The British general election campaign is rapidly becoming a laugh a minute. Yesterday, was the biggest belly laugh so far when Gordon Brown shot himself in the foot. (Metaphorically speaking - although I'm sure there's a lot of folks who'd be happy if he did literally shoot himself in the foot - and if happened to miss and hit his head I'm sure they'd be even happier.) Yep, Gordon's credibility took an even bigger nose dive when he was caught by a sound recordist calling an elderly widow, a life long labour supporter, ex council worker and carer, Gillian Duffy, a "bigot." It would probably take a miracle now for Labour to be re-elected. Tonight's live debate is Brown's only opportunity to redeem himself and since he is neither a good orator or charismatic I think tonight will see the rise of David Cameron and possibly the rise and rise of Nick Clegg.
It's been an utterly fascinating election so far and in one fell swoop, 2 weeks ago, the face of British politics has changed; Britain is no longer a two party political system but a three party system.
The party that first started out as the Social Democrat Party back in 1981, a centre-left splinter group from Old Labour and which aligned itself with the Liberal Party to fight the 1983 and 1987 general elections as the SDP-Liberal Alliance, and who later officially merged as The Liberal Democrats in 1988 has finally become a serious contender for government.
After nearly 30 years struggling to bring their voice to the electorate, what changed to make The Liberal Democrats a viable option?
A fortnight ago, the first of 3 live debates in the format of the American head-to-head confrontations, was aired. Nick Clegg, young, good looking and with an enthusiasm of a still untested Liberal Democrat ideology has taken his party to the brink of government. No one knows what election day will bring and now that Brown has hammered the nail into his own coffin there's no way of knowing how embittered Labour supporters, shocked at the shoddy treatment of Gillian Duffy, will vote. There was talk of a the possibility of a hung parliament but now? It's a tough call for even the most hardened of political observers; it's not inconceivable that either the Tories or The Liberal Democrats will pull off a landslide victory. Much depends on tonight's televised debate on the economy.
In the last election I voted Conservative. This was chiefly because I'd met my MP (Member of Parliament) on several occasions and felt he was an honourable man - which he proved to be -unlike many of his colleagues who were scandalized in the expenses debacle. Voting Tory, I felt, was the best chance of keeping Labour out. Now things have changed considerably. I'd still like to vote for my current MP who has proved himself to be honest and industrious but, on the other hand, since I was a young adult I have believed that what this country truly needs is electoral reform. Had I not voted Tory in the last election I would have reached the grand old age of 45 without ever having had my views represented in parliament. That, in my opinion, is a poor state of affairs.
Since 1945 the face of this country has changed irrevocably in about every conceivable way - except politically. The Two Party system which originally was an expression of class loyalties has slowly been breaking down. British society is now more diverse and socially integrated than ever before; but where society has moved forward the political system has stood still. In days gone by the Two Party system was capable of expressing the views of the country but it now no longer has the capacity to do so. The system is stagnating and as it has done so it has become more corrupt and chaotic. The old beliefs that a Two Party system created strong government are no longer true - when governments are elected on as a little as 35% of the vote (Labour 2005) with only 61% of the total electorate voting, "strong" government is in name only.
The truth is the Two Party system is dependent on public approval and now that the tide of public opinion has turned against government it may be the coming election which decides whether "the winner takes it all" electoral system has reached the end of the road. The long road to this change began back in the 1970s when the euphoria that came with the creation of the welfare state, and which had existed well into the 1960s, was replaced by the often bitter realities of social and economic change. More significantly, as society evolved and people became generally more affluent, social barriers and class divisions began to break down; perceptions of class began to change.
I think there is now a growing mood in the country that the Liberal Democrats represent "change". A change not only from the traditional parties but one which advocates cooperation, moderation and stability and less polarization, extremism and fragility. While there is a common perception in the media that there is little difference between the Tories and Labour the fact is neither party is now truly representative of the people so opinions that fall outside their agendas become more extreme and less tolerant. The British National Party received almost 193,000 votes and United Kingdom Independence party 603,000 votes back in 2005; I would now expect these numbers to significantly rise next week. At grass roots level Britain is already multi party; discounting the independent candidates, 57 parties (each of whom polled over 500 votes) stood for election at 2005 election.
Now that that the Tories and Labour are on the back step they are also advocating electoral change. This is particularly hypocritical of Labour who advocated electoral change back in 1997 but in the 13 years they have been in power have failed to act until now when they can see how disillusioned the electorate have become - not just in respect of electoral reform but also in regard to their failed promise to hold a referendum on the EU. These promises of electoral form - to the House of Lords - and not the introduction of proportional representation are, in my opinion, the last desperate measures of two parties to uphold an archaic system. Strengthening the commons, at the expense of The Lords, is only a short term to solution to a long term problem; the need for fair representation.
There are many arguments for and against proportional representation but I find it particularly irritating when people cite the poor examples and not the good ones. Britain has a long history of political and historical continuity and I believe it is certainly within our capabilities to work out a fairer system of electoral representation. Of course, there will have to be checks and balances but it's time for politicians to recognise that the country can no longer be defined as working and middle class. I would suggest that more people would define themselves as "classless" and if they advocate any party it would be more of the basis of a particular policy such as The Green Party, UKIP or parties based on regional preferences like The Scottish National Party or Plaid Cymru.
I am probably one of the many who now believe Labour are out of the running. Wheeling out Blair as a damage limitation exercise may reassure those who fall for his charm but it is naive to think that the electorate have forgotten the war in Iraq. Personally, I would be very interested to see a hung parliament and see if our leading parties can push their differences aside, as we did under Churchill's wartime coalition, and lead this country out of recession, social discontent and towards political reform. The electorate are tired of politicians squabbling like children at Westminster; what we want are the best minds in this country to work for us and uphold our innate values of individual freedom and a fair and just society where the genuinely vulnerable are protected, where hard work is rewarded, and where it is safe to walk to the streets without fear.
I look forward to next Thursday's general election and wonder whether voters will have the courage to vote for the voice of change or whether, as the old parties stoke the fires of fear with rhetoric, it will once again be the "winner takes it all."
Hmm..this was going to be a funny post - giving up choccy was obviously a baaaad idea!