Ok their vote was down and it was the lowest ever turnout in the history of European elections, OK the BNP got fewer votes than five years ago, but to be a citizen of a country that can elect two members of the British National Party as its representatives must to any right thinking person be a matter of shame.
Worse in a sense, is the majority party forming a European alliance with parties whose view in respect of the Romani and other groups is reminiscence of the Nazi Party. Ironically I was watching a History Channel programme this morning which reported on a PhD thesis in the 1940 in which a group of Romani children were placed in close proximity with “Ayrian” children for a period to test the dangers of pollution. Conclusion its not possible; consequence, the experimental subjects are sent to Auschwitz and only three survive.
Now I am not saying we are on the brink of concentration camps being set up across Europe, but we are in danger of an attitude to anything which is other based on scapegoating and avoidance of responsibility which is a major danger. A commentator on the BBC last night suggested that when you are in a crisis you look for people offering simple solutions. With regret I think that’s all too true, and messages of hatred are all to simple, but the consequences are unspeakable.
Now I should confess here that for the first time in my life (and I have never missed any election since I was old enough to vote) I did not vote for the Labour Party in the European Election. If I lived in Wales I would have voted for Plaid Cymru but as I live in England I went for the Green Party (although I voted for Labour in the council election). Now for me this was a major decision. At the age of 11 I stood as Labour Party candidate in the Primary School mock election of 1963 (and won). On election day my bike transferred records of who had voted from the polling stations to Party HQ so that the knockers up could be sent out to drag out the vote. I graduated from that to canvassing, manning the poll stations and then to the role of Party Secretary in a General Election for a constituency. At University I was a member of NOLS (the National Organisation of Labour Students) and a contemporary of many members of the current government. Charles Clarke was President of the NUS and three of us sat him down over an Indian Meal in Lancaster during a major occupation to explain how he had become a lackey of the ruling class, Gordon Brown and others were at the Durham conference where we tried and failed to break the Trotskyite infiltration. At the Manchester conference three years later I led the withdrawal of delegates which prevented a quorum being formed: we had done the count and the Trots looked likely to carry the day. My mother was a Labour Councillor and more or less ran the Labour Party and the NUT in North-East Wales, I went on CND marches in my pram as a baby,, somewhere there is a picture of me on Bertrand Russel’s knee. Uncles died in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. The one thing my mother kept from my University days was the letter expelling me for revolutionary activity.
I say all this just to emphasise how big a decision it was to change my vote, although I left the Labour Party over a decade ago. I am afraid that Blair and the neo-stalinist control was a step too ar from me. I was starting to be (and am now fully) convinced that nation states of the size of the UK, Germany and France were counter productive to the European project. Small culturally cohesive groups within wider political groupings able to handle finance and defence is I am convinced the way to go.
Now the why of all this is not simple, but I think it is worth while noting the following:
- The Labour and Conservative cabinets of the pre-Thatcher period were diverse in nature and the Prime Minster was not all powerful. The Labour Cabinet of 1963 was an intellectual powerhouse of double-firsts with diverse political backgrounds. Heath had similar diversity and equivalent levels of dissent.
- We have been through the longest period on British History with a stable party structure. If you look at the history of British Politics up to WWII then parties reform and reset as MPs have more autonomy. Since 1945 the two major parties have dominated, and anyone wanting a career in politics is forced to choose one, and then accept the discipline of the Whips (for international readers this is not a modern day manifestation of the cat’o’nine tails but rather those members of the Party responsible for making sure MPs vote to instructions.
- We have had two thirteen year periods of government, one Conservative under Thatcher, one Labour under Blair. Both Leaders have taken us to war, both are arguably guilty of war crimes. Neither tolerated dissent and both used the power of patronage to exercise absolute control. I don’t often feel sorry for the Queen (I am a convinced republican), but you have to feel some sympathy for what has been done in her name. Those periods have created a lack of independence, a lack of judgement and a lack of moral fibre; an old fashioned concept but one which is apt.
- The popular vote is determined not by voters making their minds up based on any thought process, but rather is determined by the dominant narrative of the popular press. Both Thatcher and Blair understood this and the Editor of the Daily Mail in effect had power disproportionate to democracy. Opinion Polls and rapid dissemination of information have exaggerated this, rather than reducing it. We have the foolishness of crowds, and we have poor shepherds which makes it worse.
- Politicians when I was young (sorry but one is allowed to say that form time to time), had to be able to hold an audience for an hour or so in a packed hall, or on the back of lorry in the market square. That meant they had to understand their subject, to be able to adjust. Now we have the sound bite generation, where the manner of presentation is more important than its subject.
- The only people who survive in politics these days are those who have an immaculate sexual history and who can master blandness over conviction. None of the great Prime Ministers of the past would survive the scrutiny of the press today. No one in their right mind with any gumption would accept the risks of this, or for that matter the pay. Populism means we don’t pay MPs enough, so we get expenses used as a substitute. Such systems lead as to abuse as has become all too evident in the last month or so. This is not to excuse charging the tax payer to dredge your moat, or the fraud of claiming for interest payments on loads already paid off, but it does explain how it comes about.
So what do you do? Well there are some basics that I think would make a difference. If I was in a position of power in the Labour Party at the moment I think I would:
- Brown should announce that he will resign as Prime Minster at the end of the year and declare an election date in the Spring. That allows a successor to be elected and put in place to run the election campaign, while we carry on the process of Government.
- A radical constitutional change should be put in place now, create a clear choice. That would include multi-member constituencies before the General Election. That means that where I live in rural Wiltshire there would be a chance of an MP representing my views, rather than my vote being pointless as it is at the moment. We live in one of the ten safest Tory seats in the country.
- We should abolish the House of Lords, increase the power of an elected second chamber and also parliamentary committees. Get rid of the system of honours with all the perniciousness of patronage. Link the second chamber to local councils, the universities, churches and NGOs so we increase non party based participation in government.
- Abolish opinion polls in the three months leading up to an election. They bias the vote as people like to back a winner
- Place the national press under the same legal requirements for balance as the BBC are subject to
- Pay MPs a sensible wage and ban them from taking ALL secondary employment of whatever nature. Continue those wages for two years after they loose their seats, but maintain the ban on other employment. It won’t get rid of temptation but it will reduce it.
- Auditable expenses, receipts on line and why not convert a government building in Whitehall to an apartment hotel? Much better than secondary homes. Make parliamentary hours longer, but for few days. force MPs back into their constituencies for longer periods around the weekend, use video-conferencing.
- One third of Cabinet Posts to be elected by the Parliamentary Party – it works in opposition why not in government?
- Make voting compulsory. The Australians fine you if you don’t vote – great idea lets go for it
On reflection I might change some of those, but the one thing I am convinced of is the need for clear change, and for an agenda which prevents the continuation of current perverted structures in a blue rather than a red coating. Oh, and we should reinstate Clause IV!