Monday, 14 May 2012

Rage against the machine

Our local Tory candidate bucked the national trend. The Tory vote nationally collapsed or supporters stayed at home. Recent headlines could not have been worse for a prospective  candidate. By working hard contacting the electorate in this geographically spread ward he more than doubled the Tory vote. He was very narrowly defeated but showed what can be done by connecting with people. Many people voted Tory for the first time in their lives. The turnout in the ward was 51% - again significantly higher than the average for Scotland and the rest of the UK. 
“Labour polled better than the rest, but the real winner of those contests, and by a landslide, was the Stay At Home Party. The non-voters represented 68% of the electorate.  One Labour figure observes: "People say 'I don't vote' like they would say 'I don't smoke'. It's a lifestyle decision now".” Andrew Rawnsley, Observer 13/5/12
At the count in Argyll there were several spoilt ballot papers which were scrutinised by the candidates. Part of the process involves displaying said papers on a screen in the hall. There was much laughter when one came up with the words ‘ALL WANKERS’ written in bold felt tip across the entire ballot paper. Another had every name bar one crossed out with the word ‘reluctantly’ against the remaining candidate. There were several ‘none of the above’s’ too. The ‘wankers’ voter must have been in enough dudgeon to go to his polling station with a felt-tipped pen to make his (or her) statement. Far too many cannot be bothered or are now detached from our political system
“Among those still voting, we see an increasing rejection of conventional party politics in a flight to extremes, "independents" and single-issue parties, a phenomenon far from confined to Britain. In Germany, there's the rapid rise of the Pirate Party. The French and Greek elections both saw leaps in support for fascist and radical leftist parties. In the US, it found expression in the Tea Party. The British strain of this contagion has been comparatively mild: one byelection victory for Respect and an increasingly smug look on the face of Nigel Farage as he basks in the rising ratings for Ukip....
...At the last election, when David Cameron was trying to present himself as the answer to public disenchantment, broken promises and sleazy deals, he offered what he called "an invitation to join the government of Britain". The revelations of the Leveson inquiry are further confirmation for voters that power is brokered at gatherings to which they are never invited. The Labour leader was honest enough to acknowledge the sins of his party in this respect. "We became one of 'them' rather than one of 'us'."
As an explanation for what has gone wrong, this analysis is not just confined to the left. The New Few, a compelling book by the conservative thinker Ferdinand Mount, a former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit when Margaret Thatcher was in residence, argues that wherever you find power, whether it be at Westminster, universities, in the City or corporate boardrooms, you will find self-serving oligarchies dedicated to the empowerment and enrichment of a minority at the expense of the majority.” (ibid)
So what is to be done? One answer is to re-connect with electors on their doorstep as evidenced by our local Tory. It takes a certain amount of bottle and a willingness to engage in what has come to be known as dog shit politics - tackling issues that matter to people in an area. Another is to limit party donations or even do away with them all together, restricting fundraising to a membership fee. 
We cannot rely on Westminster’s bubble-dwellers for reform. It will take a bottom-up movement.

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