Say The Right Things

I’ve been busy with things and stuff recently, but that isn’t the reason I’ve barely commented on this general election gubbins. Considering this is the first election for ages where the result is up for grabs it’s been a remarkably tedious campaign. It isn’t the only reason, but I think the TV debates have been a large part of the problem. They’ve sucked the life out of the day-to-day campaigning, and from the first debate everything has seemed to hinge on what happens in each of the three weekly televised style trials with all else put on the back burner; and what has happened in the debates themselves amounts to “not a lot”. It could well be that my interest in politics has simply waned; but gone, it seems, are the daily twists and turns in a campaign that in the past would cause me to follow the news with a trainspotterish devotion during election times.

The first debate on ITV began in what was for me an ominous and eye-roll inducing manner, with a question about immigration. After each of the three party leaders had spoken it elicited my first comment on the election, via Twitter.

As an open borders man they’ve all lost my vote. Bunch o’twats. When’s ‘Outnumbered’ on? #leadersdebate

At the time I didn’t really mean that I wouldn’t vote, but as the leaders reprised their roles in the Sky and BBC debates, during which each of them tried to outdo the others and to show how they would be the most effective at tackling immigration – taking it as read that it is a problem, is too high and needs to be reduced, without advancing any reason for why it is a problem and too high – I was taking the “fuck the lot of them” option more seriously. As it is I will probably still vote non-Tory on May the 6th – in my case that’s Liberal Democrat – but that’s nothing to shout about.

The fact that each leaders’ debate – and #bigotgate, the sole example, albeit tedious, of anything outside the TV debates being considered devastatingly newsworthy by our media – was concerned with the matter of immigration gives the lie to the “you can’t say anything about the immigrants” trope. For one thing, the statement that “you can’t say anything about the immigrants” tends to be used when talking about immigration, rendering it as prima facie bollocks; for another, if it is true that you can’t talk about immigration, at the very least our tabloid press never received the memo. The fact is that you can talk about immigration, as much as you like; it’s just that having done so you’re not then protected against being called a bigot in return, if you’re talking to someone who thinks you’re displaying bigotry. And it’s not even “closing down debate” to be called a bigot; it is debate. You’re free to respond to and deny the charge of bigotry if you like. That’s how this free speech thing works. If anyone has genuine cause to feel restricted in saying what they feel then it is apparently those politicians who in private don’t have a problem with immigration and see some anti-immigration rhetoric as bigotry, as it surely is, but who in public have to pander to people’s “legitimate concerns” – which range from the legitimate to the xenophobic – rather than to actually defend immigration and the huge benefits that it brings as evidenced in countless reports, or to even defend immigration on liberal grounds as a right in itself.

The one thing the TV debates have done, however, is to have thrown the election wide open, as Nick Clegg hijacked the “change” vote by virtue of standing next to David Cameron for 90 minutes and robbing the latter of his USP. The Liberal Democrats soared in the polls, but for the most depressing of reasons I fear. I doubt very much that many people saw the first debate and were swayed by the Lib Dems’ rag-bag of policies; they saw a reasonable, normal looking person who was well presented and who exhibited a devastating ability to write down the questioners’ names and to then refer back to them in his closing speech, and who was neither a scary alien robot creature from planet Tory, nor Gordon Brown. It’s a crap reason to decide who you’ll vote for and to alter the course of the election so decisively, and for that reason I’d be happy to see the back of the leaders’ debates from now on, but we’re obviously stuck with them. I hope, though, that they have at least served one purpose. They have made a hung parliament all the more likely, a hung parliament that may well require the ruling party to rely on the Liberal Democrats, and which could in turn ensure we finally abandon the anachronistic First Past The Post electoral system in favour of some form of proportional representation. Nothing illustrates FPTP’s failings more than those projections that show that, based on current polls, the Conservatives could end up winning the most votes with Labour pushed down into third place, and yet the electoral system would award Labour the most number of seats in parliament. If that does happen, I wonder how the Conservatives, with their staunch support for FPTP, could possibly object if Labour, as the largest party in the House of Commons, are then given the first chance to form the new government?

Shh. Come with me on this. After the election Labour are the largest party, and the Lib Dems agree to work with them on the condition that Gordon Brown steps down, and either voluntarily or by palace coup, he does. The new Labour leader becomes prime minister on the understanding that there will be a referendum on proportional representation and a fresh general election held under the new rules immediately following that result. First Past The Post is ditched for the Single Transferable Vote, and following a new election everyone lives happily ever after. Future elections even feature an open and mature debate on immigration.

What do you reckon? I know, I know; you were with me up to and including the “everyone lives happily ever after” bit, but after that I went a bit daft.