Broadsheet Spring Issue Editorial
Editors of newspapers across Britain will soon be deliberating that peculiar duty they feel (unlike most of their counterparts overseas) to endorse a political party at the coming election. It seems a curious thing for any publication that considers itself independent to do at the best of times, which this is not. This time round, the British election is in essence fought between Eton and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Most will endorse Eton, because they always do. Although some may endorse the Conservatives simply because they are not Labour. A few on what is still oddly called the liberal left will agonise over whether they really want to endorse the RBS party and wake up the morning after the election to find the crowd currently claiming to govern this island are back for another term.
What is it to endorse and vote Labour? Principally, it is to vote for the party of cosying up to the banks and super-rich in order to bestow on them fabulous wealth at crippling public expense, and create the widest gap between the richest and the poorest since the early 1960s. It is to vote for the party which took Britain vaingloriously into an illegal war on the basis of a pack of lies. It is to vote for obsessive authoritarianism and survelliance of a bludgeoned, stressed out one-nation-under-CCTV. It is to vote for the overpaid civil servant, for education cuts and tuition fees, bumper bonuses and bank bailouts. It was under a Labour government which promised to eradicate child poverty that London won the Olympic games: but in the Olympic city, 19 per cent of children now live below the poverty line. Under such circumstances, one would expect the Conservatives to be romping home with the same incomprehensible public euphoria that propelled Tony Blair to power 13 years ago. But, after their initial spurt in the polls, not even Labour’s wreckage seems to be able to muster much enthusiasm for the Bullingdon Tories. The true-blue base will of course turn out as usual. Many will transfer from Labour in pursuit of novelty value or out of lack of imagination – and a few even more desperate liberals will be voting Eton, after visions of David Cameron reigning in the City, calling off the bailiffs, dismantling surveillance cameras, curbing energy prices – and just generally getting the trains they privatised into becoming the worst and most expensive in Europe to run on time. What a rude shock awaits them: for what is a vote for the Conservatives? The launch issue of Frontline last year carried an article called ‘Looted Britain’, about the smash-and-grab of this country’s ‘Family Silver’ as Harold MacMillan called it, by an oligarchy of free-market zealots both Labour and Conservative. Perhaps there are enough people who remember that to vote Conservative is to vote for the destruction of the country’s proud manfufacturing base (of a kind kept by the Germans and French), the sleazy sell-off of those utility companies and railways in the first place and the prospect of losing the little that is left of infrastructure in Britain.
Some might be tempted to flee to the Liberal Democrats, who can afford to appear as angelic as they do because they have never had to govern and never will, since the two so-called ‘main parties’ have stitched up the electoral system to ensure just that. They might well, however, hold the balance of power. This third party is best judged not by what it promises it could never do in government, but what it does in local government, when it gets the chance to give us a glimpse of its real self. On Merseyside, the Lib Dems have supervised the wholesale demolition of a city, to build a vast, white elephant shopping mall. On Tyneside, they have similarly packaged a downtown showroom while failing utterly to rennovate the ragged edges. In Southwark, the party is so adept at managing public housing that a crowded block of flats lethally caught fire through negligence, while anyone trying to live on water along the Thames is extorted and threatened into homelessness. The Lib Dems have a European vision, but no record at local level to qualify them nationally and little national credibility since Paddy Ashdown’s leadership.
A vote for a minor party may be a tempting option for various communities: environmentalists (The Greens), fascists (BNP), nostalgics (Scargill) or ridiculous little-Englanders (UKIP). But even more than for the Lib Dems, the system is rigged so as to rob anyone so inclined of even the voice one might enjoy in another country.
The MPs’ expenses scandal, and its minimal impact on the political class, helps to demonstrate what kind of political parties now claim newspapers’ endorsements and public votes. The political class demonstrated that it acts as a body, in its own interests and its own interests only. To behold the parties strut their mediocrity – in Parliament, on ‘Question time’ and in the embryonic hustings – is an insult to the people in a time of recession and crisis. They demonstrate no more than that the differences between them are ersatz and non-existent, and that none are capable of meeting the challenge of rebuilding this battered, looted country.
Frontline considers that for a publication to endorse any political party at this election is to demean itself, and that for citizens to flatter any party with a vote is to demean themselves. There may come a time – but it is unlikely – when “None Of The Above” is an option on the ballot paper, as it is in some countries – and were that option to exist now, it would probably be the number one choice. There may even come a time when the parties reform themselves and cease to dumb down the discourse and with them the country. But until they do, there is nothing honourably to do but vote for a devolutionary or separatist party in Scotland or Wales, a party comitted to peace in Northen Ireland, an independent in England, or – rather than stay at home – spoil the ballot, with humour or otherwise.