It has been a while since I delved deeply into politics, let known party politics. I did so in the lead up to and aftermath of the local and European elections back in May, and then turned to matters other than politics. Now, I feel this is a good time to take stock and say how I see things panning out, as well as take a peek into what the future might have in store, although my record as a political pundit is modest. Besides having a lot of other matters, less overtly political, I wanted to write about, I felt I should wait for the dust to settle before venturing forth again. I’m pretty sure we are going to see a lot of political sabre rattling prior to the 2015 General Election, although I am less confident that what is these days becoming the norm, which is the propensity of dealing in sound bites, will be replaced by well thought out debates based on meaningful content.
A lot of water will go under the bridge and no doubt there will be announcement and refutations galore prior to next year’s May/June General Election, all of which I would want to take into account before coming to a view who if any to support. Not that I expect it will count for that much for, as previous experience has shown, the general population tend not to go along with my recommendations anyway, but then that is democracy for you! I should add that the focus in this post is the next general rather than local elections, which I see, although many will disagree, as an entirely different ball game, and one I want to re-visit in a future blog post. In particular, I want to survey the main “players” and how I rate them as parties.
Those who have read my earlier blogs might sense that while I might be political with a small “p”, I have not come down in favour of any one party and have grave reservations with all of them, although I am open to be convinced, besides which my feelings are the problems this country faces are too much for any party to solve. Sadly, the electoral system as it currently stands weighs heavily against minority parties and, in constituencies like mine (Rochford and Southend East), unless there is a massive swing or some other extraordinary circumstance, the odds are that the party that is in power before the election (in this case the Conservatives) will be the party in power after the election, although that may well not be the case nationally where the majority of the sitting candidates are a lot less. Strangely enough, with our previous MP, Teddy Taylor, who happened to be a Conservative and fairly right wing, I tended to vote for him but that was because I liked the man irrespective of political affiliations. Locally, I am all over the place, voting for who I consider would be best for my ward (St. Lukes), at the time it comes to vote.
The signs are that changes may be afoot. While mid-term elections are occasions for blips, what happened back in May was a shock, with UKIP getting more vote share than all other parties, something that hasn’t happened for a long time. Of the three main parties, Labour came of best and Lib Dems worst. Unsurprisingly, but disappointingly none the less, there doesn’t seem to be the soul searching as to why this was the case and what needs to be done. I even sense a degree of complacency, with party strategists putting the result down as an aberration that will correct itself when the electorate has something more meaningful to vote in, i.e. the General Election. We wait to see whether the UKIP bubble will burst before the next election and what policies they come up with besides the obvious ones of getting out of Europe and controlling immigration, if their earlier poster campaign is anything to go for. Sadly, the recently enacted Immigration Bill and government directives on immigration have lead to making life harder for immigrants without status, without dealing with the root issues. We will watch with interest developments in the three main parties.
Those who will have read my earlier political blogs might have correctly discerned that I am not a supporter of any of the main parties and may also have an inkling that I might vote UKIP by way of protest. I feel the differences that seemed once obvious, with many voting along “class” lines, are no longer there and if is harder now to distinguish. With the Conservatives, the three main “moral” issues I care about: pro-life, traditional marriage and freedom of conscience, have all been undermined and when it comes to looking after the poor and more vulnerable members of society, a coherent and fair energy policy and leadership on the world stage, we have been let down. As for Labour, I still have pictures of economic mis-management and a nanny state, and with the Lib-Debs, the image of Nero fiddling while Rome burns comes to mind.
While to offset this, the thought that the Conservatives may be best managing the economy and dealing with the debt crisis, Labour may be strongest when addressing issues around poverty and social injustice and Lib Dems are perhaps the strongest voice for moderation and fairness for all, and coupled with the thought I prefer some individual candidates over others, irrespective of their party allegiance, yet none of this negate the disadvantages, which places me in a quandary when it comes to deciding who to support. I feel that all the parties are beholden to powerful vested interests that have not been fully quantified, and that bothers me. Putting conspiracy theory aside, I don’t trust the leaders to tell the truth or the debate to rise much above an exchange of sound bites.
I will turn to the two other parties in which I have taken an interest. One, not surprisingly is UKIP, and the other is the Greens, which not long ago I had discounted. Mindful some time back I might be writing this blog, I did some preliminary investigations of my own and had, separately, good, longish chats with the town’s two (likely) main exponents of these parties: James Moyles (UKIP) and Simon Cross (Greens). Time will tell, as it always does, and one needs to come to a view based upon track record etc., what sort of men these are. While having different personalities and views, I found they had a lot in common. Both were impressive, well motivated, insightful, affable and more than helpful when it came to answering my questions, responding honestly to my concerns. Given the conversations were private, what was discussed will not be written about here, other than what is already in the public domain.
What impressed me about James Moyles was his intelligence and knowledge of some of the local issues, along with a desire to scrutinize what goes on in the Council. While I suspect UKIP won five seats on the Council, primarily on the back of the popular appeal to a national campaign that appeared to focus on immigration and Europe, neither issue being all that relevant to local concerns, I liked the way members have looked to address local issues so far (and despite being overlooked in the Council power sharing agreement in favour of the Lib Dems, who lost seats) and proving they are not the racist, fascists as some of their opponents have tried to make them out to be. While James put my mind at rest on a number of issues regarding the “extreme” accusations and they are not one trick ponies, given their anti-European, anti-immigration portrayal, I await to see the detail of their other policies, knowing what a tricky business politics is and the temptation to court support over that of principle. I am also of the view that of the three “moral” issues mentioned earlier, as well as my own euro-skepticism and concern over immigration as well as giving power back to the people, UKIP may do better than the main parties, if they gain power. While I have a lot more deliberating to do, I did feel that, when the time came, I could even vote UKIP on principle rather than as a protest.
Like with James Moyles, Simon Cross impressed me with his knowledge of local issues and national ones also, having had some earlier robust exchanges via Facebook. Unlike with James, his chances of gaining power appear slim, but then politics is a strange business and we have already seen the advance of the Green Party in other European countries. It is to his credit that because of his powerful defense of Green policies, some of which I found convincing, I now take the Greens seriously. The picture of a tree hugging loony, was not one that came to mind when I spoke to Simon. The Green policy of giving everyone a living wage certainly has an appeal but it was in the area of energy policy (and stuff that is related, such as transport) where I was most impressed. I found his argument against fracking also impressive and got me thinking that we need the Greens to make government accountable. I also felt Simon / the Greens had a good understanding of social disadvantage issues and ideas of what to do. My concern, besides the tacit support for European integration is that the Greens are more socialist than Labour, and my reading of history is socialism has failed in the past and won’t succeed in the future. Even so, ideas and idealism in this cynical age is needed and the Greens have this in abundance! I also believe their voice needs to be heard more in public debates.
If one were to ask me what I think will be the outcome of the 2015 General Election, besides stating the obvious that no-one can be sure, as well as my poor track record as a political predictor, I would say it will result in a Labour victory. I say so because I sense a good deal of discontent with the current coalition and with the austerity regime currently in place, which among other things hits the worse of families worst, and that more people are likely to vote for the minor parties, in particular with disaffected Tory voters voting UKIP. I would be surprised though if UKIP win more than a handful of Parliamentary seats, but they will increase significantly their vote share. As for the Greens, while I forecast they will also gain more votes, it will not be enough to win seats, given our first past the post electoral system. I believe at a local level people will vote along similar lines as they would nationally. I see the Independent Group consolidating their position, without gaining extra seats. The Conservatives and Lib Dems will both lose out and Labour may make modest gains. The biggest winner will be UKIP, and I expect them to form the next local coalition, along with the Independents.
Some have asked whether I might become more active in politics. The answer is No, although I may end up supporting one or other party or individual, having first done my homework. When I was a young teenager and before I got religion, I might well have turned into a Labour activist given my interest in social justice, although later I switched to the right and after that I oscillated around the centre. I am getting old and my energy levels aren’t what they were. Besides stuff that ought to take more priority, e.g. family, I feel it is right to continue as a community activist and champion the cause of the poor. I have a good relationship with politicians of all flavours, and will continue to work with them and act as a confidential sounding board. I also want to encourage the next generation of community activists. But deep down in my heart, while I wish to see good people elected to office and good politics influencing the life of the nation, I also realise there are powers we have little control over that will be the major influence on what happens in the years to come. Most of all, I want to see the hearts and minds of people change toward following the ways of God, for that will be the only way to halt further decline in national life, and the way this happens is through the preaching of the gospel, which is what I must do.
When I did get religion, I came under the influence of a group called the Plymouth Brethren and many had the idea that politics was not a good thing for Christians to get into, because the system was corrupt and the attention to this worlds affairs distracted one from those of the world to come, and is a reason I curtailed my political interest. Ironically, many I found out later voted Conservative, no doubt in line with their conservative understanding of Christianity. When later I got to study the origins of the Brethren, I came across one key figure, J.N.Darby, who taught just that, even though in his activities he was rather political. There arose in the mid nineteenth century a big debate as to whether the London Parks should remain open on Sundays, and this was at a time when Sunday religious observance was the norm. Darby rather bucked the trend when he said that the pedestrian gates should be open so that poor people can enjoy God’s beauty and free air on the one day that it was possible to do so, but not the main gates, given that the rich, with their horses and carriages, could do so any time. I wonder what might have been if more Christian people with that sort of wisdom had taken more interest in politics. We need more Wilberforces!
But as I say, this is merely a preliminary examination of the national political picture. I need to do more study and anticipate some interesting exchanges with protagonists from all parties.