The mother of parliaments or an illegitimate child of democracy? No matter how the situation is spun the British election was not well-organised and did not produce a stable government. Thousands of people were unable to vote because of too few staff and ballots at the polling booths and the horse-trading that followed the results was vulgar, hidden and likely to lead to another election within a year. Frankly, it’s not even clear why anybody would want to form a government right now in London because, as the Governor of the Bank of England said recently, the economic cuts essential to deal with the country financial crisis could make the party in charge un-electable for a generation.
What actually happened last week was that the Conservatives did not do as well as they had hoped, the Labour Party did a little better than they had anticipated and the Liberal Democrats had a disaster. All of this has to be put in context however, because the Tories had enormous expectations, the Labour Party feared the worst electoral catastrophe in living memory and the Lib Dems sincerely and absurdly thought they could be the largest party or at least be on a par with their main two rivals. It was never going to happen. Britain is a tribal, class-based society and as soon as it became evident that the Conservatives could form a majority government millions of working-class men and women returned to their original Labour loyalties. The same would have happened if Labour had been in the ascendancy – traditional Tory voters prepared to give the Lib Dems a chance would have resorted to Conservatism. Britain is a two-party state.
Problem is, because of the fragility of the results the third party will now have an influence far greater than its numbers and cultural, moral and historical significance deserve. The party’s radical position on European integration, civil liberties, foreign policy and immigration simply does not resonate with the British people. It has also become home for extremists and eccentrics unwelcome in the other parties – a fanatically secular supporter of euthanasia who was one of the party’s MPs, for example, lost his seat in this election by less than 200 votes but otherwise would have been an influential figure in British governance. Another candidate made vile and shocking election comments about the threats of “Jewish influence.”
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg himself is smooth and bright but is now a king-maker when he should never have been more than a somewhat lightweight prince. Churchill, Thatcher …. Clegg! Mind you, the same could be said about Conservative leader David Cameron. The man is so anxious to appear moderate and soft that he has alienated the foundations of his own party. In a recent interview with a Gay magazine he explained that had Christ been alive today he would certainly have been supportive of homosexual marriage. Not sure how he knows this but then the son of such inexorable privilege and wealth probably has some direct link to the almighty. Or thinks he does.
The party has become green-friendly, Gay-friendly, feminist-friendly and fashionable cause-friendly. Male, middle-aged candidates were told they were not welcome while socially liberal, economically conservative career women were treated as prizes and stars by Cameron and his inner circle. Rather than providing victory over arguably the least popular government and Prime Minister in Britain for fifty years, it has led to the first hung parliament since 1974.
One of the few positive outcomes of the process was the further isolation of extremist parties. The British National Party not only came nowhere close to electing an MP but generally finished no better than fourth and fifth. On the other fringe the Respect Party lost its one MP – the clownish George Galloway – and was soundly beaten in every riding in which it stood. In that it flirts with anti-Semitism and supports highly militant and armed Islamic organisations this says a great deal about the health of Britain’s Muslim population – they voted for parties other than the sadly misnamed Respect, and in particular for the Labour Party, in overwhelming numbers.
Another success was the defeat of some politicians who were linked to the expenses scandal. Former Home Secretary Jackie Smith was humiliated in her formerly safe Labour riding. Hardly surprising in that one of her expenses claims from the public purse had been for a pornographic movie her husband had watched at home on pay-per-view television. She looked, shall we say, rather blue when she realised she had been so badly beaten.
So Britain changes, whether it likes it or not. Proportional Representation may be introduced in due course and this could even mean that from now on majority governments will become as unlikely as they are in much of Europe, Israel, Canada and elsewhere. Whether that will change the nature and efficiency of the country’s body politic remains to be seen but right now the patient is deeply and dangerously sick.
Michael Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.