The Ballot X-Factor: UK Elections 2015

Belated International Workers’ Day greetings, everyone! The general election is in a few days, and while I type this I’m finding it hard not to squeal like a Directioner on helium. I am that excited. This is the first British general election that I’ve properly been following (well, in 2010 I made the huge achievement of getting my largely apathetic father to vote Labour, something I’m still very proud of) and the difficulty of predicting the outcome has made it particularly fun to follow. So I thought today I’d join the political fun and write an Official Election Post.

Since I’ve been so avidly watching the debates, following the campaign trail, making predictions and just generally being a political fangirl, you’d think that what I’d be looking forward to most is actually voting, right? Well, technically I am looking forward to putting something on my (mock) ballot paper, because it’s always fun to draw rude things. But really, I couldn’t care less who wins the election. There are some policies that I could abstractly support out of sheer common sense – such as abolishing Trident, ending austerity and getting rid of archaic tax exemptions and loopholes – but the parties advocating these policies (chiefly the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru) are demanding the impossible. They are forgetting, as social democrats so often do, that this is capitalism. And under capitalism, the abolition of nuclear weapons programmes is not in the interests of the state, getting rid of tax loopholes is not as easy as it sounds, and having a ton of debt is, erm, not very nice. As we know all too well in the UK from the aftermath of our last spending spree. This criticism assumes that these social democratic parties would even keep their promises if they got into power, which I highly doubt they would. Every single time   social democrats have breezed into power on lofty promises of taxing and spending and bringing peace and love and equality, they’ve suddenly remembered that they were running a capitalist state and, surprise, have governed just like any other capitalist party. That is exactly what SYRIZA is doing in Greece and the Parti Socialiste are doing in France right now. Reforms that benefit the working class are impossible to implement under capitalism without hurting a capitalist economy, and ultimately, everyone. And of course, it would make no sense for a socialist to vote for a party which overtly, rather than covertly, fucks over the working class. So I’m not going to delude myself into voting for a party making an impossible promise of a nicer capitalism or waste time voting for the sake of it, when ultimately, all parties serve – and have to serve – the same ruling class. And yes, I know that people died for the vote, and at one point universal sufferage and liberal democracy were incredibly progressive and necessary. But this isn’t the 1920s. Capitalism no longer achieves anything, and neither does the electoral system within it. I’ll stick with writing something rude on my ballot and feeling edgy, thank you very much.

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The real reason why I love following elections is the drama. It’s like a talent show where I don’t care who wins, but love the drama of the show itself – the backstabbing brother, the contestants’ romantic and familial scandals, the conspiracy theory about AIDS, the contestant who would rather go home to their penthouse in Notting Hill (round the corner from that lovely organic café) than win…all of that. Elections are reality TV for us middle-class pseudo-intellectuals who like to think we’re “above” any TV that isn’t Sky News. But unlike most of these middle-class pseudo-intellectuals, I don’t think that this year’s election is going to be fundamentally different from usual or mark a dramatic change in British politics (even by the very low standards of change given the current state and economic system). Sure, this election is different in that its outcome is very hard to predict, a coalition – alien to the UK until last election – is almost certain, and there happen to be a couple of nutty populist parties. But the vote share of the largest two parties has been declining for a while now, and we’ve had momentarily successful populist parties before (Respect, the BNP etc.) who haven’t achieved anything significant. In order to “break in” to a position of influence, a new party needs to get sustainable and solid support, make sure that this support is distributed in a way which will translate into seats in a first-past-the-post system and find support for its proposals in Parliament and amongst larger parties, and this is not easy. The UKIP, for example, was seen as a huge force for change in British politics when it trounced the other parties in the European elections last year. But now its support is dwindling, its campaign is reportedly poorly organised and the other parties are hostile to it. It might seem as though people want change and are willing to vote for insurgent parties when you see how low politicians’ approval ratings are and how little they are trusted, but people have never really had positive views of politicians in general (as opposed to individual politicians) in liberal democracies, and it’s hard to vote for smaller parties without feeling as though it’s futile or not “sensible” – something my parents can attest to. I think Labour and the Tories know this too, because despite all this talk of populism and radicalism, the two big parties seem to be reaching out to their core audiences with classically Labour and Tory messages. Labour is focusing on public services, raising living standards and raising taxes/getting rid of loopholes, while the Conservatives are focusing on economic recovery, cutting taxes and Thatcher-inspired housing plans. The emphasis seems to be on trying to appear different from the opponent party by using traditional left- or right-wing rhetoric while still appearing pragmatic; hence Labour’s insistence that they will balance the books at some indefinite point in time and the Tories’ pledges to spend more on the NHS and not cut the education budget. In many ways, this election is actually more normal than, say, during the Old Labour years.

However, there is one party which could be described as populist and is favoured by the first-past-the-post system and voters’ senses of pragmatism: the Scottish National Party. Their policies are centre-leftish and not too crazy-sounding, and since obviously all of their support is in Scotland, they have concentrated support, which will get them a lot of seats. I think that, unless there is another election, there will have to be some sort of arrangement between the SNP and Labour. It’s likely that, even if the EU referendum question doesn’t prove an obstacle to Conservative/Lib Dem negotiations, the Lib Dems will lose too many seats to be able to form a majority with the Conservatives. The SNP is set to get around 50 seats, and are open to coalition or another sort of agreement with Labour but have ruled out agreements with the Tories. And would Labour be able to refuse an agreement which would give them leadership of the government in practice? I seriously doubt it. It’s likely that the SNP – a party directly chosen by Scottish people – being in a position of influence in Parliament would actually help unionism, too, since it could no longer be argued that Scotland is having a government which it didn’t want forced upon it and the SNP’s energies would be diverted towards Britain as a whole. So that’s what I can see happening this Thursday. I’ll say it again: I am soooo excited!