“This election has been the most exciting since we first had the idea of doing one on the moon in disco costumes.”
People have been telling me for three weeks now, mainly through the famously level-headed, objective medium of the telly box, that the UK’s 2010 general election has been the most exciting in a generation / since records began / since [see above]. But ever since Cleggmania hit after the first ‘x’ factor debate and everyone claimed to be suddenly so ‘excited’ by the pedantic pantomimes of the square mile, I have held my nerve on getting worked up myself.
What I will say by now, at 1.40am, alone here on the sofa with the BBC News Eternal Election Coverage, is that it does feel like we’re facing an unknown. And facing an unknown is a reasonably definitive scenario for some sort of excitement.
I guess. If you like staring into an abyss.
Brown has just given his acceptance speech in his constituency, returned to him again as a place that wants him to represent them in Westminster. He is still an MP tonight. But his speech sounded a little like it was accepting, at last, something more. An end, not a beginning. It seemed sad.
And by that I mean something genuine. Some real bit of emotion or meaning detectable there in that scene.
And this reminds me why I’ve kept my own emotional powder dry while following the political circus. The issues that unite the UK at the moment are all too real, rather like Gordon’s brave face – the future of our economic stability is as sobering as modern peace-time gets, perhaps. As I type, the American markets are crashing in fear of a domino collapse of confidence in major European states. Greece is the word on Wall Street, even as the streets of Athens are full of protesters and tear gas. The bond markets here are open now. Now, 1.30am. That’s pretty serious, I think.
An election campaign is, however, a big show. A dance, painfully over-choreographed and rehearsed. And it’s no dance-off between competing candidates – it’s a tango between politics and the media.
They’re like mad dogs howling at each other. Getting each other all worked up and over-excited. Hyperbole and overstatement and over-simplification are the only rules of the game. An obvious game that almost everyone in the country is not invited to. We are simply expected to watch and, I guess, be entertained. Lucky us.
Given that this particular high-point in the game happens only every five years, you can see how feverish and primed and droolingly anticipatory the news agencies are before anything’s even started. Their highly-amplified, super-sensitive mics are thrust in all directions, ready to make earwigs and flowers sound deafening.
These two world views do not go together; the real and the plastic. And I think it’s been especially obvious to everyone this time.
Which has, in turn, given me my own sort of duality as I watch it – I am feeling both a bit depressed and a bit elated by it.
As I’ve watched the coverage, it’s struck me that there are two main forces at work on us, the UK electorate, in this election.
One is the long-developing fact that politics in this country have converged somewhere near the middle of the spectrum. The other is that politicians are so versed in message manipulation and the sacred rule book of How Voters Like You To Talk To Them, that they all act and sound the same.
Together, these factors render our politics and politicians passingly indistinguishable. At least to those of us only showing periodic interest in the political circus rather than obsessing over the minutiae of it all like love-lorn nerds. Which is just about everyone outside Westminster.
Journalists and politicians alike seem to be especially out of touch with the rest of us on this. They all seem unable to stop the language and the moves of the game, supposing they do actually even notice that almost everyone else in Britain Does Not Give A Shit.
The net result for the gameplay is that the politicians are forced to bicker over any points of difference they can find. Like fighting over scraps of food. It’s almost pitiful. And the media fill our screens with tedious details. WHO CARES ABOUT WHAT LABOUR INHERITED IN 1997 NOW?
That’s the depressing bit. In a weird sort of way, though, the obviousness of this irrelevance to the rest of us might be what’s making me feel distantly hopeful.
It’s like the politicians are all blah-ing away emptily, somewhere in the midrange, while the sobering breadth of the country’s thoughtful mood is expansive enough to make the scuffle of tumbleweed seem a fuller sound.
The tragedy of Gordon Brown trying to smile is painfully obvious to everyone. We don’t want him to try to bend his bulk around that BS. We like a grumpy sod, if he’s truly being himself and if he also appears to know what he’s doing. Shouldn’t his spin doctors know this?
I’ve shouted at the screen many times in the last fortnight “Stop smiling, all of you. Stop talking to me personally down the lens. Stop obeying the public speaking rule book. STOP AGREEING WITH ME. SOMEBODY TELL ME TO F*** OFF!”
But the thing is, really and truly, I’ve been watching three men who are sort of being themselves. Going through the motions of the game to do their job. I don’t see any villains there behind those three podiums. I see a few behind them, of course. But I think the three party leaders are secretly as daunted as we are. And maybe that’s kind of unifying.
Oh dear. Are things so bad that that seems like a positive to me now? That we’re all clueless? Sheesh.
But the reality of the country’s circumstances seems to have lead to so much turn-out today, that all over the country people have been locked out of polling stations, queuing up until 10.00pm when they legally had to shut. Putting aside the fact that we really should have gotten our backsides out of bed earlier, it’s a heartening picture of Britain taking part again. People actually want to vote.
Extraordinary as a result is the possibility of a hung parliament. The markets are mooted to be scared of this, heightening the sense of impending doom. But I think this would be an honest result. We all had our say and showed that no-one won our mandate sufficiently. That’s democracy. That’s us telling the politicians what we think.
That’s us screwing ourselves, probably. But hey.
What I think is what I’ve always thought. I’ve been on the losing yellow team my whole life. The nice but uncool lot. I’m a liberal. I love the word and hate the fact that so many good people are scared of it. I voted Lib Dem.
Upping the basic rate of income tax to £10,000, for example, to me seems like a bold move towards getting people working again. Not renewing Trident would honestly make me nervous as a PM – a certain amount of swagger is what leadership needs behind it – but it’s probably the gutsy-wise thing that needs doing in our defense strategy. Investing in science and green economies are surely essential to building a sustainably strong future Britain, and no-one seems to have been championing this more. And trying to take a practical, realistic look at our current state of immigration is what it will take to actually sort it out. Tub-thumping jingoism isn’t enough.
What will a Tory government do to local services? Are we really ready to have a right-wing government in again? Thatcher made more of us rich and dragged the UK out of the post-war dark ages. But she did it by selling our soul and tearing the heart out of the UK community. We are still reaping the chaos of this now, even as we spend more on Amazon.
And Labour? Surely so many good-intended things turned sour alarmingly fast. Accountability and measurability became the scourge of modern working – target culture. The inhuman hell of it for teachers, doctors, policemen. Slavery to the word Choice is driving us all mad with selfishness, being fed into our children’s lives – “what do YOU want my darling three-year-old?” And can-do, make-a-change decisiveness lead to reams of poorly-thought-out legislation and a wildly monitored, control-freaked high street.
We need some properly fresh thinking. And here’s an interesting testimony: Lib Dem support is geographically evenly spread, much more than the traditional Labour and Conservative heartlands. The clear implication being that many of their ideas make sense wherever you are. Whoever you are.
Holy crap in a breadmaker, do we badly need some of that right now.
No party podium pumping for me, though. The Liberals have been a bickering, petty lot too often. And party politics is a donkey. But it’s what we have to work with.
Whoever can manifesto it up, what we need is a society that creates, sustains and defends freedom.
Freedom to fly as high as you want to – or not. Freedom to be vulnerable – because we understand it is fundamental to being human. The freedom to be you – and to choose to contribute all you are to those around you. Little or much.
We need a culture that believes that anyone can make more of themselves and anyone can really f**k up. We have to plan around these two possibilities.
The only way to do this, I think, is to build a society that inculcates responsibility; I must defend the right of the person next to me to be who he or she wants to be because I recognise that I need them. Nature’s great survival secret is diversity. But the person next to me has no rights – only those I bestow upon him or her. Only those we fight together to defend, through education, art and building a joint identity.
In the end though, have we chickened out of change? Been typically British?
I don’t know. I know what I’m feeling increasingly as I prepare to go to bed; no-one can call it yet. No-one seems to know where this night is going. And as I consider the very real possibility of a hung parliament, I think we would be doing democracy well in its event.
And I think that gets me feeling a little excited. Even as we stare into the unknown.