“The theory goes that, if there is trust in society, then its bureaucracies will be more straightforward and effective – the cost and time of transactions between companies will be reduced and less time will be spent paying lawyers to draw up costly contracts, and in litigation. A handshake is free. Anyone who has tried to conduct business in France or America will have soon become aware of the massive inconveniences involved with living in a society where the default setting is to assume the other person is trying to pull your trousers down. Danish companies are freer about sharing knowledge and divulging secrets to one another; this has been cited as one of the reasons why, for instance, the wind turbine industry flourished here in the 1970s, ultimately becoming the world leader.”
Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle
With an 87% turnout in elections, Denmark also trusts its politicians. Like Scotland, it has such a thing as society. We don’t. We have a London-obsessed oligarchy constant in its conspiracy against any such thing.
BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? came from Keynsham this week. It was great fun listening to Labour’s Peter Hain telling Bea Campbell of the Greens that voters can’t expect to vote for the party they like best, because that’s not how our electoral system ‘works’. For the Tories, Owen Paterson described that system as the means by which we choose who will rule us. The dinosaurs just don’t get it. They think that we’re the servants and that they’re the masters. We’ve let them believe that long enough but the tipping point is coming. The whiff of revolt is in the air.
One sign of that is the proposed widening of the TV election debates from three party leaders to seven. There’s a growing consensus that the election will produce a brilliantly rainbow-hued parliament, and perhaps in response a grand coalition of the dinosaurs, huddling around the dying embers of their evil empire.
We were asked this week if, since seven party leaders have already been invited to take part in televised debate, we should be included too. Well, why not? Where’s the arbitrary line to be drawn between those parties that are ‘in’ and those that are ‘out’? Is it to be on the basis of past election results? What if opinion polls show them to be wildly out-of-date as a guide to voters’ current intentions? There truly isn’t a simple answer.
It’s a circular argument to say that only the more successful parties should be allowed the oxygen of publicity. Ending that circularity means addressing much more than just the TV debates. Smaller parties have been – and still are – systematically discriminated against. It starts with the election deposit, a tax on smaller parties, who are in effect fined for daring to challenge the status quo. It then continues throughout the campaign. We’ve reported on one or twoinstances where hustings have been slanted towards the parties pre-selected by the organisers as worth hearing from. And it all ends with discourtesy to the losing candidates at the declaration of the poll.
As an example of the stitch-up that is British ‘democracy’ we need look no further than the Electoral Commission guidance on the running of hustings. In this document it’s glibly assumed to be fine to exclude some of the candidates as long as it’s done on a so-called ‘objective’ basis. There’s no such basis. That’s just a way of dressing up subjective prejudice in the garb of past performance, not future prospects. The only objectivity is the ballot paper, on which all candidates are equal and the past counts for nothing.
Watch the debates. Those who claim that small parties have no influence should think again. David Cameron wasn’t happy to have to face UKIP, seen as the party to split the right-wing vote. So he said no, unless the Greens were added, seen as the party to split the left-wing vote. Not a bad outcome, for parties judged small and thus irrelevant. Now Cameron’s nightmare has got a whole lot worse. In a seven-party debate, he has one party to the right of him, and five to the left. Thoughts from the Left will thus dominate the debate numerically. The parties of the Left haven’t had a chance like this in a generation.
Cameron has to take part or he’s finished. But if he does, he’s going to be ganged up on. The most likely alignment is that the three main parties will all sound the same, leaving the other four to present an alternative. Three out of those four will largely agree on what the alternative is. The tired Labour nonsense about fringe parties splitting the vote – the vote that Labour considers its birthright – is turned on its head in the media spotlight. Ideas that Labour might once have endorsed, but ditched in its fumbling for the centre ground, will get more airtime than ever, precisely because they’re not the preserve of one monolithic party.
One should never forget that ‘did not vote’ currently accounts for a larger share of the electorate than any of the parties. Everything really is up for grabs. Imagine that in Wessex that first column in the graphic below is the share of the vote cast for the Wessex Regionalist Party, and what would flow from that. So let’s not be hearing any more moaning from other candidates about WR taking their votes away. Our votes are our votes, not theirs.
Come polling day, will it matter? No. Even if the major parties are deserted in droves, the electoral system will save their skins. But at a cost. The more the vote fragments, the greater the discrepancy between what we vote for and what we get, the more the days of first-past-the-post are numbered. Ultimately those parties that try to defend it will be swept aside by an outraged electorate. One that’s had enough of their combined efforts to limit the choice that in every other field we’re told is the essence of freedom. The only tactical voting worth considering is not to choose the lesser of two evils but to vote for whatever hastens their end.