A British General election is NEVER an "edifying" process. The electoral system makes most voters irrelevant and the media craves the spectacle of a car crash not informed debate, so the voice of the people is most often lost under the slanging match.
In my fluffy lifetime, I've seen one or two British General elections. (Well, four, ACTUALLY, but I don't remember 2001 when I was 1 [R: nothing] –shut up, daddy), and my Daddies have seen LOADS more, but even THEY don't remember one that's been as HOLLOW and EMPTY a CHARADE as the current Cavalcade of Whimsy™.
The prospect of another hung Parliament, almost guaranteed if the current polling is even remotely close to accurate, has made the question of the Parties' policies, their differences and their overlaps, ever more vital to the empower the voter to understanding of how to use their choice.
So OBVIOUSLY the entire campaign has been reduced to two questions:
• who will "get into bed" (in a "darkened room") with whom – or, apparently more importantly, who will RULE OUT getting into bed with whom; and
• dividing ALL policies of all Parties into (not, as you might expect, those that cause cancer and those that cure cancer), but into those that are RED LINES and those that are TUITION FEES.
The media are of course completely culpable, and have totally let down the public (though the public's almost complete disinterest in controlling their own lives was just begging to be let down).
We have not had any representation of different policy or philosophy; instead, we've had a three-ringed circus, where the clowns throw meaningless custard pies at each other and the Nationalist/Green alliance – riding on the suddenly-popular coattails of Nicola Sturgeon (this year's Nick Clegg, lest she think she's in any way special) – have had three bites of the cherry in every debate while former media darlings the Farragist Kippers have been sidelined to their furious but impotent chagrin and the Liberal Democrats have been stitched up like, well, kippers.
Only the third, "Question Time" style "debate" came close to properly interrogating the leaders and drawing out any differences. Even then, the differences were primarily: "I won't tell you where I'm cutting" v "I won’t tell you I was overspending" v "sorry about that".
The meeja have OBSESSED about what the deals post-election will be like – it's almost as though they're deliberately ignoring the one part of the narrative that they cannot control and is increasingly predictable only in its unpredictability. So they've been pressing all and sundry on who would do the deed with whom, leading to this silly spectacle of ruling out partnerships that the public may press upon us.
Yes, I realise the Liberal Democrats did that too. Yes, we were wrong to. This is a democracy: we have to work with who the people send to Parliament to represent them. You won't beat the Nationalists by isolating them – that just makes them SPECIAL. Northern Ireland could only BEGIN the path to healing when we TALKED to the Irish Nationalists. Where does not talking to the Scottish Nationalists get us, other than BROKEN? Liberalism BEST represents people by bringing them together. We are pluralist by nature; we form coalitions because it is our PHILOSOPHY not merely pragmatism.
So please, no more ruling out deals before the people have got a word in edgeways!
And if I NEVER HEAR the words RED LINES again in my LIFE it will be too soon.
(Yes, we are guilty of this one too.)
The possibility that it might just be SLIGHTLY more complicated than "this policy will cause an irretrievable breakdown of coalition negotiations" while "this policy will be tossed to the winds for a whiff of the ministerial leather", does not apparently excite anyone.
So we see Cap'n Clegg trapped on Andy Marrmite's sofa between Nasty Nige and Yvette "the Snooper" Cooper and trying to put on a brave grin as he is harangued from left and right, as each howls like a banshee to demand that he rule out this or rule in that; while interviewers, thinking they are being SOOOO clever, try "trapping" candidates with the question "well, it's not on the front of the manifesto so is it a red line?"
(Apparently we're afraid to just answer: "no, we'd like it and we'll get it if we can", to this. It would be nice to think that that would be the grown up answer, but you just KNOW it only sends us further down the rabbit hole of "well, is it more important or less important than your pledge on tuition fees?".)
And you know what, not even the tuition fees policy was as simple as "red line" or "toss it aside": the Liberal Democrats had to barter it up to a better deal for students, effectively a graduate tax, and the price for that rather than just Labour's system plus unlimited fees, was having to vote for it.
CHAPTER ONE: LABOUR AND THE BIG LIE
The nadir of this is the blind arrogance of Hard Labour's "our entire manifesto is the red line"; the take it or leave it and accept nothing from anyone else approach. Well, it's what Mr Milipede and the rest of the Labour "negotiating" team "offered" the Liberal Democrats last time. Remind me, how'd that work out for him?
(Clue: it got his boss fired.)
The bitter irony is that there's nothing IN Hard Labour's manifesto, their anodyne pledges – carved, ludicrously, into a giant tablet (of soluble aspirin, probably) – do not amount to a hill of beans large enough on which to mount the fatuous Ed Stone!
I think – I hope – that people voting for the Labour Party are doing so because they hope for a better society, a more compassionate one, a more responsible one where people care for each other.
(Because the CYNICAL view is that it's a load of public and third sector workers demanding that the government spends a lot more of other people's money on the public and third sectors… and calling the Conservatories the SELFISH ones. But that would be – almost literally – uncharitable.)
What I regret, though, is that I see absolutely no evidence that the Labour Party will deliver on that hope.
Harriet the Harminator and Rachel the Reaver promising that Labour will get "tough" on benefits. Mr Milipede, son of immigrants, promising that Labour will get tough on immigrants. This is not a ploy to fool the Kipper vote and slip into power; this is what these people truly believe. If power means sacrificing some poor/foreign people, they'll be first to construct the giant wicker Kinnock.
I remember who it was who started taking away the benefits of disabled people because they decided that people too sick to get out should prove they were not fit to work. And it wasn't the "evil" Tories. The Tories may be VENAL, but they only want to cut the money. Hard Labour will sanction your benefits BECAUSE IT IS "GOOD" FOR YOU.
And so, the beginning, middle and end of ANY deal the Liberal Democrats do with the Hard Labour Party has got to be to require the HARM PRINCIPLE be made a fixture of the work and benefits system!
"First Do No Harm" is the Hippocratic Oath; we need a "First Do Not Starve People to Death Because You Believe They're Not Working Hard Enough" Oath!
(I refer again to how ANGRY I am with the Greens for making such a total DOG'S BREAKFAST of selling the Citizens Income!)
In spite of this… in spite, or even BECAUSE of the Milipede-crafted model of offering nothing to anyone in order to offend no one… I was almost coming to the conclusion that Mr Milipede, arrogant and yet useless as he is, with his talent for holding things together by an act of zen-like doing nothing, might be the man for the job, the Perfect Prime Monster for a Parliament that no one wins and cannot do anything.
And five years of Parliament doing nothing might be a blessed relief to us all.
But then he went and told a direct lie.
He told Mr Marrmite: "The deficit didn't cause the financial crisis; the financial crisis caused the deficit."
This is palpably, provably untrue. Hard Labour spent more than they raised in tax, and so had to borrow the difference – that is, in the jargon "ran a deficit" – in 2007. And in 2006. And in 2005. And 2004. And 2003. And 2002. And 2001. A Debt Odyssey. Long, long, LONG before the economy was consumed in the flames of Northern Rock's crash and burn and Lehman Brothers' self-immolation.
But that lie was a cock-up. A rhetorical spasm caused by trying to sound cleverer than he really is.
The real lie that Labour have been telling is a complicated one, hidden by claiming that they are the ones lied against: that the story of the recession is itself a lie, one told against them.
The left generally, and Labour particularly, have latched onto this line: "Labour's borrowing did not cause the financial crash".
This in itself is NOT clearly true.
Certainly it's not a DIRECT cause – the banks lent too much money to people who could not afford to pay it back, and in the end those loans (the so-called "sub-prime" mortgages) going bad is what toppled the global banking system.
But WHY and HOW did the banks lend that money?
WHY did the banks lend the money? It takes two to tango, so WHY did so many people go on a borrowing and spending spree? WHO – implicitly, even explicitly sometimes – encouraged them? Buy now pay later was the ethos of the naughties, condoned by a Hard Labour government "entirely relaxed about people getting filthy rich", and who totally played along with their PFI schemes, paying for vanity projects on the never-never.
The bankers were ABLE to lend too much because credit was so cheap, because the West's leading bankers – including those in the Bank of England – wanted to keep interest rates low to stop the bursting of the dot-com bubble from turning into a recession. Mr Frown's fingerprints are on that decision, entirely supporting the "wizard" Alan Greenspan at America's Federal Reserve, just as Lord Blairimort gave unquestioning support to President Bush.
And who should have been regulating the bankers? Step forward City minister, Ed Balls. Oh yes, egged on by the Conservatories. (And of course over the protests of the Liberal Democrats and sage warning of Dr Vince "the power" Cable!) And as the old saying goes, if Mr Balloon had said go "jump in a lake" would the Labour Government have done that too?
So Hard Labour are far from INNOCENT of responsibility when it comes to causes of the crash.
But that ISN'T the point.
Overspending IS A BAD THING.
It is A BAD THING regardless of whether the entire global economy goes into meltdown on your watch.
Hard Labour's BORROWING might not have led directly to money-geddon in 2008, but that absolutely does not mean that borrowing to cover your spending at the height of the biggest bubble in history was OK!
WHO said "no more boom and bust?" Who was proved SPECTACULARLY WRONG about that?
There's a very scary thesis about – called Modern Money Theory (but known as the Magic Money Tree for reasons that quickly become obvious) – that a lot of dangerously stupid people who think they are clever (cough cough Ed Balls cough cough) have latched onto, that says "if you print your own currency you cannot run out of money". Oh BOY are they wrong!
The Chinese famously invented paper money. The VERY NEXT thing they invented was HYPERINFLATION when the Emperor's children thought "if we're printing this stuff, then we cannot run out of money".
[Sidebar: In fact, Great Britain and Americaland HAVE printed a whole lot of money during the recession – the "Quantum of Easing" you may have heard of – and the Eurozone is doing it now. But we just about got away with it because the DEFLATIONARY pressures of the economy IMPLODING kind of cancelled out the INFLATION of blowing up the currency.
But when Mr Alistair "Captain" Darling – ADC to Mr Frown's General Melchett – printed a whole lot of money in 2009, there was a huge spike of inflation in 2010. Coincidence? (Darn it, fairness makes me admit that partly it WAS – food and energy prices also shot up as India and China expanded. But only partly!)
So it's treated like playing with FIRE because everyone but everyone knows that if it goes into a hyperinflation spiral then it's next stop Weimar Germany and literally Goodnight Vienna!]
And yes, it's correct, as they keep saying like it proves anything, the national debt WAS a lower share of national income in 2007 than in 1997 – that's because the debt was at a high point in 1997 and was brought down by following Ken Clarke's Tory spending plans for Labour's first term, and the economy was in a dip in 1997 (post housing crash, pre dot.com) and at the height of a boom in 2007, a bit like saying you're shorter as a share of altitude when you jump off Beachy Head than when you jump of Brighton Pier. It's still not clever to jump off either!
The Tories ran up the national debt in the Nineties to get themselves out of the political and economic hole caused by the Poll Tax and the ERM debacle and the house price crash. And they were JUSTLY punished for their economic incompetence. Why do Labour think THEY should be allowed a free pass for hosing money on THEIR political toys?
So Hard Labour say that it's a "Big Lie" that people say "Labour's borrowing caused the crash".
But that itself IS the lie – NO ONE says that; what they say is that Labour's borrowing (and their decision to put all our eggs in the City's basket, AND their failure to supervise the unscrupulous bankers, AND the climate of borrow today and leave the future to deal with the debts) left us in the WORST position to survive when the crisis hit.
We, Great Britain, had the longest, deepest recession and slowest recovery of the Western nations. But Labour says that was ALL the Coalition cuts, and nothing to do with the depth of the swan dive they had taken. Oh no, honest guv, you can trust us, we're mates with that Russell Brand now.
Labour's economic message is one of COMPLETE DENIAL, a total failure to recognise that they were in any way to blame for the pain of the last five years, or that they would have done anything substantially different, or to come up with any realistically different alternative plan for the next five years. ("The same but with the pain lasting a bit longer and not properly finishing the job," would be the fairest assessment. And the SNP's "end to austerity" is just "the same as Labour but with even longer pain again"!)
When Ed Balls (and those on the left who parrot him and retweet him mindlessly) accuses Master Gideon of ending up where Labour were planning to be in terms of borrowing as much as Labour planned and cutting as much as Labour planned… what exactly IS the accusation here? That Labour wanted the cuts to be deeper?
CHAPTER TWO: TORY FANTASY ECONOMICS
So how DID we end up where Hard Labour were planning to be?
Well, dur! Because Master Gideon's "long term economic plan" lasted about a FORTNIGHT!
It was about that long before the nice people in the Treasury realised he couldn't even work an abacus and gave him some bricks to play with while asking Danny Alexander to take charge. (David Laws, alas, not available!)
(Master Gideon, remember, is the "genius" who engineered the "No" vote in the AV referendum and thereby GUARANTEED that the Tories would LOSE this election.)
Lib Dem policy was to invest in infrastructure. Ooh look, the Coalition invested in infrastructure. Classic Keynesian spending in a recession and the economy started to recover. The quid pro quo of shifting to Plan B was we allowed Osborne to keep CALLING it Plan A!
Which of course makes even MORE ridiculous the Tory campaign of: "let us stick to the path we've been on (by veering off sharply to the right into these dark and trackless woods and I'm sure that's not a cliff ahead of aaaaghh!)".
Labour's total failure in the last five years to come up with ANY economic answers AT ALL, is intimately bound up with the Tory's decision to throw economic caution to the dogs and promise anything and everything to everyone: £7 billion for middle-class tax cuts; £8 billion for the health service; £10 billion for a free pony in every child's bedroom (not actually true); and a surplus on the accounts on top!
And all to be funded out of £12 billion of unspecified cuts to "benefits". But not pensioners. Or children. Or the disabled. Or workers. Or non-workers even… It seems we must give a LOT of money to IMAGINARY claimants! That must be why so many REAL people need to use FOOD BANKS!
But not content with stealing Labour's clothes to spend money we don't have, the Conservatories ALSO want to derail the recovery by clamping down on the people who are making the economy work (immigrants) and the people who are buying what we make (Europe).
Hard Labour may want to blame all the ills of the economy (since about 1799, it would seem) on the Coalition – while giving themselves a FREE PASS for "global events" – but back in the REAL world, we are part of the European economy and instability in the Eurozone – Greece, again, but also the domestic slowdown of our neighbours in France, and even Germany, not to mention the troubling, brooding presence of Vlad the Bad making war in Ukraine – are all bad for business.
All of which makes it a REALLY bad time to be causing EVEN MORE uncertainty over whether we might even stay IN the biggest economy on the planet for the sake of FLIRTING with Nationalism.
(It's possible that by now, the pressures that the Kippers and the Europhobe Tories have built up have reached such a pass that ONLY the explosive release of a referendum will settle them; that's no excuse for having built up those pressures in the first place, and this campaign has only stoked the fires further – all heat and no light at all. And, of course, as we've seen with the twisty-turniness of the SNP when avoiding ruling out a Neverendum for Scottish Independence, one referendum is never enough; it's just a temporary "hit" before the cravings start to build up all over again. Or until you kill the patient.)
As for the GROTESQUE pandering to the Kipper tendency over immigration – indulged in by BOTH Tories and Hard "Controls on Immigration, indeed" Labour – is just economically illiterate. The idea that you could just round up the unemployed youth of the country, ship them off to Norfolk or Morecombe and have them replace semi-skilled labourers like crop or cockle-pickers would be FARCICAL if it would not be so RUINOUS to our wellbeing.
(And the Liberal Democrats got burned on this last time so we are FAR TOO CAUTIOUS when we should be defending the rights of people to live and work and contribute where they wish. Immigrants, after all, are PEOPLE who have been GOOD enough to choose HERE of all places to make lives!)
So the Tories want to undermine our key economic strengths of being open for business; pull savings out their fluffy behinds by cutting benefits to they won’t say who; and at the same time spending like it's going out of fashion on unicorns and magic beans.
So OBVIOUSLY their entire campaign has been about the SNP!
CHAPTER THREE: SCARY MOVIES
It's been the FEAR election, hasn't it?
Hard Labour want you to be afraid for the NHS.
That is, the one Party that has NOT promised the £8 billion extra funding that the NHS's own Stephens report said was needed… and that privatised TWICE as much of the Health Service's services when they were in power than the Coalition ever did… says you should be afraid that the two Parties who HAVE said they WILL fully fund the NHS, and didn't put as much out to the private sector, will instead cut the service and sell it off.
So THAT makes sense.
Meanwhile, the Tories want you to be terrified that Nicola Sturgeon will wrap Mr Milipede round her little finger, that Alex (missing in action) Salmond will lead a tartan army of about 7% of MPs to overwhelm the decent yeomen and backbenchers of this very England.
That is, the one Party that is ACTIVELY campaigning for something that could break up the Union, by destroying the equality of MPs, by giving extra powers to the English only… is trying to tell you that Hard Labour must rule out ANY kind of Coalition… while being IN a Coalition themselves, AND playing footsie with the Kippers.
So THAT makes sense too.
And don't think that the Liberal Democrats fluffy feet are clean in all this – we've been putting out the fear of EXTREMEISM (left OR right) to convince people to try and stay with our nice safe middle-of-the-road managerialism.
That is the one Party that should be radical and mould-breaking and tearing down the walls of the establishment and letting in some light and change is saying "you'll be safe with us, snuggles".
So THAT makes NO FLUFFING SENSE AT ALL! But it's all we got. Along with the red lines and the tuition fees.
Everyone insists on talking about LEGITIMANCY (isn't that a spell from "Harry Potter"?) as though the British Constitution were set in tablets of stone (soluble aspirin, again) rather than a form of INTERPRETATIVE DANCE!
Once again, Hard Labour's MORE STUPID bellows of betrayal come back to bite it on the ARSE! Just as the nationalist chickens of blaming EVERYTING on a Westminster elite that takes Scotland for granted has come to roost in the rise of the SNP to supplant them in all their safe seats North of the
Nicola Sturgeon talks about "legitimacy" only if a government draws members from all the nations of the Union, knowing full well how unlikely it is that Scotland will return Tories (Conservatories OR Laboratories!) in enough numbers to satisfy her test – and as a prelude for a pretext to claim "the Union has broken down; we must have another independence referendum!"
The Tories talk about "legitimacy" being conveyed by what I suppose we might have to call the "Clegg Doctrine" of the Party with the most seats and most votes having best and therefore first claim on forming a government. Of course, the Tories want to take this further and make it the ONLY claim on forming a government. Which is even MORE ludicrous, because they know they're not going to. The Party of the Union and tradition reduced to a dog in the manger.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT; IT MIGHT EVEN BE ORANGE
If there's one good thing that might come out of this total disaster of an election it's this: the system is just so obviously, patently, totally broken, the result will be so plainly totally unfair and askew from what people voted for, and in such a way that it screws over both Hard Labour and the Conservatories AT THE SAME TIME, that everyone might finally realise it's time to stop using a Seventeenth Century system for the Twenty-First.
In fact, I'd say we should ditch ALL of our red lines for ONE thing: we will give you a government for six months – or a year – during which we will all take part in a Constitutional Convention under a Royal Commission that will let us TOGETHER sort out how we elect our Parliament (and executive, and if we want the one to be a chunk of the other or to separate them like America or France or Germany or, actually almost everywhere else, do); and who sits in Parliament (if we want unelected Lords and Bishops and Rooks and Castles, er) or even WHERE it sits (because they've got to move out of that Thames-side fun-palace before all the wiring catches fire)!
The answer is obvious so it will obviously take a great deal of time and patience to arrive at the obvious answer that we need a federal state with Parliament of multi-member constituencies elected by British Proportional Representation, and a national senate replacing the House of Lords Club.
But it can be done. The Scottish people showed the rest of us that it CAN be done: a proper reasoned – polite! – argument that sorts things out.
And maybe next time we can do this General Election thing PROPERLY.
And meanwhile we will rebuild a properly Liberal Liberal Democratic Party. A Party that exists to bring HOPE to people: a Party that will address the crisis in housing and give people the opportunity to live where they work; a Party that will invest in education and apprenticeships and even the living costs of all the students we now have going to universities; a Party that will clean up our environment, improve the quality of air in our polluted cities, by preparing the ground for switching to clean, all-electric cars (and there's a LOT of work that needs doing); a Party that will tax wealth more in order to tax income a less; a Party that will stop criminalising people for doing things that harm no one; a Party that will put a stop to bullying people for what they eat or how they dress or who they love or where they come from.
And, by Grimond, we might even do it in Government!
NOW, GO AND VOTE!