Lindsey German on the continuing fallout after the election result and how democracy has been a casualty at every level.
A poll in today’s Sunday Telegraph shows support for the Libdems down three points - and nearly all that support has switched to Labour. The same poll showed that only three quarters of those who voted Libdem on May 6th would do so again - there was no such decline in support among Labour or Tory voters.
It demonstrates what many people are discovering anecdotally in the days since Clegg and Cameron embarked on their coalition of cuts: few Libdem voters did so in the hope or expectation that they would get Cameron and they really don’t like it. That was clear from the BBC’s Question Time, where the New Statesman’s Mehdi Hassan laid into Simon Hughes about the lousy deal which the Libdems had done, allowing them a few seats round the cabinet table (plus ministerial cars and what looks like a grand country residence for Nick Clegg) in return for none of the ‘great offices of state’ of Chancellor, Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, and no serious influence over most policy.
While Melanie Philips tried to do the same to the Tories she was much less effective - at least in part because the Tories have given up very little in this alliance, and because very few Tories will have voted Libdem tactically. Not so for left wingers, many of whom thought the Libdems represented a more left wing choice than Labour. They are unlikely to make that mistake again, as the Libdems will find to their cost.
They will also probably find that this is about as good as it gets. The next few weeks are likely to see their highest ratings, while the honeymoon continues between the two leaders. But a bankers’ budget of cuts and tax rises, including a likely hike of the regressive VAT to 20%, is likely to blow a hole in the idea of ‘fairness’ now ludicrously promoted by the Eton-Westminster-St Paul’s educated white men in suits who run the coalition.
Not getting what you wanted is now a regular hazard for voters as politicians keep silent on their unpopular policies. But few elections can have seen such a mismatch between voter intentions and outcomes. Only just over a third of those who voted chose Cameron - and only around a quarter of the electorate did.
While Labour scored below 30% it clearly retained much support in areas such as London and Scotland and parts of the north. And the Libdems, standing on a range of issues to the apparent left of Labour, failed to increase their 2005 vote by more than 1%.
The cobbled together coalition (no doubt the rightward leaning Clegg’s preferred choice) has little legitimacy. Incredible then that its initial agreement includes the commitment to a fixed term parliament of 5 years, and a blatant gerrymander of all constitutional custom and practice to declare that a vote of 55% of all MPs is needed to get rid of the government.
This has some sinister elements to it: fixed term parliaments were not really an election issue, so it is quite undemocratic to proclaim a mandate for them now. Whatever one’s opinion of them is, without such discussion such a fixed term should be for two or three years rather than the parliamentary maximum- which the majority of governments in Britain do not reach.
The requirement of 55% of MPs voting against it has one aim: it ensures the Tories can’t be outvoted by all the other parties. So a minority party is allocating to itself the power to remain in office for as long as possible. Which is a rather scary development in the road to the ‘new politics’ we are supposed to be getting. It’s not the only one.
The government now seems to be referred to as ‘the coalition’ in a slightly 1984 like way. And the whole way in which the elections were conducted confirm the experience of those of us who have taken part in recent elections that less and less trouble is taken by the authorities to ensure that the vote is conducted properly and in a way which encourages democratic participation.
Probably tens of thousands of would be voters were denied their right to vote because of bureaucratic inefficiency. This seems to have resulted from cuts in staffing and resources in some areas (are staff on polling stations ‘front line’?) and to an attitude which expected a relatively low turnout.
According to the narrowly defeated former Labour MP for Hendon, Andrew Dismore, people at some polling stations were told at 9pm that the queues were too long and they would not be able to vote! There were, as previously, many irregularities with postal voting.
Democracy was a casualty at every level in this election. The carve up between the coalition parties, Labour’s loss of votes over issues such as ID cards, and an outcome which has left many people unhappy that their vote either wasn’t cast or in the end didn’t count, all played their part.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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