Wednesday 25 April 2018

Final signs of desperation as the Tories decide to push the panic button

David Cameron visits the new Highwoods housing development in Lancaster with his wife Samantha where they met residents.
David Cameron visits the new Highwoods housing development in Lancaster with his wife Samantha where they met residents.
Scotland's First Minister, and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, speaks during First Minister's questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Photo: Reuters
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband alongside his wife Justine Thornton as he addresses party activists at a General Election campaign stop in Pudsey, Yorkshire. Photo: PA
Nicola Sturgeon

Armando Iannucci

Carving words in stone doesn't make them happen; it merely commemorates the day you thought doing so was a good idea.

Ed Miliband's chiselled pledges are symbolic though of what both he and David Cameron have been trying to do these past few days - which is freeze time, stop the clocks, and pretend that all's still frozen in a two-party democracy. The strategy isn't working and tomorrow we'll probably find that neither is Britain's voting system. Pundits may have to tumble around in a whirlpool of possibilities and uncertainties, because that may be what it takes to persuade everyone the first-past-the-post no longer works.

Ukip may get 13pc of the vote and 2 MPs; Lib Dems maybe 9pc but 26 MPs. SNP may celebrate having 50 seats, but Labour and Conservative in Scotland may get 45pc of the Scottish vote between them and no MPs. And we could wake up to no Conservative MPs in the English north and no Labour ones in the English south outside London, but with those parties claiming to be so victorious they can govern the country alone.

It'll be a dog's breakfast of a democracy, but I still feel, like many of us, that getting out and voting in big numbers for a progressive alliance of parties is the only way we're going to get democracy in this country to rethink how it works, utterly, from top to bottom, in a way that recognises we're in the 21st Century and not an Anthony Trollope novel.

British politics is now broken; but Miliband and Cameron, talking about their right to govern alone, refuse to see what everyone else knows, so today we may have to break democracy in front of their faces so they get the message.

Two- and three-party politics may be caught banged to rights this time, but it still follows its ancient tricks.

For example, in the closing days of a campaign, most Tory strategies rely on scaring the living hell out of voters, usually with apocalyptic warnings about a horrendous financial collapse or a tax bombshell. Those don't seem to be working this time round: we know enough about how shallow the economic recovery is, people have seen too much of the effects of food banks, benefit cuts, and over-enthusiastically-applied austerity measures, to feel that the status quo is a perfect way out.


So they have a go at the Labour leader. Admittedly, Miliband's stone slab was not his, his team's or his stonemason's finest hour. I imagine it may even cost Labour a few constituencies, given how close things are. Fundamentally, though, voters haven't been spooked.

Miliband's done okay, and voters warmed to him as the weeks have trickled past. So this time round, the Tories have decided to push a panic button, bigger and badder than ever before. They've decided to make the electorate scared of an entire nation, Scotland. It really is the mark of desperation when a party that claims to be Unionist tells the electorate to be fearful and suspicious of the views of a basic part of that Union. How are the possibly 50pc of Scots voting SNP to feel if they're told their decision has no currency in Westminster politics? How are they to view their elected MPs other than as castrated representatives?

Worse still, what right does David Cameron have to believe he can read the minds of all those who vote SNP? Polls currently show no real rise in the demand for independence in Scotland, and many voting SNP would say they're doing so, not to 'destroy' Britain, or to break up the Union, but to have an MP protecting their local and regional interests.

I believe that is how all of the House of Commons is meant to work. It's what they do in Devon, and Leeds. So English voters need not fear the Scottish vote: it's given in a spirit of cooperation and participation, not destruction.

Since both Cameron and Miliband spent the final days of the campaign demonising the SNP, it might be worth looking at how politics conducts itself in Edinburgh. First off, the parliament building is open to the public all year round. You can stroll in and out, meet your elected representative, or join in scheduled debates and discussions held as public events. The Palace of Westminster, however, shouts 'This Is Not For The Likes of You' in every brick. Britain is barred entry. I can't think of any major modern democracy that restricts the public's access as much as Westminster does.

Added to that, the bizarre and contorted rules of debate, the legalese in which answers are provided, and the animal noises that accompany them, and you can see why so many people feel disconnected from the political process. This is, of course, symptomatic of a wider tendency for Westminster politics to shout down and shut out argument. Cameron not turning up to TV debates; Clegg refusing to give an answer on an EU referendum; Miliband still not providing detail on what austerity measures he will endorse - these are all instances of how traditional politics constructs a thick edifice designed to keep voters out. (© Independent News Service)

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