Funny old world, just glad I’m not an opinion pollster. But there again, who tells them how they’re going to vote? The one time I was asked I just asked him if he believed in a secret ballot. When he said ‘Yes’ I replied, “And so do I.”
He must have been young because he’d never heard that line before.
But I’ve heard and seen a lot of stuff across the web from people who think that the end of days is coming and that we’ll soon be back to sending children down’t pit. (Not horses, obviously, the animal welfare regulations are far too strict.)
I think that a lot of people struggle to understand how our system works. You have a population which can be divided into three main groups.
- A) Those who actually believe in a political ideology (doesn’t really matter which.)
- B) Those who have a sort of vague but deep rooted tribal allegiance to one party or another.
- C) Those who come to each election almost as a blank slate and try and work out what’s best this time.
Now no one group is any better than any of the others. Group A probably add a bit of class to the discussion, Group B give stability to the system and Group C ensure that no one party stays too long in power.
There’s also a subgroup of people who feel they ought to vote but cannot bring themselves to vote for anyone who might sully themselves with power. There are times when I wondered whether a lot of them voted Lib-dem.
But anyway our system rubs along pretty well. We’ve got one party who, in crude terms, will eventually get the economy back on its feet so that it’ll start producing money and making us all that bit more prosperous. We’ve got another party that will spread the money about a bit. Obviously both parties make sure that their core backers do all right out of it but both the creating the wealth and the splashing it about a bit do combine to ensure that most of us get a bit.
So Group A sort of ensure that the two parties stick to what they do best. Group B provide the solidity of support which allows the parties to weather defeats.
Group C gradually get more and more disillusioned with one party and slowly drift across to the other. So perhaps they feel that the money has been spread faster than it’s been earned so they’ll drift away from the spreaders. Or perhaps they’ve decided that some people are getting too much and others not enough and they’ll drift back to the spreaders.
And if you look at our history since the war, we’ve oscillated nicely between the two parties.
Then we’ve got another advantage in our system. Within the parties we’ve got inbuilt checks and balances. Because, in a first past the post system, you only really do have two successful parties, these parties are in themselves coalitions.
Under PR where the seats are linked to the proportion of the vote, if a party splits, both halves could be viable and both might even prosper. With our system, if a party splits, the bunch that splits off will probably just disappear. (Think the gang of four or those who’ve left the Conservatives for UKIP).
So parties do tend to hold together, and there’s always a lot of discussion within the parties. Indeed the infighting can be more fractious than the fighting between parties.
So when the leader of a party wants to do something that isn’t within the core competency of the party, something that wasn’t in the manifesto, the leader has to effectively negotiate with the various clans than make up his party. This itself is a useful brake on extreme policies.
The next brake is the fact that we, the electors, vote for a candidate. And if that candidate is a good constituency MP, looks after his votes, goes the extra mile, even votes against the party for the good of the constituents, it is not uncommon for that MP to be untouchable by the party. They know that if they de-select him or her, then the person will still remain an MP, because the constituents are more loyal to the MP than to the party. All parties have had MPs who have managed to achieve this status. You tend to find that they’re widely respected by people who otherwise would regard them as a political opponent, and conservative voters will vote Labour (and vice versa) to ensure that MP stays as their MP. (Remember that most of the electorate aren’t all that political or committed to an ideology.)
So even if a Prime Minister has a majority, unless it’s a majority so large that they can afford to ignore some of their warring clans, they’ll have to negotiate. It’s interesting to note that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had huge majorities and basically ‘lost it’. They lost contact with both electorate and party. Hence even large majorities contain the seeds of the party’s destruction. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, first they give landslide victories……..
With a small majority, such as we have now, the Prime Minister knows that it will be whittled away in by-elections (which governments tend to lose) and in minor revolts, and so for a lot of contentious issues, the PM may be forced to rely on opposition votes anyway.
So what’s going to happen in the next five years?
Obviously things will change. Vested interests will howl that this or that treasured national institution is being sold off when what they really mean is that they’re not getting as good a do out of it as they once did.
Hopefully in five years time we’ll be a bit less in debt, but don’t ask me to say whether we’ll be far enough out of the woods for group C to start drifting back.
But either at the next election or the one after the Conservative party will doubtless lose and the other lot will get into power.
There are possible changes. I think that the Labour party has been really fortunate that the Lib-dems collapsed when they did. Or with the SNP kicking Labour out of Scotland, the Lib-dems might have made a bid to be the ‘other’ party in England.
So what has the Labour party got to do? Well it would be a good start if they started choosing MPs from people who’ve actually held down a real job. They need people who can reach out and talk to their supporters. Miliband et al might well have been able to talk to the Labour voters in group A, but group A isn’t a big group. They need people who can reach out and talk to their tribal voters in group B and reassure them that they’re still members of the same tribe.
They also need people who seem sensible, practical and decent so that group C feel that they can put them into power and get the benefits of a bit of redistribution without the economy being trashed in short order.
In fact they really ought to do the things they never did in the last five years.