07 May 2010

It ain't over 'til it's over: UK general elections

Following the general election campaign with friends in the UK has been quite a ride. From my time in the UK, the BBC is one of the things I miss the most and the BBC allowing the world to watch the elections results online is like Christmas and Easter wrapped up into one for me. The real BBC is nothing like BBC World News (available on cable in parts of Canada) which is barely one notch above CBC Newsworld. 

So I stayed up with BBC veteran broadcasters David Dimbleby and Jeremy Paxman until 1 am my EDT, 6 am BST. I swooned over them when I lived in the UK. One thing for the best of British journos: they don't take crap from nobody. They have no patience for political (empty) answers, they know their stuff. This is in sharp contrast to the meek journalists on this side of the pond, the lackluster CBC elders and those poor, poor U.S. social climbers who live in fear of cutting their (social) bridges with the White House and be barred from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue events or fancy lunches with senators. 

Dimbleby and Paxman, two sexagenarians, were still broadcasting when I woke up six hours later joined by a better known quantity here, Simon Schama. One hopes Dimbleby and Paxxo had their disco nap whilst I slept, this kind of political raving isn't good for coronary health.

Results are still coming in but the Tory will possess the greater number of seats. They will remain, however, well short of a majority. This is nothing like the victory they should have enjoyed. Labour mishaps (bigotgate to name only one), unpopular wars, the recession and the expenses scandal which happened under Labour's watch should have paved the way for a resounding Tory victory.

Yesterday, The Sun used Shepard Fairey-like style and colours with David Cameron on its front page. Much of the media and the Tory party itself have sought to appropriate the Obama brand and superimpose it upon the Tory leader. The media have been reporting on the same party and the same faces for thirteen years and are eagerly seeking new narratives. One Labour politician told me the BBC wants Cameron to win in order to destroy him and although this seems all too nefarious and deliberate, anyone who has kept tabs on the political reporting of my beloved BBC would be hard-pressed to refute the pro-Tory BBC bias. Even with my Labour tendencies, I resisted this talk of Labour bias for months but I finally had to admit the truth, the BBC wants Labour out. 

Murdoch, unsurprisingly, championed the Conservatives shamelessly misleading the public and fanning the fires of hatred toward feminists,  minorities and immigrants. Adding to this Caribbean billionaires who have controversially filled the coffers of the Tory campaign, Cameron's failure to win a majority has the whiff of what kids today refer to an as "epic fail".

There is much anger at the Labour party across social classes but even readers of the lurid tabloid The Sun must have seen through the Obama imagery. Cameron and a pre-presidential Obama share relative youth. That's it. Obama is the black grandson of a Kenyan goat herder with a Muslim middle name. Cameron is quintessential whiteness and privilege, quasi-billionaire family, a toff through and through. Obama is professorial, a man of intellect, Harvard Law School, Harvard Law Review. When Cameron met up with the press a couple of months ago and was asked why he wanted to become prime minister he gave an answer far more reminiscient of Dubya than the current President. Because I think I'd be good at it, he said. Such statements are typical underwhelming Cameron fare.

This morning Nick Clegg, leader of the third party Liberal Democrats (think NDP), reiterated a statement he had made during the campaign, that the party who won the most seats should have the first bite at the apple to form the next government. Gordon Brown followed with a public statement reassuring the British people that despite current uncertainty, they still had a government until a new one takes shape. David Cameron had to chime in with the indirect purpose of calming his party who might be reluctant to get into bed with the LibDems, a party they are at odds with on many issues. 

Basically, all three parties performed poorly and the biggest losers at the polls have been the LibDems. Their leader Nick Clegg had a meteorite rise in voter-intention polls after Britain's first prime ministerial debate. Today the sober reality is that the LibDems actually lost seats. Nonetheless, the Tory failure to gain a majority makes Clegg this year's virgin hopping around the Maypole. Clegg would be foolish to fall for Cameron's contradictory statement this morning which sort of opened the door to talks on electoral reform. As in Canada, the UK system isn't particularly kind to third parties and the Tories are dead set against reform — or they were until this morning. Cameron was less than emphatic but I do hope Clegg falls for it. Brown made Clegg a clear offer of a referendum on electoral reform, an offer which could very well result in the dismantling of Labour strongholds for the foreseeable future. 

Speaking of strongholds, the Scottish people are the great heroes of the left today. Not only they didn't fall for the Tory and media campaigns against Labour, Scottish support for Labour actually rose. As he won his seat with an increased majority, Brown spoke plainly about the satisfaction he felt serving the people he went to school with (Tories have a tendency to parachute candidates in places they never been to, they have been known to show disdain for their own constituents). For twenty-seven years, Brown has served his constituents and the country with a tireless devotion seldom encountered with swanky politicians. Tireless politicians, non-flashy politicians are not exactly an endangered species in the UK, but we live in the era of celebrity and surface, a time that ill-fit politicians of Brown's ilk. The media mocks his wrinkles suits, suits wrinkled because he pulls all-nighters. 

When, in the wee hours of the morning, a poor-sighted Brown hand wrote and personally posted a letter to a mother who had lost her son in service in the Middle-East, The Sun exploited the mother's grief who sold her story to paper, her pain turned into wrath toward Brown who misspelled the soldier's name. This is the world of politics we live in today. Like Carter, Brown might turn out to be one of the most underestimated politician of our time. Well, not quite. Brown is far from perfect, he's no Jimmy Carter, but it is also clear that the media (not to mention The Fates) just wouldn't give him a chance in hell. Carter was also a victim of circumstances he had no control over and had to build millions of houses for free before Americans started to give him a second without frothing at the mouth.

This is the perfect Cameron era and let Clegg surrender to him, I say. Those who remember Thatcher fondly forget the woman was able to sustain broad appeal (in between the riots) in a climate that enabled her to allow the rich to multiply their wealth exponentially without asking them to contribute directly too much in wealth redistribution. And whilst it's true that Thatcher did her best to annihilate some social programmes and push the culture toward a simplistic "pull yourself up by your bootstrap" American mentality, she also had revenues that gave her the luxury to leave enough bread crumbs in her path. This, however, is another century. Soon, revenues from North Sea Oil will be less than a third of what they were during Tory-era peaks. As Europe, and beyond, is heading toward a long predicted double dip recession, now ensured courtesy of Greece, the next British government will have to take measures sure to illicit the ire of the people.

The BBC is being cavalier about a hung parliament and the British seem to be under the delusion that a hung parliament will force government of find middle grounds. The recent and current Canadian experience shows that is not necessarily the case. Instead of finding centre solutions, the coalition parties trade one utterly unpalatable policy for another. This, in a way, makes perfect sense but it isn't a scenario which seems to have occurred to the British people and media.

The Canadian Tory minority government is a different kettle of fish. Canada has suffered a mild recession so far, and, one thing for sure in Western politics, it's ALWAYS the economy, stupid. But there will be parallels between both countries. As the Canadian rural/urban divide was highlighted again by the Tory dismantling of the gun registry, so will the UK Tories open the doors to new carnage with a re-legalisation of fox hunting. The UK Tories are not so barbarian as to ban funding of abortion services in Third World aid, but since they will have a free hand in most treaties and international affairs, they are sure not to miss an opportunity to embarrass the progressive UK populace before the entire world. 

These are puzzling times. I do wear my Labour bias on my sleeve but the party is far to the right of where it should be and, apart for when it comes to immigration and crime, large sections of the British public seem to the left of Labour. It's the same case here, and yet both countries voted for the Conservatives in greater numbers than other parties. Emotional voting against the Liberal Party of Canada and the British Labour Party have led to this. Both parties have to shape up. Most Labour supporters will say that Brown has to go and, as even as a Brownite, I will admit that practically speaking his time has come. I find him to be a formidable man but not an electable one. Brown's lack a star appeal has led some wannabes to indulge in repeated half-baked, half-hearted leadership challenges. Beyond sad to watch, a bit like watching a schizophrenia sufferer shooting different parts of his own body thinking it might result in resurrection. 

The Canadian Liberals were involved in minor corruption compared to the British expenses scandal but the Liberal alone were responsible for that particular scandal. Since Martin's departure, the Liberals haven't found their footing and there is the same cause for concern with Labour. Labour needs to take time out of Downing Street to find a strong leader.

The name of David Milliband will surface in the run up to a Labour leadership campaign. Him and a long list of white males because the British political completely lacks daring and imagination. We understand Thatcher caused trauma but time to get over it already, this is 2010, not 1853. Anyway, the Labour Party loves Milliband, a man of rare blandness. He does appear to be a politician's politician. Just yesterday afternoon, I argued against Milliband to an admiring Labour worker friend. I wrote to her:  "No matter what the question was [Milliband] just kept repeating the same thing. It's as though a spin doctor told him 'this is the thing you've got to get across' and that is the only thing he did." Hours later on the BBC, with Paxman in the studio with Milliband somewhere else, and the latter claimed not to be able to hear's Paxman's questions. Instead of asking Paxman to repeat, Milliband launched into whatever message he wanted to put out there. Paxman confirmed my suspicion with an acerbic and sardonic comment on the convenience of this technical difficulty. 

I might be wrong about Milliband, it may be the those who like him know him better than I do. The fact remains that if one there is one thing the British people have expressed in the division of their votes yesterday, it is their lack of tolerance for politics as usual. Labour needs/deserves better than Bland Milliband and so does the rest of the country. Labour had better follow the American Democrats example and find a completely fresh charismatic bright young thing  — don't do like the Tories did with Cameron, don't skimp on intellect and substance. The British public can smell his flimsiness a mile away. If Labour plays this right, they could be soon back in power. 

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