Thursday, 22 May 2014

Euro elections, curious elections

Just been to vote. For the European Parliament. A curious election.
Where the action happened
On the one hand, we had the Conservatives, David Cameron’s Party. 

As usual, there’s the smell of corruption around them. The most recent scandal concerns the bright idea they had to encourage private colleges to spring up all over the place to offer higher education courses to anyone who could pay their fees. The London School of Science and Technology in Wembley has been signing up students as though they were going out of fashion, without getting too obsessed with banal details like qualifications or talent. 

The students pay the college £6000 a year for the privilege of registering. They collect £11,000 a year in dirt cheap student loans underwritten by the taxpayer. Rather a lot of them then don’t bother with any of those boring aspects of student life, like actually attending classes. It’s win-win: they gain, the college gains. OK, win-win-lose if you include the taxpayer, but hey, why bother about them if the government is applying its ideology.

This comes on top other wonderful experiences with privatisation, such as Serco failing to deliver on its contract to provide out-of-hours GP services, or G4S artificially inflating its invoices. None of that has stopped the government pursuing its privatisation agenda, with one of the most sensitive of services, child protection, the next in the firing line.

The main opposition to the Conservatives is Labour. Sadly, its leader Ed Miliband prefers substance over appearance. I say “sadly” because not many people seem all that interested in details of tedious hard work, like the drawing up of policy, and that’s what he seems best at. The policies are often good, but then he goes for an interview where it turns out he doesn’t know the name of the local representative of his own party or, when discussing the terrible standard of living problems he’s rightly identified as besetting ordinary people, the amount it costs most of them to shop for food.

That plays into the hands of those who want to write him off for his looks or how he talks, rather than listen to what he says.

What used to be the third party is rapidly becoming an also-ran. The Liberal Democrats used to be a great ginger group, snapping at Labour’s heels and occasionally helping to keep them honest. Now they’ve sold their soul to the devil, joining a coalition with the Conservatives, losing two thirds of their electoral appeal in the process and rapidly disappearing into irrelevance.

The great unsung story of the last few years is the rise of the Greens. Their share of the vote climbs slowly but steadily. It would be surprising if they don’t move ahead of the Liberal Democrats in this election.

And finally we have the great shocking spectacular of this campaign, the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP. They are the reverse of Labour. They have lots of image but practically no policy at all.

You might think this might weaken their position but it has the opposite effect. Firstly, they don’t bore those people who find substance tiresome. Second, you can’t tie them down to anything. Every time an opponent says, “ah, yes, but UKIP want to do such and such,” a spokesman will reply “oh, no we don’t. That’s not our policy.” And that’s true, since they have no policy.

Instead they rely entirely on the politics of appearance over substance. Above all, that means the appearance of their leader, Nigel Farage. He seems friendly, approachable, honest. Where the operative word is “seems”.

The reality is that in the absence of any policy, he has concentrated on peddling a position based only on attitudes. And those attitudes are entirely negative. He and his party are against the EU, they’re against immigrants. They don’t seem to be in favour of anything much, unless it’s taking Britain – or more likely just England – back to a golden past, which is doubly impossible, firstly because you can never get back to the past, and secondly because it never existed in the first place.

As for honesty, you should watch Farage when he’s being quizzed about his own behaviour as a Member of the European Parliament. He started by declaring that he would have his expenses subjected to an independent audit. He then decided that actually he wouldn’t, unless the other parties did the same. When it was pointed out to him that the other main UK parties did just that, he said that it would be a decision to be taken by the entire UKIP group as a block.

Anyone else, in any other party, would be regarded as thoroughly shifty for dodging around like this, changing his ground and avoiding the issue. Farage seems to be allowed to get away with it, for reasons that escape me.

So what’s this election going to give us?

The most likely outcome: a thumping win for UKIP.

What will that show? That a sizeable proportion of the electorate prefers form over substance. And that it’s happy to be driven by a politics of fear and hatred, of reactionary nostalgia.

Quite a tribute to the deviousness and tactics of UKIP. Not much of a tribute to the good sense and good judgement of the British electorate.

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