Thursday, May 20, 2010

Running off the edge of solid ground?: Farewell to the election

The election made my typing fingers itchy. After two months of high political drama that itch has been well and truly scratched. The leaders' debates, the Lib Dem surge, Bigotgate, election night and the flux and surprises that came as the nation negotiated its first hung parliament for 35 years.

As I wind up this chapter of my blog it's led me to reflect not just on the experience of the nation, but also my own interaction with the political process. As someone who figures that they mind find themselves heavily involved in big P*  Politics one day it's vital that I understand the impact that engagement has on my own wellbeing.

I normally shy away from using the term 'spiritual' as it smacks of decartesian dualism: mind versus body, the physical self pulled away from the soul. However, there's been times when I've noticed that near obsession with polling data and live up-to-the-minute updates have damaged my spiritual health. The silence and centring on who I am in God get lost in the chitter chatter and turning over in my mind of the latest twist and turn.

CS Lewis writes: "Nearly all that a boy reads [in newspapers] in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance." (Surprised by Joy)

In a 24 hour news world what is reported as fact in the morning will have been proved false by lunchtime. Was there a point of following polls showing a Lib Dem surge which dissipated into a nothingness that will not merit even a footnote in history?

A loss of God-centredness also makes me less effective in making the arguments that I want to put advance. Losing the link with the passions and motives that helps sustain my views in the first place means losing sight of the larger perspective. Just as cartoon characters run off the edge of a cliff and then look down to find no solid ground beneath them I run the risk of forgetting why I believe the point I am promoting. The big picture gets lost and it's easy to get tangled up in threads of little consequence or to miss the perspective that opens or subverts the debate.

Unless I stay rooted in who I am by keeping time for silence, prayer and calm I will get sucked into a maelstrom of mediocrity and have nothing distinctive to offer our public life.

Walking in God given gifts should overall bring energy not drain it away. Sure, there will be seasons of hard, tiring work, which sometimes last months or even years, but there is also something invigorating and a deep inner contentment that tells you you're in the right place.

I love talking with people about issues that really matter to strangers on the doorstep, people at church, work and friends.  I love challenging people's preconceived ideas and finding good ways to disagree. I love attempting to articulate a vision of positive change. All this is good, yet I need to fiercely guard my spiritual health and say no to lie that if I must be absolutely uptodate on the latest developments to make a contribution.

It's easy to jump from obsession to obsession to avoid facing ourselves. I'm having a rest now...although there is the World Cup just around the corner...

* most of us are involved in little p politics - when I go to a meeting at work with outside agencies to talk about the way we interact or want to work together - that's politics.

Skepticism and cynicism

Skepticism examines each question on its merits; cynicism doesn't bother to look. 

Skepticism assumes mixed motives; cynicism that everyone's snout is in the trough.

Cynicism knows that we're going to hell in a handcart; skepticism holds out the possibility that something new might work.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Take a deep breath and count slowly to ten: Media Mumbo-jumbo and Labour Lacuna

The Labour party seem to have a gap in their common sense and decency and I've heard more media mumbo-jumbo in the last couple of days than even by the normal standards. So here's 10 thoughts I need to get off my not especially hairy chest:

  1. Gordon Brown was not squatting. He's the Primeminister until we get a new one. I'm pleased that we have constitutional arrangements in place that keep the country running until negotiations are completed.
  2. Labour lost the election - 91 of their 349 seats to be precise. Some senior Labour figures don't seem to have noticed this. Not mentioning any names Mr. AJ, Mr.AC, Mr.CW. Lord PM
  3. There's no such thing as an 'anti-Tory majority' or a 'progressive majority' . There is still an anti Tory vote, but not since the 1990s has it been anything like a majority. and what about the 'Anti-Brown' majority? The Lib Dems have always taken seats from both the Tories and Labour. Some Lib Dems are closer to Labour, some to the Tories. That's why the 2 big parties have always complained about the 'Fib Dems' saying one thing in one part of the country and another elsewhere.
  4. Nick Clegg is not exercising more power than befits his party's size. The Tories didn't get a majority so it's right that they can't implement their entire programme unbridled. Clegg has only enough political capital to push a few key issues of his / his party's choice. Overstep the mark and Conservatives will look elsewhere or they'll be a new election and the Lib Dems will get punished.See this where the New Zealand third party got their fingers burned.
  5. Ashcroft and other Tory snipers don't get it.  It's not David Cameron's fault that he didn't get a majority. After all these years, voters still weren't quite convinced that the Tory nasty party isn't still lurking beneath the surface. There's some pretty big planks laying around in people's eyes.
  6. The grassroots of both Tories and the Lib Dems need to accept the current reality. Yes there are going to be policies implemented that you don't like, but neither party won the election. It doesn't mean to say that your party doesn't believe in them, but you haven't won the argument in the country. If you feel that strongly don't blame your leadership, go and make the case to the electorate next time.
  7. The way that Cameron and Senior Tories have handled themselves has been impressive. Cameron has taken risks to make progress and been surprisingly flexible in his approach. So far, it's not an idle boast  to say that they've acted in the national interest.
  8. A Conservative/Lib Dem agreement is the only option in town... Labour plus Lib Dem still doesn't command a majority and Labour couldn't guarantee getting a referendum on PR through parliament.
  9. ..Apart for a Conservative / Labour grand coalition. Why isn't this being discussed? There wouldn't be the sticking point on PR, it would be a unity government in times of economy crisis. Cameron gets to be PM, it would give Labour time to get a new leader whilst staying in office and Clegg gets increased exposure as leader of the opposition. Maybe they're worried that it would be a bit of a squash on the government benches. The opposition would be able to sunbathe on them.
  10. The longer the Lib Dems go without making a decision the worse it will look for them. More than anyone else they need to show that coalition government and hung parliaments work. They should be jumping at the Tory offer of a referendum on AV now. It's even guaranteed by whipping the Tory party through the lobbies. They're not going to get anything better than that.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

X marks the spot: election day is special.

 The average person voting to choose who makes the laws and governs is extremely unusual when you look at world history. The UK is 'the oldest parliamentary democracy in the world' and we only introduced something close to universal suffrage in 1928. That's within my grandparents' lifetime. Voting is part of our key freedoms - freedom of speech and freedom of association. 

We take it for granted that we can vocally disagree with our primeminister and call for the end of his leadership in the most abrupt terms without fear of reprisal. Try asking the Spanish whether that was possible before 1976 under Franco or the Russians under Bhreshnev in the 1970s and 1980s.

I can meet up with others and discuss a completely new form of political system if I want to and go to church on a Sunday without fear of arrest or 'disappearance'. Not something the reformers massacred at Peterloo, Manchester in 1819 or Catholics in the 17th and 18th centuries would do lightly.

It's a cliche that my grandparent's generation fought for the freedoms to vote and speak freely that they'd so recently won, but none the less true for it. Those freedoms really were under threat in the UK first from the Nazi Germany and then the Communists. Modern, civilised countries like Hungary and East Germany  had to wait until the 1990s for another chance to vote freely.

It's therefore a privilege and a duty to vote.

Democracies are fragile. If we don't exercise our vote it imperils our freedoms.

If the link's not clear hopefully this handy homemade flow chart will help.

Not many people vote or hold the government to account
Government doesn't have a strong mandate or legitimacy to govern. (i.e. there's no broad agreement among the population that they have the right to govern.)
Government finds it can get away with stuff because not held accountable, but is still unpopular
Government finds ways other than voting to claim legitimacy i.e. ultra populist give aways to keep people quiet and buy them off / claiming there's a big crisis and so strong unified leadership is needed. The military step into prop up the government.
Government says that dissenters are enemies of the people and the country. There's no longer the democratic space or methods to challenge those in power.
Government uses force, coercion and fear to maintain power. It cannot rely on the consent of the governed.
How far down the chart is the UK?
Democracy works because it provides a way for us as a country to agree on who has the right to rule us. David Cameron didn't assassinate Gordon Brown and seize power by force and precipitate a civil war was because he knows that the rest of the country agreed that the Labour party, by the rules in place, should be in charge of the country for a few years.   If we don't join in with giving that peaceful consent by voting we risk rulers having to find other ways to maintain power - through force, fear and bribery.
Every time I walk into a polling station and mark my X in a box next to a candidate of my choice,  freely and unwatched I marvel at what I've just been able to do. Then I look around and imagine the millions of other people in the country doing the same thing on the same day. Joining in the rare and unusual national act of choosing who will have power to shape our lives for the next five years.
Enjoy election day - it's special.

Election prediction - which way is the wind blowing?

Here's my predictions for the election. Why not have a go yourself here and post your results in the comments section below.

Number of seats:
1 Conservative 315
2 Labour 218
3 Lib Dem 83
 Other 33

Share of Vote:
1 Conservative
2 Labour
3 Lib Dem

David Cameron leads a minority administration.

We shall see in 48 hours or so...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Take that peg off your nose!

I've blogged on this before here, but it's worth mentioning again in the light of Ed Balls' comments over the last day or two.

Voting tactically is a wasted vote.

Here's two reasons:

1) Voting what you think is what actually changes things. Political parties pour over the breakdown of votes in a particular seat and when they see increase support at the ballot box for a smaller party  they look at the best and most attractive ideas from that party and adopt them. Your choice of party might not have got in immediately, but you've shaped the political landscape in a positive way.
Vote tactically with a peg over your nose leaves you dissatisfied and the people in that party assuming that you like their ideas and policies and you no closer to seeing the changes you'd like.

2) Voting what you think creates some momentum.
Voting is a way of showing others that there are more people that think like them. We're not always good about talking politics in public. If everyone tactically votes a monster raving loony supporter may never find out that there's actually 100s of others in his constituency with the same views.

Moving from fourth to third or third to second in a seat means that your choice of party becomes more high profile, gains more members, gets more media time. Nick Clegg wouldn't have even made it into the debates if the Lib Dems hadn't gradually increased their share of votes and seats over the last couple of elections. Yes, this is playing the long game, but they'll always be some reason to vote tactically- at some point you have to go for it.

Many people say they need to vote tactically to 'keep out the Tories' or 'get rid of Gordon Brown', but a huge swathe of voters say 'oh, they're all the same really'. It's not possible to have it both ways - there's no point in voting tactically to get rid of one lot if they're all the same really!

If you like the Tories best vote for them. If Labour, Labour. If UKIP, UKIP. Time to take that peg off your nose and vote for whoever you like.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Green backbone

It probably wasn't too difficult to sense my anger and disappointment at the main parties lack of honesty over cuts in my last post.

In fact, their lack of honesty and imagination in trying to explain some of the big changes we need has been shocking. Although there are significant differences between the parties it's not surprising that they're not always easy to spot through the mud slinging fight for the middle ground.

If you've read some of my other posts you'll know I'll be voting Green on Thursday. One of the reasons for this is their upfront clarity on some radical, expensive, but just and necessary policies.

Take inequality. Money doesn't make us happy, but study after study shows that the more unequal societies are the less well they function  and the more unhappy they become. Have a look at the Equality Trust. The Green Party would tackle this head on. Imagine the reduction in inequality if we:

  • raised the minimum wage towards £8.10 per hour to reward working rather than benefits (saving £6bn in tax credits)
  • abolished the upper limit for National Insurance (you currently only pay 1% NI on earnings over a certain figure) - raising £9.1bn
  • Help lower earners by raising the lower National Insurance limit to the personal allowance rate costing £3.9bn.
  • Help lower earners by reintroducing the 10% tax band and the 22p basic rate, costing £14.9bn.
  • Reform inheritance tax, so that the level of taxation depends on the wealth of the recipient rather than that of the deceased, raising £3bn by 2013. This will encourage people to distribute their property widely. 
Other parties claim that they want a fair tax system, but mess around at the edges.  The Greens are prepared to say that: yes, taxes would rise for the much better off,  because someone working 60 hours a week to get by on the current minimum wage as a security guard shouldn't be earning 5 times less than a high flying barrister for the same hours. These are big, controversial changes, but it'they're not impossible to achieve. They're costed upfront and as the Green Party say in their manifesto "All it requires is political courage – and popular democratic backing for that courage."

Take communities. All the parties want to 'support communities', but wouldn't dream of challenging the vested interests in the status quo that relies on consumerism, greed and squeezing employees dignity and supply chains till the pips squeak.

Only the Greens are prepared to say that they'll restrict planning laws to make it harder for Tescos etc. to build outside of town and to create local business zones within walking distance for everyone. Only the Greens will enable more companies to become mutual or cooperatives so that they have space to build in local social and environmental benefits into their business model because profit is not the only bottom line. Only the Greens are prepared to stand up and challenge the culture of long working and commuting so that people can spend time with their families and being involved locally.

'Supporting Communities' isn't wishy washy idealism or empty rhetoric. It takes backbone and sustained conviction. The Green Party have consistently shown on their campaigning on the environment that they're prepared to lead the way and stand up and say the difficult, unpopular things to those in power and where necessary, the public.

 I could go on, but I hope you're beginning to get the picture!

It's time to lift our vision and know that as a country it is possible to challenge the social and economic injustices and binds that we take for granted. It is possible as a nation to stop obsessing about greedy economic growth and materialism at any cost and to take more time to value and enjoy our relationships and support those around us.

I'm fed up of waiting for the main parties to show the leadership, vision and substantive policies we need. I'll be voting Green.