I’m not sure how to frame a response to this one…
I’ve lived in the UK for all but a few months of my voting-eligible life, and this is not the first general election I’ve been present for. I remember watching the Swing-o-meter and wrapping my head around marginal constituencies, door-to-door canvassing, and the implied outcome of an apathetic society turning out to be a surprisingly well-informed populous. So I’m not sure how foreign I feel, really.
I’d like to think I think of this election as anyone with an education and interest in the future would.
But what DO I think of this election?
I think that the parties are too strong. I watched my first Parliamentary reading a couple weeks ago, as the Digital Economy Bill became the Digital Economy Act through a process of washup and rush toward as this government hurridly tied off it’s loose ends. It was the first time I delved into the Whip system, and surprised myself by how incredibly simple it is: vote the way the party agreed, or your club membership will be revoked (along with your parking permit and gym membership, I like to imagine.) I was appalled that the Members of Parliament, elected to represent the best interests of their constituents, were simply corralled to put up their hands at the right minute, then sauntered off again to continue canvassing. I knew this kind of behaviour existed (I’ve seen Yes, Minister), but I wasn’t aware just how BAD and SHABBY the whole process appears.
There are three clubs, all fighting a terrifyingly expensive popularity contest: all struggling to appear the most like someone You and I might want to be friends with. None seems to realise, of course, that You and Me are different, have widely divergent lives, tastes and perspectives; and that none has a chance in hell of appealing completely to both You and Me, so they split the vast differences by trying to appear as least like someone both of us might hate. The result being very little substantial discusion of policy and potential consequences of slightly-different political machines, with the focus going instead to well-rehearsed catchphrases.
Individual MP’s are discouraged from standing out, and indeed, probably don’t want to for fear of coming under intense pressure from their Whip, the tabloid press or Jeremy Paxman. This is illustrated by the fact that my local MP, a Mr. Phillip Dunne (Conservative), replied to my concerned letter with one which was identical to one sent out to a friend from a different constituency. Indeed, his letter expressing his concern and the evils of a future Labour government was a replica—verbatum—of one sent to many others across the country. Writing to your MP is like asking for a copy of a printed policy list.
None of the parties seems to exist in the present world. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that someone might, for example, Google a few lines from their heartfelt letter to find thousands of results showing the same words coming back to them; because the Labour MP’s did exactly the same thing. It’s all a reflection of committees to which we’re not invited.
The parties seem to be driven by a somewhat shadowy aristocracy, and the well-connected and powerful of the world are as present here as they are in other “democracies”: Murdoch, Mandelson, and other kingmakers. But I think the real problem is that we’re all asked to choose between three closed-door groups.
We could perhaps make a difference to the future of the country by joining one of these groups, I suppose. I guess if enough “normal” people were to be well-enough qualified to raise informed objections, and listen to the other sides of problems; we might, slowly etch our own individual influence into the fabric of our particular club. But we won’t, mostly. Because we’re already occupied with the choices we’ve made, and we don’t feel particularly drawn to a life of defending our view under ever-increasing scrutiny. The clubs attract the clubby, so we shouldn’t be surprised that most politicians appear similar. They’re a self-selected population of like-minded or like-skilled individuals, and the outcome is a similar-seeming facade.
That sounds extremely cynical, like it doesn’t matter what we do. I don’t believe that’s true, but I do believe that the system’s various checks, balances and inertias prevent us from impacting it very heavily.
Maybe this heavy machinery is a good thing. Maybe they stop radicalisation and the “balance” may be some sort of stabiliser?
So, I’m not sure WHAT to think about this election. Judging from the conversations I’ve had with colleagues and friends, and from the perspectives on programmes, I’m guessing that’s not a particularly foreign state of mind, either.