Labour Victory

Party------Seats-----Seats Change (since 01)-----% Vote Labour-----336-------------------- -77-----------------------35.2 Cons-------197-------------------- +31-----------------------32.3 LibDem-----62-------------------- +10-----------------------22 Other-------30--------------------- +3-------------------------10.5

(645 of 646 seats declared)

The result is out, Labour have won what is consistently termed "An Historic Third Term," which is fair enough, never before has Labour managed to win three consecutive terms, in fact the only single Prime Minister to do so before was Margaret Thatcher! Still, the victory is rather bittersweet, Labour have lost forty seven seats, reducing their majority by almost one hundred seats. This is likely to make the next few years very interesting since at last Blair cannot rely on parliament to rubber-stamp everything he puts before it. For the Conservatives, their third successive defeat should be a humiliation, but their party is surprisingly upbeat there is a feeling that after eight years of wilderness, they may have found their way out and back into the public's affections (though in fact, they achieved the same percentage of votes as in 2001). The Liberal Democrats, despite increasing their share of the vote by 3%, have not made the huge gains they had hoped for. All the same, any increase in parliamentary presence is nothing to be sniffed at and Charles Kennedy will certainly remain as their leader. The same cannot be said for Michael Howard, who, despite being the most successful Tory leader of the last decade, stepped down as leader early in the afternoon of May 6.

There were few surprises this time around, in spite of the Liberal Democrat's so-called "decapitation strategy" only one Conservative Frontbencher lost his seat. Tim Collins, now ex-MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale was the Shadow Education Secretary and when he was interviewed early in the evening by ITV did not look like a man facing unemployment. But then the votes were counted. They were close enough for a recount to be ordered, after the recount the number appeared to be the same and the Tory lost his seat to the Liberal Democrat candidate by only 267 votes! The only other surprises were the returning of the radical socialist George Galloway to parliament, defeating Labour's Oona King in an incredible swing of 35.9% and Labour's loss to the Conservatives of Michael Portillo's old seat of Enfield Southgate.

Turnout was generally up on 2001's dismal 59.17% the worst since the First World War and country wide it hit a figure of around 61.28%, not great, but hopefully voter apathy is falling. Overall there was a 3% swing from Labour to the Conservatives.



And They're Off!

On April 5, 2005, one of the worst kept secrets in British politics was made official: there would be a general election on May 5.

In the United Kingdom, a general election – that is one in which every constituency chooses an MP and after which the Queen chooses the party to form her government – must be held at least every five years and it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to choose the date. The amount of time left before an election is usually an extremely tactical decision, a popular government may want to call a short campaign so that their opponents do not have time to rally support and likewise an unpopular government may need a longer campaign so that they can drum up enthusiasm. The Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, for instance, in 1997 was down in the polls and saw his only chance in a six week long campaign, of course, ultimately this worked to Labour's advantage, Major having underestimated their campaigning abilities.

This time, however, is different. Labour, it seems, decided at the end of last year that they would need a very long campaign to regain anything like the enthusiasm that gave them power in 1997. Rather than call the election earlier than any previous Prime Minister, instead a small fact was leaked to the press - the Prime Minister will not accept any kind of official business on May 5 because something important is happening that day. The implication was obvious, and the media seized upon it, allowing all three parties to put their campaign machines in motion.


The Pre-Campaign Campaign

All across the country billboards began to spring up, Labour proclaiming its record of the lowest inflation since the nineteen sixties, the longest period of sustained economic growth for 200 years and the lowest unemployment for twenty-nine years. Fighting back, the Tories launched their poster campaign, focussing on the issues of middle-England; asylum and immigration, tax increases and affordable private healthcare. They also released their campaign slogan "are you thinking what we're thinking?" For their part, the Liberal Democrats began their campaign, styling themselves as the only real alternative to Labour's spin and the Conservatives' sleaze.

On January 25, Labour sent out an Email to all its members asking them to choose their favourite of a new batch of campaign posters, one of which showed the heads of Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Chancellor, superimposed onto the bodies of winged pigs. Days later it was pointed out to the press that the two men were both Jewish and the poster could be considered anti-Semitic! The right-wing tabloids jumped on it, screaming shame and fury at the protesting Labour Party, who, apologising profusely whilst protesting innocence, withdrew the poster from consideration.

In early March, the NHS became the issue, Michael Howard revealing in Prime Minister's Questions that that a sixty-nine year old woman, Margaret Dixon, had had her hip operation cancelled seven times! Tony Blair, who had only received this information eight minutes earlier, attempted to point out that it was an isolated case, but, the press was once again in uproar over it. Still, it was soon discovered that two thirds of the public supported the NHS and perhaps more importantly, found Ms Dixon to be an unpleasant character, and, just as some of the more left-leaning papers began to point out the similarities between this case and the Jennifer's Ear debacle, the tabloids largely dropped the story.

On the March 11 the government's controversial anti-terrorism bill was passed after last-minute concessions were made to the Lords. With much of the public opposed to the act, thinking it either too liberal or too restrictive, Labour's popularity dropped slightly. On March 14, abortion nearly became an issue when Michael Howard announced his support for dropping the amount of time in which the process would be legal from twenty-four weeks to twenty. Blair, however, refused to be drawn on the subject. March 16 saw the pre-election budget, the popular chancellor, and likely successor to Blair delivering a slightly more populist financial plan than he is perhaps used to – doubling the cut-off point for stamp duty and giving a one-off council tax refund to pensioners. Labour heralded it as the fruits of a stable economy. The Tories derided it as bribing the electorate, saying the country would pay later, in higher post-election taxes.

The next election-issue came on March 25 when the prominent Conservative minister in the shadow cabinet, Howard Flight, was caught on tape telling fellow Thatcherites that proposed Conservative spending cuts were "only the beginning." With the BBC and Channel 4 suggesting the Tories had been caught with their pants down, Michael Howard sacked and de-selected Flight. However, the former shadow-minister refused to go quietly, saying that he would be the Conservative candidate for Arundel and South Downs whether the leader liked it or not. Initially he had the support of his local party, however, they soon withdrew it, but the issue has yet to resolve itself satisfactorily, though the press appear to have dropped it.

For the next week, the attention of the press was focussed on the sad death of Pope John-Paul II and in the interests of good taste and respect, neither party campaigned much. In the last week before the announcement of the election date, both parties made modest gains in the polls, putting them on roughly equal footing by April 5, though, due to the manner in which the system works, the Conservatives need a 6.5 point lead on Labour just to gain a hung parliament.


Predictions, Statistics and Commentary

Most people, aside from perhaps the most optimistic of the Conservative grass-roots supporters, expect a third Labour term. As the satirists Bremner, Bird and Fortune put it: "after only eight years they're at the stage the Conservatives were at after twelve, everybody's going to vote for them, but nobody's going to admit to it."

However, issues such as the Iraq war, raised taxes and higher net immigration have made the government much less popular over the last four years. This may mean that despite the fact that they do not want to see a return to Conservative rule, many people will not be voting for Labour candidates. This is a boost for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in marginal constituencies, and, combined with an enormous increase in voter apathy - even from 2001's dismal 58% turnout - could, potentially swing the balance away from Labour.

The other areas to watch are how the smaller single-issue parties do. Given that many people are looking to cast protest votes, they should do rather well; the United Kingdom Independence Party made huge gains in the European elections and somewhat more worryingly, the BNP have had recent successes in council elections although a recent BBC documentary did some work towards discrediting them. RESPECT, George Galloway's reactionary socialist party also polled well in recent bye elections and may help topple a few Labour and Conservative candidates.

As yet, fox hunting has not become a major election issue for most people, though it may do.

Current Seats

Source – Parilament.uk (http://www.parliament.uk/directories/hcio/stateparties.cfm)

Odds of Winning

  • Labour: 1/14 changed to 1/50
  • Conservative:13/2 changed to 12/1
  • Liberal Democrat: 100/1 changed to 200/1

- Source, BlueSq.com (http://www.bluesq.com/bet?action=go_events&type_id=850)

Swing to win

  • Labour can withstand a 6% swing to the Conservatives and maintain a majority in parliament.
  • Labour can withstand an 11% swing to the Liberal Democrats and maintain a majority in parliament.
  • The Conservatives require a 10.5% swing against Labour to win a majority in parliament.
  • The Liberal Democrats require a 25% swing against Labour to win a majority in parliament

- Source, bbc.co.uk (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2005/swingometer/html/)


Running Blog of Events

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

It's been announced. Tony Blair has gone to Buckingham Palace and asked the Queen to dissolve parliament. It's been known for months that 05/05/05 was going to be the golden date, but today it was made official. The three party leaders have made speeches, nothing interesting really; Blair is talking about the economic successes of Labour, Howard is talking about immigration and Kennedy is talking about three-party politics. The only unpredicted event was a Labour candidate (Stephen Wilkinson) fighting an un-winnable seat defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday April 6, 2005

The main event today was the Prime Minister's Questions held in the commons at half past twelve. Both party leaders took the opportunity to make campaign speeches and question each other's record. They clashed over crime, spending and unemployment, Howard raising the issues of top-up fees and immigration, Blair talking about the stable economy. The crowning moment for the opposition however was when Howard asked the Labour MPs to raise their hands if they were using Mr. Blair's picture on their manifestos, only about six did! He attempted to follow this up by getting his side to chant "up" or "down" as he went through Labour's record. This in fact looked slightly foolish, but it made the point.

In other news, the Liberal Democrat MP Paul Marsden has defected to Labour. This takes away all the significance of Stephen Wilkinson's defection the other way yesterday, especially since Marsden only crossed the floor to the Lib Dems in 2001!

Friday April 8, 2005

Well, I was going to update this yesterday, but not all that much happened - Michael Howard went on GM:TV in the morning to give an interview and came off rather well, even going so far as to laugh at himself predicting a Conservative victory in 1997!

The big news however, broke last night. MG Rover, the last British owned car manufacturer, has gone into receivership, threatening the jobs of six thousand employees and more than fifteen thousand supplier's employees. It had been hoped that an eleventh hour deal with a Chinese company might save the plant, but Patricia Hewitt has announced that that is no longer an option. The only thing that might save the company is a one hundred million pound loan from the government.

This news really could not have come at a worse time for Labour. Its ace in the campaign has been the strong economy, but now it looks as though it won't be able to play it nearly so strongly. Additionally, it has to decide what to do – giving a loan out that it might not get back is not going to be a popular option, but then neither is letting thousands of people lose their jobs.

Sunday April 10, 2005

Due to the funeral for Pope John Paul II there's not been much campaigning over the last couple of days. Interestingly, however, the Conservatives have not jumped on the MG Rover issue as a campaign bonus and Blair, according to the BBC, is still holding out some hope. In other news, the MORI poll that only samples those who are certain to vote is showing a seven point Labour lead which compares to a five point Tory lead at the start of the campaign! It looks like Labour's supporters are rallying.

Monday April 11, 2005

Today the Conservatives launched their election manifesto, it can be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/11_04_05_conservative_manifesto.pdf. I will provide more commentry on it soon, but other committments have to come first.

Wednesday April 13, 2005

Today the Labour Party released their manifesto and it's quite interesting to contrast it with the Tory's. Labour's is small and thick, more than a hundred pages of small text, outlining in detail the policies of the party. It is not, it seems, meant to be read by anyone other than its core supporters. There is only one image: that of Tony Blair laughing at something to the right of the page, and perhaps surprisingly for New Labour's centrist image, the dominant cover is red. The Conservative manifesto, on the other hand, is A4 sized and attention grabbing. The cover is in the now familiar faux hand written style, with the party's key points laid out as a list. The layout and tone is very much geared towards the casual reader, with less than thirty pages of quick key points and glossy photographs. Labour have accused it of being "threadbare" and it is somewhat, however it is also rather more likely to win over a few voters.

In other news, Charles Kennedy's wife gave birth to their first son. Ladbrookes, the bookies, gives him the same odds of becoming PM as his dad.

Friday April 15, 2005

The Liberal Democrats have now launched their manifesto – "The Real Alternative" – a tabloid sized document, focussing, as one would expect, on the policies of the party. As is usually the case, it has met with mixed reviews, and somewhat embarrassingly it seems that the party leader, Charles Kennedy, has not actually read it! Mr. Kennedy was interviewed about various policies, including his proposed replacement of Council Tax with a local income tax. This, according to their own people, would mean a significant amount less in revenue. Unfortunately, Kennedy, when asked about this specifically said "it won't be less," a statement one party official described as "irritatingly wrong." The party leader himself put the mistake down to lack of sleep.

In other news, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party launched their manifesto at some point, it can be found on their site here: http://www.omrlp.com/. Some of the policies make a worrying amount of sense!

Saturday 16 April, 2005

Well, the issue of the day has been the MRSA super bug that's been plaguing our hospitals. The Conservative leader Michael Howard apologised for a misleading leaflet campaign that seemed to imply that the spread of the disease was far greater than it actually was. The public reaction to this may proove interesting

Monday April 17, 2005

A poll commissioned by the Daily Telegraph yesterday gave Labour a lead of ten points over the Conservatives, (Con – 30 Lab – 40) which may mean that amazingly they are heading for yet another huge majority of around a hundred and fifty! Today, perhaps in panic, the Tories have gained three points, but Labour has also gained one.

Tuesday April 19, 2005

A new campaign week began yesterday with rumours of a “Senior Tory Ring-Round” in which a group of high flying Conservatives banded together to plead Michael Howard to stop playing the immigration issue so hard. The weekend saw huge gains for Labour in the polls, coming six, seven, nine or ten points in front of the Tories who found their position looking ever more precarious. The ring-round was denied on the BBC’s Today Programme, however, it is certainly true that Michael Howard has switched issues – he is now talking primarily about the pension crisis.

More signs of a Conservative wobble came when Mr. Howard placed behind both Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy in a poll asking who voters thought should be Prime Minister. When asked if he thought the Tory Leader should resign if he lost the election, David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary was strangely non-committal, saying that it would “be up to him.” Interestingly this is the first real mention of a possible post-election leadership battle for the Conservatives, Davis himself is a front runner, but he claims that “the only job I want on May 6 is Home Secretary.”

The Liberal Democrats were up in the polls today too, though still trailing six to ten points behind the Conservatives. Interestingly however if the polls are accurate and there is an even spread of votes, several Tory front-benchers might be unseated, including Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Chancellor and the possible leader-in-waiting, David Davis! That said, the polls have been very wrong before, 1992, for instance, should too have been a comfortable Labour win, but in the end John Major for the Conservatives took it.

As for the Labour Party, it looks very much as if it is about to gain a third term in office. This has lead to much speculation about how long Tony Blair will last as its leader. The press consider him to be a liability to his party, although Rupert Murdoch is said to have asked for an assurance that he would be staying “well into” his third term. The Independent on Sunday claims that a new deal has been brokered between Mr. Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Alistair Campbell has been authorised to oversee a smooth handing over of power without competition. The only known fact however, is that Blair will not be campaigning in the next General Election… at least he says he won’t be.

Saturday April 23, 2005

Well, it's St. George's Day and so of course the BNP have used the patriotic background to launch their manifesto; a somewhat scary document full of patriotic fervour, thinly veiled racism and predictions of doom for the country if the "multi-culturalism experiment" is not gotten rid of, and if national service is not returned (don't worry, if you conscientiously object, you won't have to do it. You just won't be allowed to vote). Also featuring policies such as "voluntary registration" for immigrants and their decedents, followed by "assisted registration," this is not a party for moderates. Given that they are not fronting enough candidates to get a parliamentary majority, their prediction that they may be able to take government is somewhat redundant. Still, they appear hopeful that they might get an MP this time around. Even this is a scary thought.

Michael Howard, still woefully behind in the polls, has accused Tony Blair of lying throughout his premiership. Still, his rhetoric implies he does not really expect to win – he wants people to "send a message to Mr. Blair" which somewhat implies that it will be Mr. Blair in government on May 6.

On a personal note, I received my polling card today, which is a bit exciting since, only turning 18 last July, this is my first election. Round here though, there's not much point in me voting for my party, rural Wales is rather nationalist and Plaid Cymru has something of a stronghold here. Still, the Liberal Democrats do have a chance, so they'll probably be getting my vote.

Thursday April 28, 2005

Well, it's happened, it took a little longer than I thought, but it's happened. Iraq has become an election issue, specifically, the legality of the conflict. It has been speculated for a while that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, had had his doubts over whether or not it was lawful to attack Saddam Hussein's state, but Downing Street refused point blank to release the documents, (there is a constitutional convention to the effect that the A-G does not have to present his advice to the public). However, yesterday, a document containing his early statements was leaked (and can be seen here in pdf format) that the press is interpreting as evidence of indecision at the top levels of government.

The statement itself is somewhat ambiguous, it indicates that the best move for the government would be to secure a second resolution and Lord Goldsmith does not commit himself to an opinion on the validity of 1441 allowing an invasion without a Security Council vote. The A-G has said that he reconsidered ten days later after France had unequivocally ruled out a second resolution, and he claims that the fact he alludes to changing circumstances within the document in fact backs up his stance.

The opposition parties (as the press has taken to calling the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives) have jumped on this issue. The Liberal Democrats – the only major party who was at the time opposed to the attack – are claiming that had the House of Commons known of this document, they would have voted against the conflict, where as the Conservatives are branding Blair a liar and demanding that he come clean. Both parties have requested the full publication of the legal advice that the Prime Minister received, but it appears this is not forthcoming.

In other news, God is apparently voting for change – Tony Blair's plane was hit by lightning yesterday. No damage was done and no-one was hurt, but the point has been made.

Tuesday May 3, 2005

Ok, it's two days to polling day. I've got a lot of work to do at the moment, so I'm going to keep this very brief. Iraq doesn't seem to have affected things much, perhaps due to Howard booting the ball over the bar on Question Time by saying that he would have gone to war anyway, citing regime change as a reason – something the Attorney General categorically says would have been illegal.

Here is how the parties stood in 2001

  • Labour - 41%
  • Conservative - 32%
  • Liberal Democrats - 18%
  • Others - 9%

And here is where the parties stand in the polls:

  • MORI (people who will definitely vote):
    • Labour – 39%
    • Conservative – 29%
    • Liberal Democrat – 22%
    • Others – 10%
  • Communicate
    • Labour – 39%
    • Conservative – 31%
    • Liberal Democrat – 23%
    • Others – 6%
  • ICM
    • Labour – 39%
    • Conservative – 31%
    • Liberal Democrat – 22%
    • Others – 8%
  • NOP
    • Labour – 40%
    • Conservative – 30%
    • Liberal Democrat – 21%
    • Others – 9%
  • Populus
    • Labour – 40%
    • Conservative – 31%
    • Liberal Democrat – 21%
    • Others – 8%
  • YouGov
    • Labour – 36%
    • Conservative – 33%
    • Liberal Democrat – 24%
    • Others – 7%
  • Mean (2dp)
    • Labour – 38.83%
    • Conservative – 30.83%
    • Liberal Democrat – 22.17%
    • Others – 8%

Make of that what you will.

Wednesday May 4, 2005

First off, if you haven't already, read wrinkly's excellent writeup below and vote it up. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Done? Good wasn't it? Yeah, he's the man.

Anyway… there's not been much new in the news today – parties just trying to get last minute votes et cetera. The only vaguely interesting development is that the Tories have received their worst poll of the campaign, a paltry 27% compared to Labour's 41%, this could mean Labour would have a net gain of seats!

Thursday May 5, 2005 – Election Day

Well, I've cast my vote. I am, as I note below, a Labour supporter, however in Aberystwyth the Lib Dems are the only party who seriously challenge Plaid Cymru's hold on the place. Therefore, I struck a gentleman's agreement with a Lib Dem friend in Stroud whereby I would vote for them, if they vote for Labour – which is the incumbent party in the town (something of a surprise since it used to be a Tory stronghold).

The party leaders have cast their votes, the polls are predicting another Labour win, however, as the Conservatives point out, in 1992, the polls gave Kinnock a comfortable win, and yet it was John Major who ultimately claimed victory. All that is left now is to put the TV on watch Peter Snow getting very excited as the results as they come in.


Disclaimer: I am a member of the Labour Party, I am to the left of most people, and so, I am biased.

Voting sucks

It's not the process of voting that sucks. It's the choices presented. A bit like in the E2 user polls, when you see a range of options in front of you, but none of them reflects your real opinion. At least here on E2 we can opt for None of the above.

Besides, it's not as if the user polls on E2 matter. Voting in a general election does matter though--or it should. Short of becoming actively involved in party politics, it's one of the most important political acts available to enfranchised citizens.

And that's the trouble. Party politics. If one party proposes it, then the other will oppose it, irrespective of the subject. George Orwell had it right. The purpose of war is not winning or losing. It's to keep the conflict going and to encourage hatred of the other side and discourage political criticism. That's the way it's going in politics. All issues become polarised into black or white: Republican or Democrat. There is no longer any room for shades of grey; for nuance; for a consensual attitude.

It wasn't always thus. My first general election vote was cast in 1979, the day we Brits voted Margaret Thatcher into power.I suspect I may have voted Conservative, but I don't really remember. In any case, the Constituency I voted in returned a solid Labour majority.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I now view the Thatcher years as a disaster for British society. Many Americans still revere the woman as a strong Western Leader. A foil to Ronald Reagan's brilliance, but here in the UK, we see her as the prime minister who destroyed British instinct for the collective good and encouraged personal greed. We see her as the originator of single-party divisive politics. her legacy is that the party in opposition has to disagree with the party in power, and vice versa. No matter what the policy in hand, except, possibly war, the parties are almost guaranteed to take polarised positions.

Before Thatcher, there was more consensus in British politics.

To her credit, however, she moved Britain forward from an industrialised, manufacturing economy to more of a service and knowledge-based society. Today, as Germany and France and the US struggle with the restructuring of their high-cost economies, Britain enjoys relatively low unemployment, and a relatively stable economy. There are other factors, of course, but in breaking the unions and destroying the miners, Thatcher laid the foundations for the continued economic growth that Britain currently enjoys. Nevertheless, it is my conviction that Thatcher's legacy has led to a gradual destruction of British society.

Noung says: Obviously I disagree with most of this, but I have to take issue with you bemoaning the downfall of the pre-Thatcher consensus: it was a consensus that had the IMF worrying Britain would soon be a Third World country.

You say you recognize that she helped the economy, but surely the only way for her to do that was to smash the ridiculous post-war collectivist consensus. There's a hugely convincing argument for seeing the collectivist period of British history as the exception in a norm of centuries of individualism. In this interpretation, Thatcher returned us to "normal".

To a US-based observer, the UK elections are quaint affairs. They appear surprisingly honest, by the standards of the great US political behemoths. If you are a disgruntled asylum seeker, you can attend a rally organised on behalf of Michael Howard, and heckle him and have a conversation with him, and you can be sure the encounter will appear on all the national news channels, as a member of the public discomfits the leader of the opposition. If you are a nurse with a grievance against the health service, then you can talk to the Prime Minister personally, again under the eyes of national TV.

In the US, I am told, such trouble makers would be ejected from the political rally before they even thought about their grievance.

Still today, elections are not won solely by the richest candidate. The TV channels must, by law, give each party air time, according to the likely result. This means that one day the Labour party (currently in power) will have a five-minute slot in prime time, and the next it might be the green party, or the ultra-right wing nationalist party.

We still have those great British eccentrics, theMonster Raving Loony Party, no longer led, alas, by the Screaming Lord Sutch. It continues to be relatively straightforward to become a candidate in a UK election. You have to put up a modest deposit (around $1000) which will be returned if you get a sensible share of the local vote. The deposit is meant to deter more frivolous candidates. Win less than 5 percent of the vote, and kiss that deposit goodbye.

Post-war British politics has evolved to cater for many different parties, whereas US politics might claim to be multi-party, but in reality no-one outside the two main Republican and Democrat parties has any chance of becoming President. One of my great passions against Thatcher was that she brought the UK system closer to the exclusive US two-party system. In more recent years, Blair has taken us further towards a Presidential system. The two strongest UK prime ministers of recent times have both moved the UK toward polarised and partisan politics we see in the USA.

I do not know if my disillusionment with the UK electoral system comes as a result of age, or as a sign of the times, or as something else. My feeling is that I am a small part of a wider malaise that regards the UK political system as somehow worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

Take Tony Blair. When he was elected in 1997, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. On the morning he came to power, I walked to work with a spring in my step and a grin as wide as the river Thames. I was far from alone in that emotional response.

In the mornings I listen to Radio 4. The Today show is my news digest. Back in the mid-90s I had become used to Conservative politicians evading questions and dodging and obfuscating. Even, on not-so-rare occasions, lying. The day after Labour got in, there was a complete reversal. The new ministers gave straight answers to straight questions. "Will you do XYZ?" "Yes." Or perhaps, "no". No hint of obfuscation or fence-sitting there. No harking back to the old days of conservative evasion. Thank the Lord!

Today, after eight years in power, Tony and his cronies are just as bad as the Conservatives ever were. In my heart of hearts, I believe politicians do not have much freedom in the broad sweep of economic and legislative policy. They are more constrained than we might imagine by revenues and taxes and the realities of political life. But that doesn't stop me resenting the way they hide behind generalities and avoid telling the whole truth using weasel words to mislead Parliament and the public.

Iraq and the war

And then there is the war. A million people marched into London before Tony joined the US campaign to control the oil and depose Saddam. We told the politicians they were wrong, but they said "We know best: We know there are weapons of mass-destruction". We all know the history. They lied, or were misled or were leaned upon in the most real of realpolitik. And in the end, we were right and there were no WMDs and Halliburton and Bush and the oil magnates are getting rich off the lives of our boys and the suffering of Iraqis.

So even though I--and many others--think Blair is probably the best of a bad bunch, we cannot forgive him. When the Labour activists call and ask if they can count on my vote, I tell them no, They ask why and I tell them Iraq. They hang up, knowing there is nothing they can do or say; They have tried it all before on hundreds like me.

If we feel Blair betrayed us, then the Conservatives are even worse. Their betrayal revolved around deep dishonesty; xenophobia and the road to selfishness.I cannot see the Brits bringing the Conservatives back until they convince us that they have honestly changed their ways and their thinking, and there's no sign of that yet. Most of the same gang are still in charge and the new faces are complete wimps.

That leaves the Greens and the Lib-Dems and a few other minor parties. Above all, it means that vast numbers of voters are strongly disinclined to vote for either of the parties that have dominated British politics since the 1930s.

So why are we so disillusioned with politics? It's partly a desire to see more consensus: more true debate and less dissimulation, and partly it is because we have access to more information than any generation before us.

Knowledge is power

Back in 1597, Sir Francis Bacon said "knowledge is power" The phrase has become so over-used it is cliche. But move beyond cliche for a moment to analyse the phrase and understand what it might mean.

When religion was mixed up with political power, the priests would guard their secrets with a zealotry born of jealousy. From Ancient Egypt to modern-day shamans, priests keep their rituals and drugs secret from the population they control. In the more familiar world, It is only with the waning of political power in the Church of Rome that Vatican II was able to de-mystify the Mass. Where priests still wield political control of the population, their power is almost always shrouded in self-generated mystery.

In the Middle Ages it was reading and writing. Books carried the knowledge that brought political power. In the Renaissance, the Catholic Church sought to control scientific knowledge by torturing and imprisoning scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo, realising that impartial scientific knowledge could seriously undermine Biblical authority.

More recently, during the first half of the 20th century, governments were still able to keep a lot of information secret by controlling the media. It was only in the '60s that journalists started to seriously question their political masters. I do not think it a coincidence that public respect for politicians has declined steadily as we discover more details about their activities and peccadillos. It is an unfortunate consequence of public interest in celebrity and scandal that the negative stories usually feature prominently, while the stories about the many honest, hard-working politicians who are not corrupt and who do genuinely and professionally serve their country, are relatively rare. This too has played a role in the public's disenchantment with politicians and the political process.

Today, once the information is out, it goes onto the web and within seconds is available to millions. One person digests and summarises. Moments later, a million: a billion people can read it on the web.

Information wants to be free

The last defence--censorship and secrecy--of big government is falling as interested individuals gain the ability to publish their view of the world and gain a wide audience. E2 has its own role to play here. E2 offers intelligent, informed discussion of many of these issues taken not from a party political standpoint, but from a viewpoint that is skeptical, yet informed by both fact and morality. This is one area where E2 excels: Something--in my opinion--which no other forum on the web can match.

So the politicians are immersed in an environment where the information that informs their decisions is often available, is debated and analysed by thoughtful, intelligent individuals. All too often that analysis reveals flaws in the political decision-making process, showing that the politicians acted too fast, or through less than noble motivations.

Add to this public scrutiny a widespread impression that our leading political masters appear to be striving for more central control. As we, the educated voters, come to learn more about the world, we soon realise that politicians are limited in their power to act. Yet in the cases where they do have freedom--such as the war on Iraq--we start to think that they act not for the good of the nation, or of the electorate, but that their actions are driven by their personal need to retain power and wealth.

Oolong says: I think the tendency of 'the two main parties' to agree on most of the important issues is even more dangerous than their invidious insistence on disagreeing VERY LOUDLY and at great length about what amount to relatively trivial issues.

So how are You going to vote?

National government should be shrinking with the breaking down of international barriers, and the increasing freedom of information, yet we see politicians lining their own pockets and acting more in the interests of their own peer group, than in our interests as citizens.

As a personal decision, I am voting on local issues. In reality, my vote carries no more weight than either a pensioner on the local sink estate, or a senior figure in government. Nevertheless, I want to use my vote to tell big government that attempting to force us in to bi-partisan politics and immoral conflicts is the wrong path. Perhaps a vote for a minor party seems like a wasted vote, but any political organisation that ignores this trend toward localised politics and instead strives to build its own wealth and private empire, is out of step with the zeitgeist.

I don't foresee a way out of the established political systems at this election, but the only alternative is to take a cynical viewpoint and accuse politicians of lies and corruption, and that is a road to nihilism and anarchy. Voter turnout has been declining sharply in recent elections. I think this reflects the view that many voters cannot make a positive choice from the range presented to them, and the only negative choice is to abstain, or spoil the ballot paper or make some other negative statement. Voter turnout in this election is expected to reach new lows. Between 70 and 80 percent of the electorate turned out to vote in all elections between 1945 and 1997. The 1997 election was close to the record low at 71 percent, but the 2001 election saw that plunge to 59.3 percent. Polls prior to this election suggest that over 30 percent of first-time voters are likely to abstain.

Maybe over another ten or twenty years, we can see a way through the current apathy with respect to our elected representatives. I hope so, for the sake of democracy. Personally, I believe the way forward is to accept that most real political power in the UK has devolved to Brussels, and to move toward more local government. That, for better or worse, leaves little room for the Westminster Parliament.

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