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.