Aaagh, what am I supposed to do?
Some things I’m clear about. It’s obviously a farce. Cameron staying up all night so he can run around saying ‘Hello, and what are you making?’ to shift workers is a splendid way for the upper class to waste their time. If there was any justice he’d have been investigated by the Drugs Squad to see whether he was out of his head on Es and whizz. There’s probably footage being hidden by Sky News of Cameron saying to a security guard “Hi I’m Dave I’m a great leader my dad’s got an orchard have you seen my wife great arse I could do security I’ve got terrific muscles Woah I’m coming up ba-ba-ba baaa dida dida dida don’t forget to vo-o-o-te for me me me.”
Instead the others tried to copy him, with Brown insisting he was only having two hours sleep, and I expected Clegg to announce he was proving his energy by doing 36 hours non-stop campaigning on a trampoline.
So much of an election campaign involves the ridiculous being presented as serious debate. The ‘highlight’ has been declared the incident in Rochdale with Mrs. Duffy, who, amidst her complaint to Gordon Brown asked him the challenging question “These Eastern Europeans, where are they flocking from?” It’s true he’d have done better to respond by saying “Barnsley, love. Eastern Europeans all flock from Barnsley. One bit of Barnsley’s called Poland where they breed cheap plumbers, they’re like ants, you can put powder down but they walk straight over it, where do you THINK they flock from?” Then if he’d put his arm round her and gone “I’m only teasing love”, it would all have been laughed off.
Even so, grumbling she was a “Bigoted woman” isn’t the worst thing anyone’s said in private after an argument. But from the media reaction you’d think he’d said “Right – get onto Big Tony, I want her FUCKING house burned down.”
I’m also clear that the Tories are still Tories. This means more than Cameron is a toff, it means they represent the rich and powerful and stand for their values. They’re the party that opposed the minimum wage and whose goddess called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. They’re the preferred party of almost all of big business, even after New Labour’s efforts. For all the wisdom that class no longer dominates our choice of party, it’s still true that the richer an area is, the more likely it is to vote Conservative.
And now it’s supported by Murdoch again. While waiting at an airport I watched an hour of Sky News, that repeated on a loop a short clip of a man heckling Gordon Brown, with a big flashing caption saying “BREAKING NEWS” while commentators appeared as experts to say “Brown’s campaign just keeps descending into more and more chaos, this is another calamity” etc. They might as well have shown him drinking tea and put up “BREAKING NEWS – BROWN, AND A MUG, CATASTROPHE.”
It was all an obviously crude attempt to make Labour appear useless and attached to disaster, because Sky is run by Murdoch whose interests will be served by Cameron. Therefore any reasonable person must feel a shaking chilling hollow sickness bordering on self-combustion at the thought of Cameron winning.
So it should be easy – vote Labour to stop them. Brown is the only person who can realistically be Prime Minister apart from Cameron, so even after Iraq, Mandelson’s delight at the ‘Filthy rich’, after the achievement of extending the gap between rich and poor at a faster rate than any time in modern history, even then you have to vote Labour. They may be the lesser of two evils, but 5 units of evil is surely better than 12 units of evil. (Those are accurate figures though I’m not sure how to convert them into metric).
But it isn’t so simple. Until 1997 I was always desperate for Labour to win elections, regardless of their specific policies. Wilson supported the Vietnam War, Callaghan went to war with the unions, Kinnock wouldn’t back the miners, and Blair had proudly removed socialism from Labour’s agenda before his election as PM. But despite this a vote for Labour was always a vote for the idea of a more equal society, for a notion that we should organise our lives collectively, as opposed to the Tory values of looking after yourself and sneering at the worse off.
And Labour was tied to those aspirations to some extent by their roots. They were founded by the trade unions, and became a mass party after the First World War by promising the working class their own representatives in parliament.
After the last thirteen years does that still apply? The first problem with applying the same formula now comes when you compare Labour’s outlook to that of the Liberal Democrats. To argue with someone who’d campaigned for a fairer society that you should vote Labour rather than Lib-Dem in this election, is to ask them to back a man who was crucial to sending us to war with Iraq, against a party that opposed that war. It’s to back the party adamant we should spend billions on Trident, against those who say we should scrap it. It’s to back the man who enthusiastically boomed “Your policy will open the gates to a flood of immigration” in a TV debate, against the party supporting a more humane attitude to asylum seekers.
On almost every issue the Lib-Dems appear more social, humane and collective than Labour. But, the reluctant Labour voter could argue, Labour is still tied to its working class roots and is therefore open to influence from socialists in a way the Liberal Democrats never could be. But how true is that now? Under Blair the flawed democracy of the party was extinguished, and now an ordinary member has virtually no influence on that party. So the membership is at its lowest for 100 years, and the branches barely exist.
Even after the disastrous 1983 election there was a vibrant Labour Party in most towns, attracting the young and enthusiastic. They were the core of the miners’ support groups, backed local campaigns and mobilised in their hundreds during elections.
During this election, where I live in Crystal Palace, for the first time I can remember there have been no Labour supporters visible during an election. In the area where they have always run a stall, there has instead been a Liberal Democrat stall. One woman there told me “I was in Lewisham Labour Party for years, but Labour abandoned social housing, reneged on their promise to reform the House of Lords, supported the Iraq war and handed the country to the bankers, so now I’m with these.” The following week another of their activists told me an almost identical story of how, she feels, she’s had to change parties to stick by her ideals.
I suspect the Liberal Democrats will betray fairly quickly the hopes of those who flock to them for egalitarian reasons, not because of the personality of Nick Clegg but because their base is spread amongst people who desire opposite values. In some areas they attract those like my Crystal Palace friends, but in Conservative areas they promise an agenda to appeal to disaffected Tories. This may explain why Clegg became so defensive when he suddenly found, for the first time, the whole country listening attentively to him at once. The radicalism was downplayed, and became unsure even of his most long-standing policies, such as backing a referendum on the Euro, if they could be considered vote-losers in the Tory suburbs.
So then what? The easy way out for a socialist is to declare the election is not an important issue, as all parties are promising to make the mass of the population pay for the crisis caused by the greedy few.
And it is true that, while commentators insist the election debate has been ‘thrilling’, the boundaries have been pathetically thin. There’s been hardly a mention of troops in Afghanistan, no one would dare suggest renationalising transport, and they all agree we have to accept massive cuts, as if to oppose this is to dispute the laws of physics.
But the world in which those cuts, and the resistance to those cuts takes place, will be shaped by the outcome of the election. For example, a thumping Cameron win will give his friends absolute confidence in cutting whatever they fancy. And Cameron, despite the repulsive Obama-esque front page in the Sun, represents the nastiness of fear far more than the others. But something else makes me feel melancholy on this morning, which is that after 13 years of a Labour government that has exceeded almost all predictions of how conservative it would be, most notably in Iraq, no force has been built that can challenge it from a socialist direction. Attempts have been made, with some fleeting success. The Scottish Socialist Party won seven per cent of the vote across Scotland, but then disintegrated in spectacularly hilarious fashion. Respect won a seat with Galloway, looked ready to become a force and decided to celebrate either by going on Big Brother or tearing itself apart in a row about fuck-all.
So this morning I arrive at the polling station to find as well as the major parties, the Greens, Respect and the Communist Party are all standing in my area, to make sure the meagre left vote is split three useless inconsequential pointless ways.
It’s not just a trick of the memory. That day in May 1997 was gloriously sunny. Despite the smarmy Blair it represented a rejection of greed as a virtue. So much seemed possible. The sadness for me is not just that Labour betrayed that hope, as it seemed likely they would, but that it’s not been possible to construct a credible force that can take that hope forward. But the hope’s still there. None of the leaders have dared to be honest about the scale of the cuts they’re planning, as they know there would be widespread revulsion when it’s obvious whose avarice has caused this mess.
And in the odd place where a sustained attempt has been made to build an opposition to the idea that big business should rule every aspect of our lives, it’s been rewarded. Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham could well win in their areas for the Greens and Respect, and this is an extraordinary achievement.
So the task, I feel, is not just to stop Cameron but to build a process whereby eventually a genuine alternative can be offered to his view of the world. I voted Green for that reason, but I’ll admit to cowardice because if I lived in an area where the Tory might scrape in I’d have voted for whoever could have stopped them.
Now – even if that smug Tory fucker wins, the agenda should be a) Ten minutes spitting and swearing b) Pledge to get a million on the streets when the bastard tries to cane us.
And if Brown wants to be remembered fondly, if the moment comes when he has to concede defeat, he’ll put his head in his hands and say “Oh well, thank fuck that’s over. At least I don’t have to pretend to like that arsehole Clegg any more, mind you that Spanish wife of his is a different matter, ay? Oh shit this bloody microphone, I’ve done it again haven’t I?”