My view of the 2005 General Election…

So an election has come and gone and what a strange experience it was. This was the fourth election in which I’ve voted – in order my vote has gone to the Liberal Democrats when Paddy Ashdown was still in charge, and then for New Labour in 1997 and 2001. Each of these decisions was relatively simple. But this time everything was different. A couple of weeks ago I’d basically decided to vote Liberal – you can read about my thoughts in a post called Some election resources to help you make up your mind) – but a lot changed in the run up to polling day itself.

In particular the way the hysteria over the war built and built made me seriously consider the possibility that the country might abandon Labour entirely. The polls suggested that this wasn’t going to happen, but Labour supporters have been fooled by polls before. And the consequence of the Conservatives getting into power hardly bore thinking about. After all this was a party that had spent months peddling an anti-immigrant agenda that – while not necessarily in itself racist – was clearly designed to appeal to racist people. Not the kind of people that I’d want in charge.

So after much soul searching, I’d decided to vote Labour. But at the last minute, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I stood in the polling station with a pen and my ballot paper for nearly five minutes trying to work out what to do – making my decision at the very last minute. In the end, I voted for the party that argued for a higher level of debate, for the preservation of civil liberties, and for not defying the United Nations. I did not vote for the party whose liberal policies on gay rights I believe in, nor on the party that I think has the best grasp of social services and the economy. I did not vote for a party that I generally and genuinely believe in and think is fit to run the country because I felt that it was important to use my tiny voice to protest against the few things that they did that I felt were dishourable, uncivilised and – bluntly – dangerous.

As I left the polling station I felt scared. And if the Conservative party had got into power again, I don’t think I’d have been able to live with myself. But while the Conservative party has won some more seats, they won almost no more votes and Howard has said he’ll step down. Whether or not this means that they will again run away from the right and try and make some space in the centre ground is unclear to me. I thought they might do so after William Hague stood down and that didn’t really work out. So I guess we’ll see.

And in the end, everything has worked out pretty much perfectly. The country’s swing towards the LIberal Democrats was enormously significant, and should give the government a clear sign about where the centre of the debate has headed. If they want to operate effectively in this country – if they want to get in for a fourth term, then they’re going to have to step away from some of their more illiberal policies. The right people are in government, but they’ve been chastened. And I couldn’t be happier.

Addendum added Sunday May 8th: Perhaps I spoke too soon – I’ve just heard David Blunkett on television decry people who voted Liberal as being ‘self-indulgent and well-off’, clearly dismissive of any vote of principle. I hoped for a humbler party who would listen, and it looks like I’m getting an arrogant party who have been let down by their electorate. Great.

7 replies on “My view of the 2005 General Election…”

This points to one of the things that I love about countries with proper multi-party political systems. At home in the United States, our important national elections are skewed to directly favor the two “major” parties. (The Electoral College system is only one example.) In our last election, despite my serious objections to the overly conservative Democratic candidate, I still voted for him, because I knew that I didn’t want Bush to be elected. On principle, I wanted to vote for a third-party candidate. I felt that the Democratic candidate was very weak, and I wanted to send that message, but I also didn’t want I to indirectly elect his only real opponent.

To say that the Conservatives are anti-immigrant is simply not true. They would like to control the unsustainable ILLEGAL immigration levels but you seem to have left out the “illegal” bit in order to imply that they are racist.

Actually the Conservative party made little distinction between illegal or legal immigration. They just said ‘controlled’ immigration – which is a nice way of saying very little. To give you an example – one thing that was stated was that the Conservative party would limit the number of legitimate asylum seekers given haven in this country. Given that these are not economic migrants but people running from aggressive regimes by definition, I don’t see how that can be seen as only ‘cracking down’ on exploitative immigrants who are breaking the law.
I should also point out that I didn’t actually say that the Conservative party was racist in this matter. I don’t actually know if they’re racist or not – I suspect they’re not. But I think they’re cynical enough to pitch their campaign so that it might seem attractive to racist people, and I’m afraid I think that’s almost worse.

Tom, when I met you, you struck me as a singularly decisive person, so the thought of you standing in the polling booth for 5 minutes is particularly disarming and charming. It’s also good to know you took it all so seriously.

I think maybe you mean wilful and impulsive, rather than decisive – but I’ll take it in the spirit in which it was given! I think you have to take these things seriously – whatever little power we have needs to be used wisely.

I’ve just heard David Blunkett on television […] I hoped for a humbler party who would listen, and it looks like I’m getting an arrogant party

Hopefully that’s just an extremely arrogant spokesman rather than an arrogant party (if you can actually separate the two of course). Blunkett’s caused nothing but trouble as a Minister, be it Education (just ask any teacher) and even more so as Home Secretary. Let’s see what he does with Work and Pensions.

It is kind of you to share your thoughts, Tom, especially since you are someone that clearly engages with the political process.

Blunkett’s comments aren’t going to help generally, but some interesting results from election night do suggest a trend in which “protest” votes (and I don’t use that term pejoratively) did will impact on Labour’s overall ability to deliver the sorts of changes that have previously led to the minimum wage, equalised age of consent etc..

In particular, note that the majority of Conservative gains came from previously Labour constituencies, in which the swing from Labour to Liberal Democrats was more than enough — if Liberal Democrat voters / switcher had voted / tuck with Labour — to prevent the Tories winning the seat if it hadn’t happened. This backs up the Labor party’s thesis that “voting Lib. Dem. could let the Tories in the back door”.

I don’t mean to scaremonger, but there may not be enough room on the left for both the Liberal Democrats as an electoral force and the Labour party. The mid-1980s pay testament to that. What is worth remembering, however, is that it is only people of the left that can help ensure a Conservative government does not form — at least for more than one parliament — this country’s government, for then the processes of social justice, equality and opporutnity for all will gradually be eroded.

It will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrats increased presence in the House of Commons will (a) affect the quality of debate and “oppositionism” in the House and (b) work on the basis of its manifesto policies (especially civil liberties in relation to the ID cards Bill).

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