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17 May 2015
“The people have spoken, the bastards!”
These are the immortal words of Dick Tuck (b. 1924), an aspirant for nomination as Democratic Party candidate for the 1966 election to the California State Senate, on learning that he had lost to George Danielson.
However, they provide one way of looking at the triumph of the British Conservative (Tory) Party in the UK parliamentary election on 7 May 2015 in which the Tories, snatching an overall majority against the odds, confounded pollster predictions of a hung parliament by winning a slender overall majority of seats (see our post of 8 May 2015 Refuseniks).
This is how Janan Ganesh summed up the Tory victory in the Financial Times on 9/10 May:
“Mr Cameron has electoral success to savour, and the right has something more precious and lasting: ideological encouragement. Governments that cut public spending upset voters, which is why they tend not to do it. So when a Tory party led by men of infuriating privilege hacks away at the state for five years and ends up with even more seats than it had to begin with, history will take note. This election is a precedent to be invoked by fiscal hawks and free-marketeers for decades to come.”
Yes, after centuries of supposed democratic reform the rank-and-file electors of this tiny insular third-rank kingdom have voted for the party of the bankers, hedge fundsters, big business, big money, inherited wealth, hierarchy and privilege.
The puppet masters at the summit of the party – the Conservatives are nicknamed “Tories” after a small island off the coast of Northern Ireland that was allegedly a haunt of pirates – come almost to a man from an exclusive privately educated money-bags elite of inter-connected families and businesses that claim a right to govern as their birthright.
The party’s big kahuna, David “Dave” Cameron, of stockbroker stock, trained for his role in society at Eton College, the UK’s most prestigious private school conveniently situated under the walls of the royal palace of Windsor Castle. He is himself a lineal descendant of William IV, who was king from 1830 to 1837.
Yet this is what the “little people” voted for – an Eton boot boy and a party of toffs.
The Tories are also often referred to as the “nasty” party. It is easy to see why.
The just treatment of minorities, including the poor and the disabled, is generally regarded as the hallmark of a civilised society.
By this touchstone the outgoing Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition produced a government that was the diametrical opposite of civilised.
When the allegedly indestructible all-singing all-dancing capitalist economy hit the buffers in 2007-2010 as a result of mafia banksters passing off dud bonds as blue-chip securities, the political response was to bail out the banks with public money – stuffing the shysters’ mouths with gold – and then, in Europe at least, to recoup this largesse by imposing savage austerity in the form of public spending cutbacks on the population at large. As was well said at the time, it was “socialism for rich banksters and capitalism for everyone else”.
In Britain, however, austerity was especially focused on one particular segment of the population after the Tory/Liberal Democratic coalition came to power in 2010, namely the poor and disabled who, for want of decent jobs owing to the recession caused by the failure of the global banking system, depended on state benefits to which they were fully entitled under the safety net devised precisely for this purpose by earlier governments of every political persuasion.
During their five years in office – May 2010 to May 2015 – the UK coalition government made it a priority to cut away the safety net providing minimal subsistence for the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The result was to drive millions of poor Britons, including thousands of families with children, into destitution and homelessness. Families were broken up and dispersed into sleazy “bed-and-breakfast” ghettos around the country. The disabled poor fared no better. The halt had their crutches kicked from under them: government-commissioned overseers ordered them to walk the streets in search of non-existent jobs. Nor was deafness or blindness an excuse for not seeking a job (even though the recession, combined with globalisation and unrestricted immigration, had dramatically reduced the number of jobs available). For many suicide was the remedy of last resort.
It is precisely for political parties that formed a government with this appalling record of inhumanity that millions of Britons voted in parliamentary elections on 7 May 2015.
How to explain this?
Firstly, there is the obvious answer. Nasty governments are voted into power by nasty citizens. History is littered with examples of electorates that have given the thumbs-up to vicious scape-goating tyrants. One cannot turn a blind eye to the possibility that the electors in question, smug and self-satisfied, derive a vicarious sadistic pleasure from witnessing the sufferings imposed by the state on those to whom the hand of destiny has dealt a losing number in the lottery of life. In the Middle Ages, when miscreants were publicly exposed in the stocks, upright citizens would pelt them with stones. Schadenfreude they call it in Germany – and the Germans know what they are talking about.
Others may not be sadistic, but are simply selfish and self-interested. They put No. 1 first, second and third and have no interest in or sympathy with the fate of their fellow human beings. When they vote, they vote solely for whatever outcome they think will most benefit themselves, any benefit being seen invariably in crude financial terms.
Another category of electors involves those whose personal and political attitudes diverge widely. Such people often show great personal kindness to those with whom they personally come into contact but at the same time find it in no way a contradiction to support, theoretically and at the ballot box, the most vicious of political ideologies. We have known rabid racists, for instance, who subscribe to the most repugnant racist theories but who are quite happy, for instance, to accept invitations to the weddings of members of ethnic groups who are personally known to them. These people – and they are by no means all at the bottom of the social scale – seem oblivious to the need for a common thread between how they behave towards individuals they know personally and the stance they take in respect of political generalizations of the same ilk.
Then again there are others who are frankly not interested in politics and, as a result, lack an informed acquaintance with political developments. Such people may easily be taken in by the last item of propaganda they have heard on television or read in a newspaper. Unlike rocket science or string theory, politics is not complicated or difficult but you do need to know something about it in order to make an informed choice between the alternatives on offer.
The newly elected UK government, for instance, is proposing to redefine human rights to chime with its national party-political ideology. Politically speaking, human rights are of mega-importance. Support for human rights is the bedrock of any civilised state. However, if your main interest is golf or bridge, spinning vinyl or going to the cinema or if you are completely tied up with the time-consuming business of earning a living, human rights may not seem all that relevant to your life and you might be inclined to leave them to the government to sort out. Highly imprudent, in our view, and politically irresponsible – politicians should at all times be held to account for their actions – but understandable in the circumstances.
In this context, the media plays a role of primordial importance. In most of the world, including the so-called western democracies, the media are owned either by the state or by individual private businesses. They will invariably support the owner’s views. Facts or opinions at variance with those views will not receive coverage. In Britain the press, mostly owned by business groups, largely back the establishment, particularly at election time. The needs of the poor or disabled do not figure prominently in their calculations. If they are mentioned at all, it will usually be in the context of a story about fraudulent benefit claims, however unrepresentative these may be. Understandably, people without a fair knowledge of politics or of how the media operates can easily be bamboozled.
Finally, there are the tribal voters. These people vote for a particular party regardless of specific policies either because this is what they have always done or because it is what their families before them have always done. As a US elector once said, “If Governor Walters is right, I shall vote for him because he is right. If Governor Walters is wrong, I shall vote for him because he is a Republican.”
In any case, in the UK the electors have spoken, the die is cast and the fat will soon hit the pan.
It goes without saying, of course, that the first-past-the-post single-seat-constitutency voting system is rigged egregiously in favour of the two biggest parties. The number of seats won fails – deliberately – to reflect the proportion of votes cast country-wide for each party contesting the election.
It can be argued, therefore, that the system is unfair and the result open to question.
It should also be borne in mind that the Tories won the election despite garnering the votes of less than a quarter (24.4%) of the electorate.
This is what Giles Fraser, former Vicar of Putney, said in his “Loose canon” column in the Guardian newspaper on 9 May:
“Right now I feel ashamed to be English. Ashamed to belong to a country that has clearly identified itself as insular, self-absorbed and apparently caring so little for the most vulnerable people among us. Why did a million people visiting food banks make such a minimal difference? Did we just vote for our own narrow concerns and sod the rest? Maybe that’s why the pollsters got it so badly wrong: we are not so much a nation of shy voters as of ashamed voters, people who want to present to the nice polling man as socially inclusive, but who, in the privacy of the booth, tick the box of our own self-interest.”
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.