Wednesday, 12 May 2010

British General Election 2010

The most exciting general election in the United Kingdom in the last 30 years, allegedly, is concluded and in the words of Paddy Ashdown, the Ex-Liberal Democrat leader, the British Public has spoken, but we are not clear what they have said.

Although this is a blog mainly about books, I can declare that I am interested in politics. ‘Interested’ would probably be overstating it. I am interested in British politics in the same way I am interested in the non-fiction section of a high-street bookshop: I know where it is, but I do not have an overwhelming desire to visit it and pour over, say, yet another account of what the British did leading up to the D day in the Second World War, or a 'highly informative’ account that ‘reads like a thriller’ of the recession crisis engulfing the Western world by an expert (who wasn’t expert enough, it would appear, to predict it; but then, apart from Vince Cable and my friend John, no one in my knowledge saw it coming); however, I will visit it if there is a specific book I am looking for.

My interest in the British general election of 2010 was aroused after the televised debate—the first in British History—of the leaders of the three contesting parties. It was also an opportunity for me to find out the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat Leader and see him. I thought that was essential, as I was planning to vote the Lib Dems in the election. My curiosity was also provoked by a phone call I received one evening a few weeks earlier. The woman at the other end claimed that she was phoning from the Lib Dems’ office and wanted to know which party I would vote if the elections were held the next day. I told her that I would vote the Lib Dems, and she thanked me. I felt compelled to tell her that those were only intentions and I might change my mind on the day itself. I warned her that I was known amongst my friends to be notoriously indecisive.

‘It’s OK; I only wanted to know your intentions,’ she said.

‘Even though they can change within hours of this conversation,’ I responded.

There was a pause, then the woman said, ‘Well, um.'

All the contestants in the constituency in which I live were men, none of them pretty. The Lib Dem candidate, the party of my choice, looked like the missing link between the Neanderthals and humans, and was of a height that would have required a ladder to get on to a chair. The Labour and the Tory candidates between them weighed 250 kilograms. The Labour guy looked as though he had an alcohol problem, his face permanently flushed and nose an angry red dotted with tributaries of broken veins. The Tory candidate was equally unprepossessing (I only saw his posters), with his hair looking as if a bird had attempted to build a nest on his head before giving up, and eyes glinting sinisterly from behind his glasses. I could not make up my mind whether the man, despite his prodigious bulk, was a mental midget (and therefore to be pitied), or despite his ridiculous appearance, was evil (and therefore to be feared). There was a candidate from the Green Party, too, who looked to be barely out of his teens, a galaxy of acne cruising across his face. I have never really understood the point of the Greens (probably because I have never tried). I knew that Hazel from office was a Green supporter—another reason why I viewed the Greens with some reservation. Hazel is a bit odd; she eats raw vegetables for lunch and has peculiar body odour (I also suspect she is a cat-lover). I logged on to the Green Party’s website, which informed me that it was not just another political party; Green politics was a new radical kind of politics guided by their core principles, of which they had listed ten. By the time I reached the end of the list (liberally strewn with words and phrases like ‘recognising human diversity’, ‘non-violent solution to conflict situations’, ‘Personal freedom, happiness, and human fulfilment’) tears of boredom were streaming down my face, even though I did not have any issues with the Greens’ idea of Utopia. I mean, I wouldn't mind at all living in a world where everyone is happy, everyone gets everything he wants, the Islamists and Jeremy Paxman chill out a bit—the former reconnoitring the route to paradise, and the latter adopting the philosophical position that there ought to be more to life than insulting politicians, and—my personal Utopia, this—I get to date classy birds who wear expensive knickers, own first edition Orwell, and who, when you take them out for meals, spend half an hour studying the menu before ordering green salad and a glass of fizzy water. But I am not sure that is going to happen, not at any rate by voting the Greens; you might as well flush your vote down the toilet. I wished I were living in the neighbouring constituency where there was a posh bird standing on the Conservative ticket against (it has to be said) a very ugly Labour man with gaps in his teeth.

‘I will be astonished if the lesbian wins,’ announced my friend John (a long-standing Labour supporter who hates New Labour; but he hates the Tories even more). ‘This is a safe Labour seat.’

‘You are calling this woman a lesbian,’ I felt I needed a clarification on this point, ‘because you have a specific knowledge about her sexuality, or as a term of abuse to express your contempt?’ I ended the sentence with an inflection to make it into a question.

‘Oh! She looks like a Les’, John Said. ‘And she is stupid; she probably thinks credit crunch is an expensive cereal,’ he added.

‘Why do you say that?’ I asked.

‘She just looks stupid to me.’

Anyway, coming back to the televised debates Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, judging from his (ham) theatrical performance, appeared to be auditioning for the role of an enraged brother-in-law in a Bollywood family potboiler. As for what he had to say, it could be summarised as follows: we are not Labour and we are not Tories; we can’t be held responsible for the mess we are in; so vote for us. David Cameron, the Tory leader, looked perplexed, as if trying to figure out how he ended up with the two other chancers sharing the podium with him.  What he had to say was about as clear as one of those Impressionistic paintings of Claude Monet when he began to lose his sight. Cameron’s main message was: we are in a mess; Labour did it; don’t vote for them, vote for us. We are not the nasty party any more; look at me; do I look nasty? (To be fair to him, when he was not looking perplexed, he tried his best to look concerned.) Gordon Brown, the prime-minister and the leader of the Labour Party, unlike Cameron and Clegg, managed effortlessly to be his natural self—awkward, grumpy, sullen, and with the attitude of a spoilt ten year old who has been told that he cannot help himself, for the sixth time, to the jar of sweets. His pitch to the public was: I am the prime minister and, unlike the other two jokers, I know what I am talking about; I have seen good times and bad times (in other words he knew how to wreck a perfectly working economy); the recession was global, and I am your man to steer the country out of troubled waters. (Entrusting economy to Brown, my friend John said, would be like handing over your best crockery set to the bull after he had rampaged through your China shop.) On immigration, especially illegal immigration, the Labour and Tories differed from the Lib Dem position. As I saw it, Nick Clegg was going to track down these illegal immigrants, living in the shadows of our society as he put it, and give them amnesty so that they could live here; whereas Cameron and Brown were not going to find them and deport them. On several occasions during the three televised debates, Brown looked disapprovingly at Cameron and Clegg. He informed Cameron that he was a threat to country’s economic recovery, and Clegg that he was a threat to country’s security. He was so severe, I feared Cameron and Clegg would need telephonic support from anti-bullying help-line.

In the middle of all this Brown had his granny-gate. While campaigning in Rochdale, Brown was accosted by an old biddy who asked him a lot of questions about economy and immigration, which confirmed that the old biddy, in addition to being of an advanced age and (by her own admission) a lifelong Labour supporter, was also stupid, ignorant, and very possibly bigoted.  That’s what Brown called her afterwards in what he thought was a private conversation with one of his aides. Except that he still had a microphone attached to his shirt, provided by SKY, and the remark was picked up by the SKY news, which, promptly, in line with its stoop-to-the-gutter-level-to-destroy-Brown-protocol, splashed it all over the place, forcing Brown to issue no less than six apologies over the next six hours. He even visited the bigoted woman at her house in Rochdale (that, you would have thought, was punishment enough) to apologise in person. Brown could have learned from Teflon Tony, his predecessor, slimier than a snail, who never accepted microphones from News agencies.

My support for Lib Dems began to waver after the ‘granny-gate’ and I toyed with the idea of voting Labour, so sorry did I feel for Brown, who was being be-shitten from everywhere.

On the election night, I started with the intention of watching the results throughout the night. ITV and BBC had rival shows, while Channel 4 had an ‘alternative election night’, fronted, amongst others, by the comedian Jimmy Carr, whom I do not find funny at all and whose habit of jerking his neck (like a hen picking up grains from a garbage pile) every time he delivers his un-funny punch line I find irritating. So I decided to watch ITV and BBC.

I shall not go into the details of what happened on the election night because I had had enough by 11.30 pm and went to sleep. I remember Ann Widdecomb, ex-Tory MP and dreadful novelist, her breasts splayed on the table in front of her, commenting that Paddy Ashdown, the ex-leader of the Lib Dems was being ‘pompous and premature’, before predicting with a school-girlish squeak that the Tories would have a clear majority when the first election result, from the piss-poor Sunderland, came out, which the Tories lost to Labour by a margin of more than 10,000 votes. On another occasion the mosquitoesqe David Miliband, while being interviewed—by that time it was clear as daylight that Labour, although not facing a rout, were losing badly— reminded George Osborne, the deathly pale right hand man of Cameron, that it was not a sixth form debate with the smirk of an eleven year old who thought he had made a clever point in the school debate.

It was also obvious that the Labour propaganda machine had swung into action with all the dexterity and panache of a charging rhino. The double trouble of Alastair Campbell and Piers Morgan refused to accept with the conviction of the deluded that it was turning out to be a bad night for Labour. Campbell tried to give so much positive spin to the undeniable reality that Labour had attracted less than 30% of the popular vote and were comfortably beaten by the Tories to the second position that I began to get vertigo. Piers Morgan was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) equally shameless in his refusal to see the blindingly obvious, and was concocting all sorts of permutations involving Labour and Lib Dems that would keep the Tories out. I could not help thinking that these freelancing wheeler-dealers—Campbell, an ex-alcoholic and discredited spin-doctor of a discredited, profiteering warmonger (liar BLiar, pants on fire); and Morgan, a disgraced former editor of a British tabloid who was frogmarched out of the office for being incompetent and who now earns his keep by being a reality television judge, sitting next to David Hasselhoff and Amanda Holden—were doing more harm than good to Labour’s (already tattered) reputation. It is not as if either of them has credibility or has anything intelligent to say. They are just a couple of chancers who turn up (probably uninvited) at these events. It is impossible to take such publicity-hoggers seriously. Morgan is at least entertaining; Campbell is just annoying.

Then I saw Jeremy Paxman—perhaps it was the next day—giving a grilling to a robot called Jack Dromey  (the husband of the deputy leader of Labour party, Harriet Harman), the newly elected Labour MP from Birmingham. Paxo tried his best-selling act of looking disgusted, contemptuous, incredulous, all at the same time (which had the net result of him looking as if he was choking on his own tongue) when Dromey informed him that the people did not want a Conservative government. However Dromey was having none of that. With no expressions whatsoever on his face and in a monotonous voice, in comparison with the standard recorded message on the telephone answer-phone was Laurence Olivier, Dromey kept on repeating that the Conservatives had not won the election and that people did not want a Conservative government. It was as if the man had no free will and was programmed to spawn the same response no matter what Paxman threw at him. Paxo gave up in the end, looking at Dromey as if he should be quartered and attempting one last bit of sarcasm by saying that he (Dromey) had made himself abundantly clear. The camera faded as Dromey, in response, was in the midst of saying that people did want a Conservative government.

Peter Mandelson was interviewed at one stage. He is another corrupt, discredited politician, in my opinion. Brown hated his guts for supporting BLiar for the Labour leadership in the 1990s, but recalled him from the cold when he began to lose ground. I am not sure if that was such a clever move. The views of most people of the ‘Prince of Darkness’ nestle between detestation and abhorrence. In the interview I watched, Mandelson did what he is best at: building sandcastles when the tide was clearly coming in. A malicious grin spreading slowly, like soft butter, across his unattractive face, Mandelson hinted and insinuated all sorts of possibilities in respect of post-election alliances between parties, indicating that Labour would be prepared to ditch Gordon Brown if it meant they could stay in power in coalition with the Lib Dems. It was a spectacle guaranteed to turn most healthy stomachs.

The final results were almost exactly as predicted by the exit polls, which confirmed that Lord Ashdown was talking from the back of his head when he asseverated that the Lib Dems would win more seats than that predicted by the poll. However that still left the Tories 20 short of an absolute majority. Any Labour hopes of forming an alliance with the Lib Dems were dashed when Cleggy announced that the Tories should have a first go at forming a government. I was pleased when I heard that for no other reason than that it meant the machinating toerags like Mandelson and Campbell would be frustrated and the smirk on the face of that picayune David Miliband would disappear.

Brown, in the meanwhile, had returned to Number 10, the official residence of the British Prime-minister. His initial announcement suggested that he was not ready to throw in the towel yet. He grudgingly accepted that the Tories and the Lib Dem should first try to form the government—not that he had any choice in the matter; the Lib Dem had not, at that stage, approached him—however, he declared, should those negotiations not come to fruition he would be willing to negotiate with them. The right wing Tory press was up in arms and one of the tabloids owned by the despicable Rupert Murdoch called him a squatter at number 10. (The same tabloid, eleven years ago, when BLiar was licking Murdoch’s rectum clean, had announced in a headline, after yet another deranged rant from the then Tory leader, William Hague, that the Conservative party had died, the cause of death being suicide.) Then El Gordo, the magician, pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He announced that he was stepping down as the leader of the Labour party, but was still keen to form what he termed as a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Lib Dems that would keep the nasty Conservatives out. Since it was no secret that Cleggy could not stand Brown whose idea of persuading others to his line of thinking was to throw the nearest heavy object in the general direction of their heads, the assumption (presumably) by the Labour Think Tank (if that is not overstating the case) was that the Lib Dems would be more amenable to forming an alliance with them if Brown were out of the way. The right wing, pro-Tory, press went apeshit.  Just two days before they were calling Brown a squatter because he was not resigning. Now that he had resigned, they were madder than a hatter, and accused him of trying shamelessly to keep Cameron out of power.

We do not know whose idea it was to advise Brown to link his resignation to the coalition with the Lib Dems (probably Mandelson's), but it was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty undignified, not to say stupid, thing to do. All it did was to give the Lib Dems more leverage in their negotiations with the Tories, who immediately announced that they would be prepared to offer the Lib Dem a referendum on alternative vote (AV).

Allow me to explain all this fuss about proportional voting. This is an old demand of the Lib Dems, who, for decades, have argued that the voting system in Britain, which is ‘first-past-the-post is the winner’, is unfair. In this general election Lib Dem got 24% of the popular vote, but their elected members were less than 10% of the total number. That is of course because majority of their candidates lost, which meant that the votes gone to them did not count. In Lib Dem’s ideal world, with 24% share of the popular vote, they would have almost 1/4th the number of MPs. Quite how this will happen is difficult to say—there are several complicating formulae you can use, apparently—but it does not matter, because it is not going to happen. (Years ago, in 1997, BLiar led the Lib Dems up the garden path. He appointed the Jenkins Commission to look into it; but unsurprisingly, it came to nothing, as BLiar was not committed to it. And why would he? Labour, at that time, were winning landslide victories with just over 40% of the popular vote, and anyone who expected a dishonest politician like BLiar to make changes, however fair, to the electoral system that would harm the prospects of his party, was taking an excessively optimistic view of the human nature.) 

The Tory offer to Lib Dems, something which would be beyond the ideological pale of their grass-root members who are to the right of Genghis Khan politically (there is nothing wrong with our great country that cannot be cured if only the darkies went back to the jungles to beat their bongo drums, the smelly coloured corner-shop owners and landlords were deported along with their smelly coloured tenants, tree-hugging, vegetable-munching beardy socialists were gaoled without a trial, marauding low-class football fans were shot on the spot, and anyone with the name Mohammed was banned from entering the country; in the orderly climate thus engendered, where everyone knows his place, other problems like homosexuality and abortions would get sorted by themselves), and would eat virgins on the nights of full moon if only they had half a set of teeth in their mouths (the average Tory supporter is 176 years  old and thinks Britain still rules India)—was an indication that the panic had set in among the Etonians. One of Cameron’s allies, Michael Gove, who looked as if he was suffering from a combination of a muscle-wasting disease and exopthalmic goitre (or terminal stages of alcoholism) defended the decision by telling David Dimbleby how it was always on Cameron’s mind ever since he came out of his mother’s womb, but it fooled no one.

And then suddenly it was all over. The Lib Dems reached a deal with the Tories and entered into a full coalition. Cameron would become Prime-minister and Cleggy his deputy. Which also meant taxi for Brown. He didn’t hang around. He announced that he was resigning. His resignation speech was full of Brownian contradictions. Within half an hour of Brown meeting the queen, Cameron with his horsy wife was meeting the queen (she had a busy day) and being invited by the octogenarian monarch to form the government. The BBC reporter and the news-reader, in that uniquely British (and, to be frank, nauseating) way, prattled on about whether Cameron had kissed the queen’s hand and who was the last prime-minister before him who had done that. Cameron then returned to Downing Street and gave what I am sure will turn out to be the first of the many bland speeches as prime-minister. David Dimbleby then bored everyone by pointing out at great length, exuding air of smug satisfaction and pomposity in equal measures, the differences between the British and American system when there is a change of government / President. (Who gives a toss? Americans certainly don’t. The British elections did not feature even on page six of their newspapers.) The BBC reporter (a woman with a mouth like Shrek’s) announced that President Obama had phoned Cameron congratulating on his victory. When he heard that, Dimbleby looked as if he was going to ejaculate there and then. Obama, incidentally, was the second American politician to phone Cameron. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had phoned him on the election night, apparently even before the Tories had won even a single seat, congratulating him on the victory. (May be Arnie was confused by the time difference between the two countries.).

The next day there were (at last) some indications that common sense might be returning to Labour ranks, and there'd be potential problems for Cameron. I saw an interview of Bill Cash, a Tory MP, and Diane Abbot, a Labour MP. Diane Abbott, who looked like she was either returning from or about to leave for, a pie-eating competition, was scathing of the unelected elements—when pressed to name them, she mentioned Mandelson and the improbably named Lord Adonis—interfering unnecessarily. She also said that the majority of the elected Labour MPs simply did not have the stomach to enter into what could only have been a very fragile coalition with the Lib Dems (not least because the two parties did not have the sufficient number to reach the majority and would have had to depend on the support of maverick fringe parties). The majority was also of the view that the party was crushed, trodden to the ground, and brought to a certain point of dilapidation (to these you’d have been tempted to add ‘debased’ and ‘diminished’ by the shenanigans of Mandelson, Campbell  et al) and should do the decent thing and be in the opposition. This view, also aired by the former Home secretary John Reid (in his monumentally irritating accent and patronising manner), suggested that not everyone in the Labour ranks was shameless or opportunistic or had taken leave of their senses. Bill Cash was scary; he would scare the flies off a manure truck. Firstly, he looked like a long lost cousin of Count Dracula; secondly he gave me the creeps when he launched into an inane tirade against Europe, his eyes darting everywhere, as if he was receiving messages from cuckoo land, and spit flying out everywhere from the slash that passed for a mouth on his face.

So, this is the state of play at the minute. Five days after the general election, Britain finally has a government. Cameron is in Number 10, and Nick Clegg has moved out of political obscurity to become the Deputy Prime-minister. (I wholeheartedly welcome this. Clegg is definitely an improvement on the thuggish, secretary-shagger John Prescott, the uncouth, semi-literate deputy of BLiar, who mangled the English language as a butcher cleaves meat and whose idea of sophisticated entertainment, you imagine, was to fart repeatedly and compare each explosion for volume, velocity and odourosity.)

Gordon Brown is gone. He is not just history; he is chemistry and biology. I suspect posterity will judge him as harshly as he is being judged now: he will always be remembered as the man who plotted for years to become prime-minister, but couldn’t hack it when he finally got the job. His legacy is economic ruins and near-bankruptcy of Britain. Bad as this is, he might derive comfort from the fact that at least he will not be remembered as the man who told lies and pushed his country into an illegal war. He is not a great orator, and it is unlikely that the Americans would pay astronomical sums of money to listen to him, as they are apparently doing to listen to BLiar. (Why anyone would part with even a pence of his hard-earned money to listen to BLiar blathering vacuously on peace in Middle East—would you listen to the Yorkshire Ripper lecturing on being kind to prostitutes?—is beyond me; but obviously there are parts of the world where they want to do that, allowing this war-criminal to trouser millions.) I guess Brown, who has a doctorate in History, will devote his considerable intellect to writing weighty books. A memoir full of spite and recrimination should not be ruled out.

Brown having made his long awaited (and much overdue) exit, there will now be a ghastly scrum to become the biggest bug in the pile of manure that is Labour party. Who will it be? David Miliband? Ed Miliband? Or Ed Balls? Surely they wouldn’t elect someone named Balls as their leader?

As for David—call me Dave—Cameron, he has shown that he can talk the talk. Can he walk the walk? Time shall tell.