The political parties crouchtautly at the starting line as the tension rises. The gun is poised to go off on the least unexpected General Election since 1997. The three parliamentary parties are locked in terrible conflict, or is it stuck in a terribly difficult effort to distinguish themselves from each other, as they all seem to promise exactly the same things. Let’s look at some areas where, despite the froth and fury, there is mutual understanding.
First, we have the economy, which the media dutifully inform is the ‘real’ issue of the election. If it is then where’s the choice? We have the ‘deepest cuts since Thatcher’ (Darling), ‘painful and extensive cuts’ (Osborne) or ‘savage’ cuts (Clegg). Hmmm, quite a choice there then.
For all three parties it goes without saying that everyone else will be expected to pay the price rather than a financial sector that first stoked up unsustainable growth, then walked off with £ billions of public money and then tried to hold the countries of the UK to ransom. But who’s suggesting that the financial sector pay the costs of the recession?
Meanwhile, the figures for shares of national income over the past nine months show that of the increase of £27 billion, £24 billion is accounted for by a rise in profits and a mere £2 billion by a rise in wages. The financial sector carries on regardless with business as usual as employers take the opportunity to attack working conditions and hold down wages. Yet when people go on strike to defend their wages and conditions the three parties combine to demonize them for their irresponsibility.
Exactly which of the parliamentary parties are admitting that building an economy on easy credit housing and selling financial services is a pretty crap idea? Which are loudly condemning the steady slide in the proportion of wages and salaries in the national income (now down to 53% from a high of 65% in the 1970s)? Which are pointing out that shrinking the economy by 5% over the last year was actually quite a good thing in terms of staving off global warming and helping the environment. Oh, none of them.
The final area where choice will be at a premium over the coming month relates to public morality. Labour has been thoroughly corrupted by the Blairite infatuation with corporate values. From Blears to Hewitt, Byers to Hoon the party is rotten, riven by greed. Any decent person must be repelled by the lying and dishonest sleaze that taints Labour.
Appalled by this, are we seriously expected to transfer our affections to a party just as deeply entwined with business, a party quite happy to take money from non-resident tax-avoiders, a party infiltrated by the publicity relations industry and sharing its shallow values? And can anyone honestly argue the Lib Dems are better? Questions about dodgy expense claims and freebies hang over the heads of at least four of the five outgoing MPs.
Rest assured though. The political class is hardly likely to let the issue of its own corruption mar a jolly good election. Expect to see few reminders of these distasteful matters in April. No, it’s all about the economy.
Instead, as the parliamentary parties hone up their debating skills and practice the make-up in advance of the make-believe TV ‘debate’, they hope that grabbing extra publicity and reserving it all for themselves will make people forget there are alternatives out there. They may be over-optimistic. Support for ‘others’ in the polls is running at a consistent 12%. This is 4% higher than it was at the equivalent stage in 2005. And in the event ‘others’ did better then than the polls predicted. With even higher numbers of other candidates likely in May that’s just about guaranteed this time. We’re looking at around 15% of votes being cast for others.
For example, in Cornwall, the combined ‘others’ are predicted to outpoll Labour easily in all constituencies save Camborne-Redruth. There Labour may cling on to one in five of the voters as habits slowly die. Overall, a Lib Dem clean sweep is still favourite. The closest races are predicted to be South East Cornwall and Truro-Falmouth. However, I suspect that in the event Lib Dem support is being over-estimated and that these two constituencies are likely to fall to the Tories.
Westminster politics again!
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