Following the election campaign? Clear as mud, right?
Well, one thing that’s clear is that neither the Tories nor Labour have any confidence in the vision they’re selling. Even after last week’s slick manifesto launch, I’ve still no idea what sort of country David Cameron wants us to be living in ten years from now. I don’t think he does either. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband seems to be running a 50:50 campaign: 50% Blairite, 50% old Labour; 50% leftish populism, 50% neo-con. But it’s not a smooth blend. It’s got a funny taste. The best I can say is that is has about a 50% chance of success (narrowly defined as stopping another Tory-led government).
Both Labour and the Tories are terrified of making mistakes but frustrated by the deadlock in the polls. This is pushing both old parties into making seemingly daring, but ultimately fatuous, incursions into each other’s territories.
So the Tories, who condemned Labour’s energy price freeze as “Stalinist”, now promise to do exactly the same thing with rail fares. Labour, which has spent five years attacking austerity, now threatens us with its triple lock of fiscal rectitude, which sounds like a particularly nasty sex toy. Meanwhile, the Tories are spending money like it’s going out of fashion, with squillions extra suddenly magicked up for the NHS, housing subsidies, tax cuts and childcare. I don’t get it.
But I’m not meant to get it. The policies don’t makes sense, but the politicians don’t care. The two old parties are beyond ideological or political coherence and are just tossing out messages they think people want to hear. At the last minute, both seem to have woken up to the fact that a “core vote” strategy won’t work because neither of them have enough core voters. It might once have worked for Labour, due its current advantage in the electoral system and its slightly higher core vote, but that was before the meltdown in Scotland. That electoral advantage is now working in favour of the SNP, which is happily mopping up Labour’s core vote north of the border. But the SNP surge hurts Labour without helping the Tories get over the line.
Hence the increasingly desperate scrap for a handful of votes, focusing on neutralising the negatives for each party. All of which leaves us even more clueless about what the two old parties really stand for.
Neither really understands swing voters, and neither leadership really likes its own core voters. Cameron is said to privately despise the antediluvian pensioners and right-wing fruitcakes who dominate most Conservative associations. And Labour too often shows disdain for working class people and working class values. The Tories cling to their discredited free market ideology, but are ready to toss it aside when the going gets tough, shown as much by George Osborne’s retreat from austerity after 2012 as last week’s desperate unfunded spending promises. Labour, which has lost two ideologies (socialism and Blairism) but has yet to find a third, hides behind bland statements of values (which could just as well appear on Tory banners) and appeals to vacuous concepts like “everyday people”.
I’ve been a member of the Labour party for thirty years. I will vote Labour on 7 May because, in the end, this election – for all its complexity – comes down to a choice between a party of the rich, which behaves exactly like a party of the rich when it’s in power, and the other lot. I prefer the other lot. The Labour party has to rely on the votes of working people to win elections. The Tories have to court Ukippers and can’t help but look after their own. Labour will not try to destroy the NHS or the BBC. The Tories might do for both. Labour has to try to do something about ever widening inequality or risk destroying itself. The Tories are turning Britain into a billionaire’s playground. Labour might not reverse that, but it has no interest in encouraging it. For this election at least, that will have to be enough.
Perhaps this is a transitional election and a new political system will emerge with new alternatives on the left that are more convincing than the Greens or George Galloway’s clowns (but don’t hold your breath). The election after this one could be fought in a different country – I can’t see any way in which the situation in Scotland can be reversed. England itself might begin to break up into regional blocs and could become ungovernable. I’ve no idea, and neither has anyone else. The one crumb of comfort is that whatever cobbled-together outfit gets around the cabinet table next month, they’re unlikely to last five years. They’ll be lucky to last five months.