How Do You Solve a Problem Like the British Government?

Ladies and Gentleman, welcome back. The Angry Indian has been resurrected after far too long a hiatus, be it because the world got more interesting or because I’m just really bored.

An awful lot has happened since I last wrote here, mostly death and illness and natural disasters and Kimye and other horrible things, in fact it’s all too rare nowadays to see anything positive at all in the news. For many people, that was the case again in the wee small hours of Friday morning and all through the day, as the Tories and Davey Crockmeron swept back into Parliament, riding an unprecedented wave of votes and seats. The nightmare rolled on throughout the day, as Labour despaired, the SNP rejoiced, and the Lib Dems were all but wiped off the map. The fact that Miliband, Clegg and Farage all felt they had to step down speaks volumes about the sheer scale of Conservative dominance in the face of the other major parties. Oh, but Caroline Lucas kept her seat, which was nice.

What this election also did however, was expose some gaping rifts in the UK’s current political, social and economic landscapes. The headlines that were run throughout the campaigns say it all (though I’ll get onto the press later), with every little slip and every empty pledge seized upon and violated for column inches and click counts. Commentators on both sides, and the poor impartial BBC, spent countless hours of airtime discussing, dissecting, repeating headlines and soundbites ad nauseam (spare a thought for the poor bastards presenting 24hour news channels). Thankfully I was spared the brunt of the media onslaught by being in Germany, but a weekend trip to Paris and some hotel room TV did nothing to assuage my sympathy for the voters.

Ah, the voters. The wonderful thing about democracy, as I’m sure the Greeks got all in a tizzy about when they invented it, is of course the idea of granting the people the right to choose their own government. A counter to monarchy (which Britain still has), and feudalism, and all the other unpleasant -isms that should have been left in the Dark Ages but somehow clung on for a couple more centuries. But my vague recollections of A level Politics also remind me that no voter is truly independently minded. The influence of background, economic status, geographic location, ethnicity, age, gender, they are clearly visible and do more than anything to show someone’s true colours (pun intended). The aforementioned media gets under our skin, whether we deny it or not, buzzwords stuck in the mind that undermine any purely objective decision making, swirling together with social and ethnic factors into a potent cocktail of allegiances and idealism.

So at this point I’m going to pull a late-era Blue Peter and change up the format a little. Instead of just going on and on with no real structure, I’d like to briefly talk about the five main things that I’ve taken away from this election. These are the observations I’ve made that really stuck out to me as moments or underlying themes of note, regardless of party (though I am most assuredly on the left of the political spectrum, I will try to keep things impartial).

1. The Tory Party and the Right Wing Media.

This is the big one, the one that really got my goat the more I thought about it. The influence of the right wing media in Britain is disproportionately large, off the top of my head I can name maybe three major newspapers that aren’t owned by conservatives or subscribe to a conservative ideology. The front pages of the Murdoch press shamelessly pushed Tory policy, tried to embarrass Miliband at every turn, vilified the poor and vulnerable while sheltering the rich and the financial world. Britain’s press is undoubtedly skewed, and though newspaper readership has fallen, their influence remains. The old headline of “The Sun Wot Won It” may never return, but they could definitely go with “Murdoch Incepts Ideas into Your Brain: Free Totem Inside” (£9.99 holiday to limbo). But people are aware now, aware of the influence the Great Ozzie Devil wields, read any open minded blog (like this one) and you are reminded time and again of the need for balanced journalism. But despite all this, what bugs me the most is that it fucking worked. People bought it. They forgot all notion of themselves as members of a wider society and instead jumped on the traditional conservative ideal of an insular existence where you take all you can get for yourself.

Wait, let me tie that into my next point.

2. The Resurgence of the Self

The voters in this election, though I won’t say that they were wrong, were selfish bastards. Thanks to the American right wing, the word “socialism” has become tainted, and Labour’s own attempts to distance themselves from the moniker and slink on over to the centre did nothing to help. The economic crisis combined with the effects of austerity have convinced everyone of a certain economic standing that they need to squirrel away everything they can and sod the rest. This is of course an inevitable aspect of a capitalist society, an idea which has had more than a tiny bit of success over human history, but in an era of increased social awareness you’d think people would have a bit more empathy for their fellow man. Instead we got Tories accusing people using food banks of being junkies or alcoholics, suggesting poor people can’t cook, and generally doing everything in their power to convince people that welfare and a social safety net are a terrible idea and just there to be abused by povvos. You can’t blame people for looking out for their own interests, but you can despair at the idea of a society that can forget the poor as soon as the next headline comes along.

3. An Unstoppable Force and a Feather Pillow

Let’s be honest here, Labour did themselves no favours. In the face of such a doggedly determined and unified Conservative party, a strong opposition was vital. Someone to go toe-to-toe with Cameron on every issue, present the public with precisely the opposite viewpoint, convince them that there is another way. Sadly Ed Miliband was not the man for the job. As if the right wing press seizing on his love life and sandwich eating wasn’t bad enough, Ed also failed to counter any Tory policies outright. Miliband and Balls even stated that Labour weren’t entirely opposed to austerity, surely leading many voters who were on the fence to wonder if it would even make a difference if the Tories stay in power. The adversarial nature of British politics is one of the things that makes it great, the design of the House of Commons with facing benches divided by a distance set to prevent sword fights is brilliant, but the concept only works properly when you have two equal adversaries. You need Hunt and Lauda, a Sperm Whale and a Giant Squid, what we got instead was David and Goliath. Or rather David’s younger brother.

4. Westeros Is Real and its Name Is Great Britain

The North/South divide in the run up to the election felt more pronounced than ever. The Tories brown-nosed the South, where the well heeled red trouser types who make up their core demographic rallied over Waitrose vol-au-vents and Mumm. Labour clung onto much of their Northern heartland like a baby chimp on its mother, where they quite easily swept the seats around the main cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. And it worked, for both parties, a look at any election map (like this one: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2015/may/07/live-uk-election-results-in-full) shows the expected splotches of blue in the South and red in the North, interspersed by bits of other colours. But the blue has crept up. The blue sits comfy in Cheshire, parts of Yorkshire, all around Birmingham and the East Midlands. It’s a sign that though the continuing economic and social divides that distance anything above Birmingham from what lies below still exist, the lines are being blurred by a generation who are leaving behind the woes caused for the industrial North by Thatcher and Lawson. The Southern perception of the “grim North” is unfounded (Yorkshire > Anywhere else in Britain, come at me bitches), but the stereotype exists for a reason. The Tories austerity and anti-welfare stance jars with many communities where economic prosperity (whether self imposed or not) is hard to come by. But the middle classes, be they up North or daan Saath like to identify more with those at the top even if they’re actually closer to those at the bottom. Blue collar Tories came out in force, who knows whether their faith in Cameron and Osborne will be rewarded.

Oh, and who can ignore the stunning success of the SNP beyond the Wall, with 56 MPs another Scottish Referendum is almost certainly on the cards, and next time the union might not survive.

5. The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Nationalism

There were several heart stopping moments over the course of the campaigns when the unthinkable almost seemed real, UKIP winning several or even many seats became a very real prospect. The party were undeniably savvy and knew exactly what people of a certain disposition (read: idiots) wanted to hear. They cleverly positioned themselves as anti-establishment, despite being a party of privately educated Tory rejects, contradicted themselves so much that their own supporters forgot what their policies were (if you haven’t yet, listen to this: http://www.lbc.co.uk/this-ukip-voter-is-skillfully-dispatched-by-james-obrien-98492), and managed to survive despite various members calling women who don’t clean sluts, blaming floods on gays, and blaming traffic on immigrants. The unprecedented popularity of their ideas among little Englanders and closet racists triggered some form of panic alarm at Tory HQ, with the party then jumping on the EU referendum bandwagon in order to try and claw back the far right of their party who had defected to Farage’s side. It seemed that Britain’s reaction to coalition austerity, large scale tax evasion and an increasingly privatised NHS would be to stick its head in the sand and just shut it out. The fact that foreign policy was barely touched upon in the debates (yet immigration and the EU came up with wincing regularity) highlighted the sudden inward looking perspective of a section of the populace incensed by hyperbolic immigration figures and a poor understanding of the EU and its workings (no, the EU don’t make all of our laws, and no, Sharia law isn’t being implemented in Britain you fucking muppet). Fringe groups like Britain First took on board those who were too bigoted for UKIP, shockingly becoming the most popular political page on Facebook, using pictures and simplistic slogans laid over pictures of soldiers and puppies to push a scarily xenophobic and isolationist agenda. And despite the relief for many of UKIP only winning one seat, with Farage losing his, the new government will inevitably have to appease the new wave of nationalists in some way. That way will most likely be an in/out EU referendum, and the prospect of so many uninformed people voting on something that will have huge ramifications for Britain is mildly terrifying.

So there you have them, my five main take aways from what was most certainly an enthralling election, one that brought new issues to the fore and perpetuated others. An election that claimed three party leaders and annihilated Labour’s presence in Scotland, that showed just how divided a society we’ve become, that arguably even did a lot of good by engaging many first time voters in real political debate. Our severely flawed and much maligned voting system of FPTP has come under heavy fire, but it has also now given us another five years of Conservative rule, and though I can’t lie and say that I’m a fan, it will definitely be interesting to see how this new government will play out.

xoxo, The Lazarus Indian. (Back from the dead, get it?)