Friday, 2 May 2008

If Voting Changed Anything...

"Look, Bubbles, if you press the red button the blue light goes off. And if you press the blue button the red light goes off. That's politics, boy. You're clever now. That's why people fought and died. That's why we have further education and enlightened deliberations with the self and others. To be fuzzy little fifty-fifty pundit chimps. Yes, you are. Yeees you are." UrbanOspreys, Comment Is Free
"...But in acting in this cartel like manner, Labour and the Conservatives surely merit reference to the Office of Fair Trading. What they are doing is closing down the debate before it can even be had." - Dave Osler
The local elections of 2008 are all over bar the shouting, and the verdict is in. Labour are out of favour; the Tories are in. The finger is pointed at Gordon Brown, in particular the 10p tax rate blunder. But how many people really believe that the Conservatives would actually do a better job? Is the reality not rather more that we have a case of "we've had enough of that lot, they've had 11 years, how about giving the other lot a go".

It is perhaps an irony that the most high-profile victim of the nation-wide swing to the Tories, Ken Livingstone, entitled a 1987 autobiographical book 'If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It'. But that doesn't make the underlying sentiment any less apt to the reality of British politics in 2008.

The faces, and the colours of the rosettes, may change from red to blue. Approaches to some areas of policy may differ slightly. But, underneath, the differences between these two parties are few. So few, in fact, that the development of a 'joint strategy' involving thinktanks linked to Gordon Brown and Iain Duncan Smith has barely raised eyebrows. It is just yet another indication of the convergence of the two parties into, as I put it in a previous post along similar lines, an "amorphous mass".

How come British politics is in such a state?

If there's one word that defines both parties, it is not "socialist" or "social democratic", but corporatist. Both take in millions of pounds worth of donations from corporations, tycoons and financiers. Inevitably, this pays its way in terms of considerable influence over party policy. Only occasionally, as in the case of the controversial exemption of Formula One from a tobacco sponsorship ban following a £1 million donation by Bernie Ecclestone to the Labour party, does it make the news.

The magnitude of the role that corporate lobbyists play in buying favoritism in US politics is infamous. There was even, in 2003, a US TV show centred around the world of 'K Street' (where the largest D.C lobbying firms have their headquarters). Although things aren't quite that bad on this side of the Atlantic yet, it is clear that the interests of Government (and opposition) and those of the corporations are about as closely intertwined here.

And, despite the fact that Britain has had a nominally 'Labour' Government for the past 11 years, costly follies like the PFI schemes and the NPfIT project have blurred the distinctions between state and big business more than ever before.


Neil Harding said...

I always find this 'Tory and Labour are the same' argument curious.

There are significant differences - Does the minimum wage matter?
Doubling of expenditure on the NHS, education, foreign aid, public transport?
An extra £100bn help to the poorest 20%?
The smoking ban, equalities legislation, Surestart, devolution etc?

Does any of this matter? You may not care for any of it personally but surely you cannot deny its significance. None of this would have happened under the Tories that is for sure.

In London would you really say there is no difference between Ken and Boris? Watch as investment in public transport and police nosedives. Watch as deaths from crime and road casualties rise. Watch as congestion and pollution gets worse. Boris is being driven around in a people carrier and getting letters of thanks from Porshe. We know Ken loved public transport and nobody waits long for a bus or joins long queues for the tube anymore because of his hard work. Boris will make things worse. The Tories offer nothing but criticism of Labour - but criticism won't improve things - for that you need good ideas and decent policies. The Tories have neither. The Tories do offer change - a change for the worse.

QT said...

I'm not going to get on here and oppose everything you've listed as Labour achievements. Some of them are dubious (devolution, particularly without a corresponding English parliament*? smoking ban?). Some are gimmicks, where more radical changes were needed (Surestart). Others are downright wrong (how has doubling of expenditure provided a doubling in quality? Hint: It hasn't). Even the minimum wage, which you probably think of as an unqualified good thing, has valid arguments against it. Finally, equalities legislation was imposed by EU directive, so whether you agree with it or not I don't see how Labour can take the credit.

You have a point in saying that the Tories offer nothing (I would say "little") other than criticism of Labour. That was, after all, a large part of the point of this post, only from a less Labour-supportive perspective!

Most of the Boris/Ken stuff in your comment is conjecture. I've responded to some of your more objectionable posts regarding London at DK's place, where I am guest-blogging. Beware of the flying f@#!s.

*I'm not personally in favour of an English parliament, but those that are do have a point.