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Britain’s Political Asylum

In political terms, if not in other respects, Britain is now an asylum in which the inmates have taken over and are running rampant through the wards.

I normally look forward to an election campaign, with its inevitable moments of high drama and low farce, triumphs and pratfalls of individuals.  This time, though, I’m not sure I will.  This election has me confused about whether we’re about to enjoy a diverting comedy show or suffer through an extended bad dream. 

On balance, and for reasons that I’m unable fully to explain, I think I’m leaning towards the latter.  That at any rate would account for the creeping sense of foreboding I feel, though foreboding about what I can’t fully explain either.  The threat of political chaos, I suppose, as a prelude to social anarchy.

Either way, for the next four months, between now and the May general election, the broadcast and print media will be hosting a cavalcade in which the leading players are less likely to be the leaders of the two main parties – alright three – but a motley gang of street-corner demagogues who range across the entire political spectrum from left to right – of course, leaving out the large bit in the middle.  In other words, they represent every conceivable voter interest except those of sensible moderates.  What the ‘third parties’ have in common, the aim of bringing down the Westminster establishment, apparently whatever the cost, and think it will be a good thing to irrevocably undermine the two-party political system that Britain once took for granted, and welcomed as a symbol of its maturity and stability – as America, by the way, still does. 

The world’s longest-running and arguably most successful democracy is in danger of being dragged down, quietly and peaceably, by a sullen dissident mob.  What is odd about the process, as it now unfolds, is how many normally well-balanced people, and perhaps even the majority, think it’s a Jolly Good Thing.  

None of these splinter parties has the remotest prospect of forming a government, of course, and wouldn’t know how to do it if they had to.  But they all fancy they have a chance to win enough seats to be in a position to blackmail one of the two parties into forming a so-called coalition.  English voters are now, suddenly, alive to the possibility, and it’s by no means a remote one, of the shires being collectively ruled by a coalition of Labour and the Scottish National Party.

The rabble-rousers will now be holding forth daily and nightly, each in turn essentially demanding that Britain abolish itself.  One party (UKIP) demands that the borders be closed to immigrants.  Another (the Green Party) wants them left unguarded in perpetuity.  One party (UKIP) wants Britain out of the European Union, and no messing about.  Another (SNP) is desperate to stay in, to the point of endorsing the euro – Brussels a more palatable governing alternative to Westminster.  The same two parties would scrap Britain’s nuclear defence capability, and reduce the armed forces to border patrols. At least two (SNP and Plaid Cymyu) want Westminster to hand over such powers of governance (in one case effectively ignoring the recent verdict of its electorate) that Britain would be rendered a Union in name only.  The Greens wish to abandon all attempts to become energy self-sufficient, without having the slightest idea what the alternative method of keeping the lights on might be.  The SNP, on the other hand, loves its oil, thank you very much, and would use North Sea oil proceeds as the foundation of a self-sufficient Scottish economy (the recent halving of the oil price dismissed as less a budget-wrecker than a passing inconvenience of little consequence). 

The smug and absurd prognostications of Nigel Farage, UKIP’s saloon-bar bore, are probably wearing a little thin, but a host of others stand ready to take his place as front-runner among the dispossessed.  Foremost among them, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s new big fish, who senses that her time, and Scotland’s, has finally arrived, her party’s decisive electoral defeat three months ago notwithstanding.  Natalie Bennett’s Green Party is on the march, too, with a manifesto, or at least a gushing pamphlet or two, calling on Britain to become a pioneering Peoples Republic of the environmental movement.  (And quite right, too, in an ideal world, one might say, but not easily accomplished, or even desirable, in the real one.)  Plaid Cymru is starting to stir as well, though without quite knowing what it stands for, or indeed how standing for anything could be accomplished in a land as under-resourced as Wales is.  A merger with Scotland, some say, though somehow I don’t think the Scots would take kindly to diluting their ill-gotten gains, even though it meant another stick poked in the eye of the English. 

Some of these and sundry other objectives have a core rationality that is at least debatable.  Most, though, merely appeal to the irrational and in some cases hysterical instincts of an emerging electoral bloc of the resentful and – dare one say it without incurring charges of arrogance – the largely uninformed. 

“It’s a new political ball game,” the would-be power-brokers chortle gleefully, deploying the kind of Americanism that apparently strikes a chord with the media-obsessed, newly-empowered mass of under-educated, semi-literate, bigots whose votes they seek.  These voters, the self-styled British equivalent of Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority, are the kind of people who despise their successful compatriots only slightly less than they loathe the Polish and Bulgarian immigrants who have ‘taken our jobs’, with the temerity of having done so ‘without even bothering to learn the language’.  (I take it that’s the same language the protesting indigents have mastered so well.) 

These parties may be on the political margins, but they have come to dominate the debate – for the time being, anyway.   

Perhaps David Cameron and the Conservatives are just playing a clever waiting game, until the inevitable implosions and scandals reveal the rabble-rousers for the intellectually barren vessels that some of them undoubtedly are.  What the Labour Party is waiting for is less discernible, I gather because Ed Miliband is not yet considered sufficiently adept at conveying the discernible.    

What makes these political upheavals all the more surprising is that they overturn the traditional wisdom that a booming economy favours the party, or parties, in power.  The British economy, statistically, is currently out-performing all others except America’s.  Apparently the voters don’t believe it – or at least don’t believe that it benefits them.  But what, actually, do they believe?  It’s easy to say what they are against, much harder to tell what they are for. 

How this disgruntled mob will behave when economic circumstances change for the worse, as cyclically they are bound to, doesn’t bear thinking about.  Chaos in the voting booths can so easily turn to anarchy on the streets, as it does in many a benighted country with a moral and political power vacuum. 

Hence my vague sense of foreboding. 

Or perhaps it’s just the mood engendered by a dreary Monday morning in January.

 

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