I voted this morning.
I didn’t vote for Ed Miliband. This is emphatically not because I don’t rate Ed as a human being. Apart from that thing when he became Labour leader by knifing his brother, I think Ed Miliband is a decent fellow. In person he’s not nearly as awkward as he appears in press photographs: he’s tall, good-looking, poised and no geekier than I am.
if we wanted a party returned with a thumping majority we’d return parties with thumping majorities. As it is, we prefer not to thump.
When Ed was Cabinet Office Minister he took a bit of an interest in what the National Security side of the building was up to, but like everyone else with any ambition in UK government he stayed far from foreign affairs. He asked our boss the Prime Minister for his own department of preparing for the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit, and in what might have been the fastest-ever creation of a department of state in British history he got it overnight. Whatever the department’s successes or failures during Ed’s time as minister it achieved its main objective: sending Ed to Copenhagen as Minister for Energy and Climate Change.
Really, the only thing I don’t like about Ed Miliband is that he keeps company with a man called Ed Balls. He may be a lovely man in his private life with his wife, another ruthless politician, but in public life Balls is a lean and hungry look only notionally attached to a human being. Balls is a frightening reminder of the ruthless political thuggery of Downing Street during Gordon Brown’s premiership.
With Miliband you get Balls, you see; and once Miliband is Prime Minister it can only be a matter of time before Balls engineers the downfall of the nice Jewish boy unable to successfully eat a bacon sandwich.
Balls is a lean and hungry look only notionally attached to a human being.
When I voted this morning it wasn’t for Ed or any of the party leaders.
I voted for my local MP, because I live in a country with constituencies and first-past-the-post voting. I voted for Sir Paul, knighted for his service to the dental health of the poor in London’s East End. He helped me out once when I was in an employment dispute. He responded politely when I lobbied him to join his party leader in voting for marriage equality (and, sadly, voted against). He is, like me, a Commonwealth immigrant. I know how to get hold of him, he makes time for me, and I like that.
I voted for a Conservative MP because David Cameron, Leader of the UK Conservative Party, has been a staunch moderniser of his party since before he was Leader. He kicked the remaining bigotry out of the Tories (sadly, it seems, into the UK Independence Party). I voted for a Conservative MP because of the commitment of the Conservative Party to radical change in the face of harsh opposition.
If any UK political party promised to conduct rational foreign policy and showed any sign of commitment to pursuing the United Kingdom’s vital interests abroad they might entice me to vote differently. No party promises that; and so long as British foreign policy is largely organised by regional groups of Her Majesty’s Ambassadors, no party could deliver that.
The most interesting thing about this election is not the way I will vote in a safe Tory seat in Surrey, contested between the Conservatives and the Liberals as though the Labour Party had never been invented.
The most interesting thing about this election is that there is every indication that the Labour Party will be mullered in Scotland.
I remember well the election in Canada after the 1994 Quebec independence referendum: the secessionist Bloc Quebecois, dedicated to getting Quebec out from under the oppressive iron boot of the Ottawa government … became the Loyal Opposition in the Ottawa government.
After losing Scotland’s referendum on independence, the Scottish Nationalists will similarly do well. Because Scotland has about 5 million people in a UK electorate of 60 million, whereas Quebec has 8 million people in an electorate of 30 million, the Scottish Nationalists won’t become the Loyal Opposition. They might well, however, control the balance of power in Westminster.
This could be especially interesting because the Scottish Nationalists have in part built their success not only on stomping on the Labour Party but also on stealing their clothes. The Scottish Nationalists are not only nationalist they are also socialist.
This is important because Scotland used to be a one-party state under Labour. Scottish Tories were like hen’s teeth. Scottish Liberals were an odd urban curiosity. The Labour Party fought hard to keep Scotland in the Union because without all those Scottish MPs, Labour could find itself relegated to a permanent minority.
There is an assumption, pumped out of proportion by Conservative election managers, that the Scottish Nationalists will become, in Westminster, the Scottish wing of the Labour Party by another name. In return for a few Scotland-favouring radical-left policies, the narrative says, the Scots Nats will govern in near-permanent coalition with Labour. Despite the pronouncements of Labour and Scottish Nationalist leaders that this could never be the case, it is a genuinely open question.
After five years in which the British Parliament has been governed by a coalition, the idea that we will go another five years under a coalition government is not so horrific as once it was. We appear to appreciate the virtues of coalition; after all, if we wanted a party returned with a thumping majority we’d return parties with thumping majorities. As it is, we prefer not to thump.
I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain
For me this election is very different from the last one. In 2010 I was working at the centre of Government, preparing the briefing books for new ministers and watching from the margin of the negotiations which produced the Conservative-Liberal governing coalition. This time I observe as a private citizen.
“I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain”, said that noted psephologist Galadriel in Lord of the Rings. I’m not fool enough to predict the outcome, but I do predict that in the next parliament we will learn a great deal about Scottish nationalism. We will learn a great deal about whether the centrist New Labour project of the Blair and Brown years was a blip in the history of the Labour Party. We will see a battle for the soul of the Conservative Party.
There is one especially interesting question as the British and Israeli parliaments jockey to form governments. Will the US remain tightly yoked to a centre-right party and an increasingly lunatic-right party; or follow Canada, Israel and the UK into the strange and interesting world of multiparty politics?