls are to be believed, and there are those who are starting to doubt them, Nick Clegg has the highest rating of trust of all the leaders. In fact, when it came to him as an individual he consistently polled highly. It seems we, the public, like him a lot. So what’s his reward for winning our affections? We’ve given him a death sentence.

There is nothing Nick Clegg can do over the next couple of days that will not destroy him. Our political system, as shown by last week’s general election, has descended into the politics of hate. People no longer vote with their hopes, they vote with their fears. Nick Clegg has to now either prop up a Tory government, or a Labour one. Both sides command an awful lot of hate in the minds of the electorate, who will not forgive Clegg for what he has to do.

Not propping up another party (but allowing the Tories to run as a weak minority government) is unlikely and would set the Lib Dems back years in their campaign for electoral reform. Proponents of first-past-the-post would claim this proves that Britain is not ready for coalition governments and we need our current system to (more times than not) deliver decisive victories. Such a view would destroy the Lib Dems.

So Clegg must prove that coalitions can work. However, an alliance with the Tories would mean no PR and hatred from the anti-tory sections of their own party. Support in Lib-Lab marginals would disappear and they would be set back decades. The Conservatives, eager to shake the Lib Dems loose, would wait until the opportune moment and declare an election, increasing their majority and ending any concessions they might have given the Liberals.

The final option is to form a coalition with Labour and various other smaller parties. Whilst this would be legitimate in British constitutional sense, the right wing media would explode in outrage. The Lib Dems would be accused of acting in their own interest and would never get any good press again. Labour hating supporters in Lib-Con marginals would dwindle, setting the Liberals back decades. Finally, once Labour have a different leader without the baggage, Labour would call another election to rid themselves of their liberal obligations.

Each option ends up with everyone hating Clegg. There is nothing he can do that won’t damage the Liberals in some way. In 2010, with the choice of Clegg, the public were given their first real chance of putting honesty and hope back into British politics. Their repayment is to destroy him.