Disillusionment is so often cited as the reason people vote for extremists, the underpinning reason why X or Y is happening in British politics. And it’s mostly gibberish. It’s a nonsense told both by those who wish to vote for extremes, and by those attempting to justify why others might vote for those extremes. The reality is, it’s barely ever the case.
I feel like we’re in a pretty scary place. When it comes to politics, there’s obviously a tendency for hyperbole, exaggerating one’s claims to suit one’s political agenda. But for someone with left-wing beliefs, their understanding of how to treat others best represented by socialism, the United Kingdom is currently a frightening political landscape.
People are voting UKIP/BNP/English Democracts, etc, etc, we’re told, because they’re disillusioned with the main parties and want to see things shaken up. This is plain, absolute rubbish. It doesn’t make sense in any way, and the media’s frequent declaration that this is the case is both intellectual snobbery, and woeful naivety.
The obvious reality is, a large contingent of people voting for extremes, for racist and homophobic parties like UKIP, BNP, etc, do so because they are racist and homophobic. Pretending this isn’t the case is endemic in the reporting of our politics, perhaps from a fear of appearing “biased”, perhaps from a fear of alienating the racist and homophobic contingent of their audience. Very few people tend to wear the mantle of “racist” with pride, hence that most oxymoronic of aphorisms, “I’m not racist, but…” The inevitable continuation of something either grotesquely or insidiously racist rather confirms the contrary, but for some reason our press has opted to acculturate itself to the opening gambit. Essentially, the coverage of UKIP in the recent elections has been, “UKIP isn’t racist, but…” The reality of course being: UKIP is racist, and lots of people who agree with their racist views have voted for them accordingly.
I’m not one for regrets. I try not to dwell on mistakes made in the past, but instead focus on not making the same mistakes in future. But there’s one regret I can’t shake: I encouraged others to vote for Don Foster in Bath, and the Liberal Democrats elsewhere, at the last General Election.
At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Foster had a really fantastic voting record, and behaved like a man with integrity. He campaigned on issues he cared about, and he took a splendidly enlightened view of censorship and invasive laws. I was pleased to give him my vote, and I argued to others why I thought they should to. And now I can only see myself as complicit in the despicable results of that election, in the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, and most of all, in the voting record of Foster since the election.
When I voted for him, my vote was carried over into every vote he’s cast since May 2010, of which all but six have been in line with the Conservatives. He’s rebelled a paltry six times, twice on matters of civil servant pay, and four times on what times Parliament should meet. He has not rebelled or abstained on a single vile policy that has gone through, endorsing the wretched cuts and evil targeting of the poor and disabled – those who Foster had purported to support before this government. His toadying has been horrendous to watch, and seen him rising the ranks of the Lib Dems over the last couple of years, as he appears to abandon all his previous principles. It’s been a miserable and humiliating sight, and one for which I hold myself responsible. Realistically, I couldn’t have known, but that doesn’t change where I put my X, and where I encouraged others to put theirs.
Last week I wrote to Foster to express my horror at his voting for the 1% cap on annual benefit rises – a real-terms cut in benefits for the poorest and most needy, as inflation rises far beyond the insulting increases. I’ve written to Foster before since the election, and in response have had the most dismissive responses imaginable, ignoring anything I’ve said, and instead listing Lib Dem “achievements” as if they mean anything in the face of their swathes of failures. The reply to my latest communication was the same, but this time so much more insidiously awful. I really can’t tell if Foster has successfully deluded himself into believing that the microscopic differences his party have made to Tory policy are really of great significance, and thus his voting in favour of the outcome is a noble act on his part, of if he is simply a cruel and terrible man who cares not at all for the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s so sad to find myself hoping for the former, hoping for a deluded quisling MP.
There are some things that are pointless, no matter how strong the urge may be to do them. And trying to observe the discrepancy of discourse between the American right and left is right up there on the Shouting Down A Well chart. But the reaction to the Clint Eastwood appearance of two nights ago means I’m helpless but to just pointlessly post words.
From an objective perspective (or the closest I can get to one as an outside observer with politics that match neither of the competing parties), what was shown was a clearly uncomfortable Eastwood stumbling through a poorly rehearsed sketch in which he pretended to interview Obama, while talking to an empty chair. It was poorly delivered, frequently stumbling, and full of really quite concerning factual errors. There were a couple of well-delivered moments where he pretended Obama was interrupting him, but unfortunately after the very confused and hesitant start it was hard to recognise these from his genuine mistakes. I didn’t find it funny, and I certainly don’t think it had many jokes in it. It was, instead, designed to be scathing and derogatory, and to a baying crowd of Republicans who believe or pretend to believe that Obama is an anti-Christ this is exactly what they wanted to hear. And of course – of course attendees of the Republican Convention are going to be extreme enthusiasts, passionate in their support for their party, and accordingly passionate in their disgust for the other party.
But what makes me abandon an attempt at objectivity, and want to chew my face off from the inside out is the way in which Republicans – as is now always the case – immediately begin the campaign of non-information afterward. This relies on believing, or pretending to believe, a few things:
1) They are in the minority, and are being oppressed.
2) The media is against them, and they are at a significant disadvantage because of this.
3) Any who disagree with them are “politically correct”, “liberal”, and various forms of inverted bigots.
I’ve been joking on Twitter today about certain people being baddies, and how much easier life would be if we’d all accept this and commit to our roles. It’s obviously a massively over-simplified and silly idea, but it’s the parodic distillation of the thought I keep having every time the news reports that Russia and China have vetoed yet another UN attempt at intervention in Syria. That it’s been left up to the likes of William Hague to have to call out these governments, while the news outlets report it with their delusion of “balance”, is a pretty worrying sign. I really do think it would be a lot better if the media just acknowledged what we all know is true – that the Russian and Chinese governments are baddies, and the Syrian regime are baddies, so of course they’re going to stick together.
The obvious flaw with such a comment is that it implies that the other side therefore must be “goodies”. If only it were true, and it’s obviously not the case. But I think we can say quite unequivocally that, for instance, Putin’s regime are proper baddies, and we need to stop pretending otherwise. Surely we’d get a lot further a lot more quickly.
What’s perhaps more peculiar is the Republican party in the United States. The USA is a deeply, deeply weird nation, over 300,000,000 people somehow almost exactly split down the middle in terms of which of two sides they’re on. There are two parties who offer presidential candidates with a realistic chance of winning, and you have to pick one of them. There’s no nuance, there’s no middle ground. You either pick the man in the centre, or the man on the extreme right. (Even more so than in the UK, there’s no notion of a left wing option, with one side calling the other side “socialist” as an insult while the other side desperately protests that they’re not.) And with this bisecting of the country and its politics, it’s become deeply tribal. Not North/South as it once was, but Outside/Inside. When there’s one side or the other to pick, and nothing offering a position that sits between the two, both sides are inevitably going to become caricatures of themselves, and part of that has been to quite defiantly choose between being a Goodie or a Baddie.
Nick Clegg, before the election, via Labour Uncut.
I don’t know what to do with the rage I’m feeling.
At a certain point, smashing buildings and throwing rocks is the correct response.
Here is the letter I wrote to Don Foster tonight, after he voted in favour of tripling tuition fees, cutting arts and humanities funding by 100%, and unashamedly doing the precise opposite of his solemn pre-election promise:
Dear Don Foster,
I have one question for which I would appreciate an answer. If – before the Coalition was formed – you heard of an MP who made a solemn promise, signed a pledge and held this up for cameras, and was widely supported and elected based on this promise, and then voted against it, what would you think of him?
In the face of the clear will of your electorate, and the clear promises you made, that you would vote for the raise in tuition fees – no matter how you may have rationalised this for yourself – is a terrible act of deceit.
I ask that you resign, because your flagrant lying and vulgar contempt for your electorate demonstrates that you are obviously unfit for the role into which you were elected. I am quite certain that the Don Foster of March 2010 would entirely agree with me.
I’m so upset with and ashamed of you.
Former Lib Dem voter
Well, why not. Here’s me on ITV News, looking like an angry garden gnome, saying “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” for a really long time. Huge thanks to Andrew for helping me with the clip.
I sent this email to Don Foster today. If you want to write to your MP ahead of the vote on Thursday regarding the tripling of student tuition fees, and the horrendous cuts to university education, you can directly email them from here.
Dear Don Foster,
After attending the protests this morning, I am compelled to write to you regarding Thursday’s vote. I wish to appeal to you, to the man for whom I voted.
I voted for you because of your voting record, and your promises. Not only that, but I encouraged many others to vote for you, those who were apolitical or apathetic. I invested my time and energy into convincing them to vote for you, based on whom you had been. And now I feel humiliated.
I don’t want these people to have been lied to. I don’t want you to make me into a liar. I told them that you were different, that you voted so passionately for decency and humane values. I showed them the form response your office sent me that so eloquently and intelligently explained why you would be voting for libel reform, and against the attacks by corporations on people’s rights to internet access with the Digital Economy Bill. I explained that you represented the only party voting to abolish tuition fees.
You say you have yet to make up your mind about Thursday’s vote. I truly hope you were telling the truth, rather than avoiding giving an answer your voters neither voted for nor wanted to hear. If this is the case, I ask you to remember who you were before the Coalition was formed, and how appalled the Don Foster of April 2010 would feel if he were told what the Don Foster of December 2010 was considering doing.
It is so devastating to hear you giving the Conservative line about this matter, knowingly lying about how various clauses will make it fairer for students (while surrounded by the students who already know that it absolutely will not). To hear you saying “compromise”, as if that’s a reason to abandon your principles, to degrade your party’s former beliefs, and to so unashamedly back out of a promise you made only six months ago.
Lies about not knowing the state of the economy are embarrassing to tell, and insulting to hear. We all know that they are lies, and it’s so sad to hear you and your colleagues saying them without shame or remorse.
You are retiring this parliament, and as such this will be your legacy. You have an opportunity to vote for what you clearly believed in, and for what you solemnly swore you would do. Or you have the choice to become a part of the Conservatives, and deny all you have fought for, and all you continue to espouse outside of areas your whips have not instructed you to change your mind about.
I truly do not believe that you do not feel shame about this. To have signed a pledge, and to have been such a decent man for so long, you must know that abandoning all this would be too sad.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long email. I politely ask that if your response to this would be to send out a form reply stating all the lies and excuses and statements of how important it is to be compromised, then please don’t send it to me. It would make me too sad.
It sort of feels pretend.
BBC News is reviewing tomorrow’s newspaper front pages, with three Tories sat around a table, crowing. They’re using phrases like, “these lefties… have got [their] comeuppance.” The presenter chuckles along. The BBC has already sunk comfortably into absolute unquestioned bias, having spent the last few days telling outright lies on the news about how our government works, attacking any Lib-Lab coalition suggestions, and endorsing a Tory government without question.
These three people sneer, laughing out loud at how left wing writers are upset with the result. The presenter doesn’t even look awkward, while his guests describe Cameron as having shown “remarkable vision”.
“I suspect we won’t be hearing the phrase ‘Broken Britain’ any more, as I rather suspect it’s just been fixed.”
Approving murmurs all round.
This is BBC News.
Literally three Conservatives mocking Labour, the left wing, sneering at the non-right newspapers, and all completely unchallenged. This is how things shall be for a long, long time.
The Liberal Democrats are currently emerging from their meeting in which they unanimously voted through the deal, stating that this is the best thing that could happen to our country. Their glee includes agreeing to a cap on immigration, and agreeing to a referendum on “giving more power to Europe,” whatever the bloody hell that means. They’ve abandoned their absolute core principles, and they’re telling us what a wonderful day this is for Britain.
Can I wake up now?
Nick Clegg’s got one heck of a decision to make.
He’s not just deciding which party gets to be in power in the UK. He’s deciding the fate of the Liberal Democrat party.
He’s got three choices, which I couldn’t outline better than Stu Campbell has here: side with Cameron, side with Brown, or side with no one and allow a Conservative minority government.
It’s the first of these three decisions that’s currently being scrutinised by Clegg and his advisors, weighing up whatever Cameron may have offered him in their private talks. Should he align his party with the Conservatives, guaranteeing a clear majority, and most likely securing some powerful positions in government for Lib Dem members? It must be tempting for anyone in politics, to be that close to power. But Clegg’s got a Liberal Democrat membership to convince – 75% of them – before he could make that commitment. Oh, and the small matter of giving up proportional representation (PR). Oh again, and giving up the future of the Lib Dem party forever.