Since the election, I’ve felt a bit sorry for Gordon Brown, what with all the people who have rushed to gloat and put the boot in since his progressive downfall started. Last week’s Have I Got News For You featured a montage of his strained-looking toothy smile, his clunky body-language, as if the ability to smile and shake hands smoothly was indeed what really mattered in a leader. I can sympathise partly because my own smiles are often as bad as his, especially if I’m trying to pose. When I’m smiling for the camera, everyone else shuffles their feet and small children run away crying; so when people make fun of Gordon Brown for suffering the same problem, he definitely gets my sympathies.
People’s reaction to his clunkiness, though, just goes to show how much people are concerned today with style and slickness over intellect; and Gordon Brown’s defeat, which people are already treating as much less narrow than it actually was, is only going to reinforce that. When we see David Cameron and Nick Clegg standing together, I get an uneasy squirming horror-film feeling that something is not quite right: that we’re not watching real people, but some sort of shiny artificial human-mimicking lifeform whose twin bodies are slowly converging onto one set of features. By the end of this parliament, we’ll be ruled by Cameregg, one creature with two identical bodies, identical faces with features so blandly generic you could barely pick them out from a crowd. Ed Balls, and the Miliband brothers, might well be part of the same species: some sort of bizarre alien trying to put on a human face but turning into an inhuman everyman. It might just be the effect of modern spin-driven media-friendly politics – or maybe the Autons are real after all.
Well, part of last Wednesday’s post quickly came true: my “almost certainly wrong” prediction of the future did, indeed, turn out to be wrong. I was sorely tempted to claim I’d been right all along, or that I’ve got enough right that I can be considered reasonably infallible; but, nah, I got it wrong. As I did say I would. Hence, I was right. Hurrah! I should go into business as a futurologist; I’m good at it. And I’ve known people make bigger futurology U-turns.
Despite yesterday’s post, I do still indeed live in a safe Labour seat which is still a safe Labour seat. As predicted, shifting my vote in any direction would have made zero difference to the electoral outcome. And, as I implied yesterday, we live in a country where the majority of voters don’t seem to support the agenda of the largest party, partly because, I suspect, this election has been driven by negative pressure: people voting to try to stop Outcome A, rather than to cause Outcome B.
A couple of things have occurred to me, about the election result, over the past two days. Firstly, this parliament – however long it lasts – is going to be a very bad parliament for individuality of representation. In other words, MPs are going to get hardly any chance to vote conscientiously. They’re rarely going to get to express an opinion, and they’re never going to get a chance to represent their constituency over their party. Unless, of course, the government whips aren’t going to worry about losing votes, or the opposition whips aren’t going to worry about winning every vote they can, the whole of parliament is going to be reined in very tightly, and the whips will always expect party allegience to triumph over everything else.
Secondly, there’s lots in the news right now about polling station chaos, voters being turned away, ballot papers running out, and so on. And this can, really, only be down to one subject which has been avoided as an election issue: local government budgets. They are, in most parts of the country, pared down to their absolute minimums; and the constant shaving-off of any extraneous costs is inevitably going to hit elections. Councils, trying to save a little cash, will have cut down on polling staff; that inevitably limits the throughput of each polling station. They might have trimmed their ballot printing runs, figuring that 100% turnout is never going to happen. Unfortunately, the more slack you trim, the less space there is if you’re wrong, and we end up with a system which can’t cope with 4,000 more voters per constituency.* If we’d had the same turnout as 2001 or 2005, then maybe most seats would have coped; but that, to be honest, was never likely to happen. If council budgets keep getting frozen, the same problems are bound to happen next time too.
* The figure there comes from Sheffield Hallam, one of the constituencies that reported trouble, which reported a 5.8% turnout increase, up to 51,135 or just under 74%.
A late election result just coming in, from the often-overlooked Symbolic Forest West South West division. We take you live to the count…
As the acting returning officer for the constituency of Symbolic Forest West South West, I would like to announce that the votes cast in the constituency were as follows:
Alan Beard, Beardy Religious Party. 108.
John Jacob Alexander Damp-Etonian, Not As Popular As We Claimed Party. 11,207.
Claire Rebecca Redjacket, Not As Unpopular As You Thought Party. 11,206.
Frank Edward Balanced, Looked Good On The Telly Party. 7, 986.
Rupert Henry Purple, There’s A Polish Supermarket On Our High Street I Mean What Are We Coming To My Father Didn’t Drop Bombs On The Germans For Nothing Where Are All These Foreigners From Anyway Party. 1,073.
Dave Peasant, Scary Shades Fist In The Air Party.* 67.
Enoch Powell (Deceased), I Was Right All Along Party. 3.
I therefore announce that John Jacob Alexander Damp-Etonian has been elected to parliament, even though nobody really likes him and everyone else is going to claim they won anyway. Now, where’s my bottle of gin?
* I thought for a moment that lack of sleep had led to me imagining the Land Is Power party, whose candidate, standing with fist raised, looked like a nightclub bouncer playing Musical Statues. His main policy, apparently, was to replace income tax entirely with property taxes.
Back in 2006, there were some local elections, and I wrote what I thought at the time. It was written in what you might call a prescient situation: about a local council who had run up a huge deficit under Labour, before being taken by a Tory-Liberal alliance who co-operated to the extent of not competing for council seats. Possibly, then, like the general election after next; although things are unlikely to be that extreme.
Back then my point, essentially, was: it’s only worth voting if you’ve got something worth voting for. Abstention should be a positive choice. Now, though, with the general election coming along tomorrow, things are slightly different. I still don’t feel, now, as if there’s any one party that is really pulling my vote in. For some reason, though, I feel equally that not voting at all isn’t an option. I’m not sure why, but this election seems impossible to ignore.
So, I’m definitely going to vote tomorrow. I don’t know who for, though; I’ve become one of those mystical “floating voters” who doesn’t decide an election result until the very last moment. I’ll walk into the booth, make my mark, but I can’t tell you yet who for or why. You should go and vote, too. Largely, because you can.
But anyway, after all that, my prediction for tomorrow’s election is that there won’t be a majority. There will be a hung-balanced parliament, or whatever you want to call it; and the largest party will form a minority government, with everyone else promising to “do what’s best for Britain”. It will last a surprisingly long time, too; and then, just as everything seems to be going so well, in about 15 months time it will collapse over something like election reform. I know that, being so specific, I’m almost certainly wrong; but at least I’m making a guess. Wait and see if it actually happens.