This Is Not A
Examining The Veneer
Well, I suppose it's time to declare. With only three days left before we are permitted our quinquennial exercise in veneer democracy, it may still be possible to reach some speculative conclusions and tentative forecasts about the outcome.
Both Cameron and Milliband would have been aware from an early stage of the campaign that an outright majority would not be there for them, and both have tackled the issue in the same way - by reaching for deniable plausibility. And so we have had Cameron promising to prevent any government putting up taxes for the whole length of the next parliament (apparently oblivious to the principle that no government may bind the hands of its successors, and seemingly unaware of the contradictions of getting parliament to pass a law which would render any attempts by parliament to repeal it ipso facto unlawful - and this is before we consider the essentially anti-democratic nature of the very idea); and Milliband by making vague, un-nail-downable pledges to repeal some of the nasty measures which his party itself put in place the last time they had a chance, like the Bedroom Tax and rampant privatisation of the health service in England. Oh, and by building a rockery; and with both of them trying to steal the ill-fitting clothes of the Kippers by pandering to xenophobic sentiment for fear of losing some of their seats either to the far right outright, or by their intervention.
As for the Liberal Democrats, their 'brand' is not so much toxic as contaminated, and it is doubtful whether there are sufficient supplies of de-lousing powder in existence to get rid of the parasitic taint that their support of the most right-wing government in our lifetimes has given them.
The only semblance of light relief as far as UK-wide campaigning goes has been the almost daily sight of UKIP candidates revealing themselves for the bunch of wingnuts and proud know-nothings that they have always been, but have always been able to rely on an adoring media (who know a good running joke when they see one) to play down in the normal run of events.
In this, the so-called 'leaders' debates' may also have played a part, although in general I don't think that they were - or will prove to be - as significant as those within the Westminster/media bubble would have us believe. Most people who will be voting on Thursday didn't bother watching any of them, for one thing. For another, it is likely that most of those who did watch would merely have had their pre-existing positions confirmed, either pro- one party or another, or in their belief that they're all mountebanks, spivs and chancers.
One difference which may have been made, though, is in allowing a rare glimpse by the population in general of political views outside of those standard permitted patterns characterised as 'mainstream' by the gatekeepers of our media culture. It is clear - despite, or even because of the bilious rhetoric of the drooping organs of centre-right conformity such as the Daily Heil and the Toryglyph - that the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon made a considerable and positive impact on the audience, with a remarkable number of people in England almost begging the SNP to stand candidates south of the border in order to give that sizeable minority of people living there who still entertain progressive ideals despite suffering nearly four decades of derision from all 'right-thinking' folk something - anything - worth voting for. Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood seems to have done her party's prospects no harm at all by emerging from obscurity (in the eyes of England, which is all that is deemed to matter in these things), particularly with her slapping down of the odious Farage. And even the somewhat hapless Natalie Bennett of the Greens emerged with some credit for her obvious sincerity of vision, even if it was often ineptly expressed.
On the whole, however, the programmes looked a bit like a cut-down version of an edition of Fifteen-To-One, but without the same chance of learning something you didn't already know or couldn't already have guessed.
During my live blog of the 2010 results, I passed on a comment from someone at UK Polling Report suggesting that what we were seeing then was a 'regionalised' election (that's 'region' in the British sense, i.e., fully-fledged nations such as Scotland and Wales are actually only 'regions', like 'Yorkshire' and 'the south west' are). I think that it's quite clear that 2015 will be what one might terms a 'nationalised' election, in that the results - even more than heretofore - will vary quite dramatically depending on which nation (sorry, I mean 'region') you are looking at.
So, with that in mind, here's my breakdown of how I think it will go on Thursday:
I'll start with the easiest and the least problematic, in that electoral politics in the Six Counties has always been sui generis and has seldom had any contingent effect on the final picture. I do not envisage any change in the balance of seats held by the respective 'communities', except that the Democratic Unionists may grab Belfast East back from the Alliance Party.
There will be one or two seats changing hands here, Labour gains of Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan and possibly Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (all from the Conservatives), and maybe even Cardiff Central from the Lib Dems. The Tories will inevitably lose some ground, and Plaid will remain static, although it's possible they could lose Arfon for the first time in over forty years whilst running Labour a close second in Llanelli.
Beyond all that, Labour will no doubt rack up superficially impressive majorities in those fabled Valleys yet again, despite its obvious and ongoing failure of the residents thereof since time out of mind. For the old pit villages are still full of people like Evan Bevan The Old Collier, who will wag his vibration-damaged finger at you and proclaim, "I've voted Labour all me life, see? And me da' voted Labour all 'is life. And Grampy voted Labour all 'is life, see? We've been votin' Labour in owar family since seventeen-eighty-two, an' we're not gwonna stop now!", and then wonder why his grandchildren are wandering the streets drunk or drugged out of their underfed minds because that's all they've got going for them, or why those with gumption enough to claw their way out are now living in rabbit hutches owned by buy-to-let scum landlords on the western side of London because that's their only hope of a job worthy of the name.
A lot of people in their 'traditional heartlands' will vote Labour as before, but with little which could be categorised as 'enthusiasm', there being - as the party knows full well, hence its self-assured arrogance in those areas - nothing else to vote for, or at least nothing to vote for which is remotely likely to get elected. Outside those areas - the north-east of England, Lancashire and south and west Yorkshire, parts of the West Midlands and inner-city London - there is not likely to be any great swing to Labour, except possibly in those seats where they were second to the Lib Dems last time. Seats will be taken from the Tories, but in nowhere near sufficient numbers to swing a majority.
The Tories will probably end up having a net loss of about twenty seats, all of them to Labour, including some of those they won somewhat against the run of play last time.
The Liberal Democrats may not, in fact, be quite as fucked as the polling would suggest, partly because Lib Dem MPs do tend to have a stronger personal vote than those of other parties, but also because a lot will depend on whether the Tory vote in those seats where they are the main challenger falls further than the Lib Dems'. There's another possible saving influence which I'll come to in a moment.
The Greens will, I think, hold on to Brighton Pavilion, partly because of the nature of the constituency, but also because of a high-profile and highly-regarded sitting member in Caroline Lucas. However, she is likely to be as much of a solo presence in the next parliament as she was - albeit to good effect - in the last, although the Green vote overall may show a substantial growth.
I suspect that the bullying blowhard George Galloway will hang on to his seat in Bradford, alas, although this is one seat where I would cheer - albeit quietly - a Labour gain to remove that self-regarding excrescence from our body politic for possibly the last time.
And what of UKIP? Well, it's perfectly possible that they will hold one, if not both, of their recent by-election gains, and they may gain one more seat in the south east (although not, I suspect, the one that would put their Clown-in-Chief in the Commons). But the Kippers' main contribution to this election will be the way in which they might have an impact on the Tory vote. Whilst it is unlikely to cost the Conservatives any of the seats they already hold - the ones where the Faragistes' support would be highest are also ones which have the higher Tory majorities - they will make it far more difficult for them to pick up the seats they would need to approach a working majority. This may be particularly true of seats in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall where the Lib Dems would otherwise be in peril.
I've left the only genuinely interesting part of the election till last. Because, although it is unlikely to have any real effect either way on which of the 'main' parties forms - or tries to form - the next government - here is where the biggest fascination (and the potential for the most entertainment) lies.
Let me start by saying that I do not for one moment believe the polls which have been telling us breathlessly for the last month or so that the SNP are going to win all - or nearly all - the seats in Scotland. No matter that they may have been consistent in that message over quite a substantial period of time, politically speaking; the idea that any party could have a near-clean sweep in a country with a political culture as lively and as varied as Scotland is one which is difficult to take seriously.
(It is also tempting to speculate as to whether - given the desperation with which the Unionist parties are actively encouraging tactical voting between themselves to keep the dreaded 'Nats' out, even if that means handing seats over to other Unionist parties to whom you are supposed to be vehemently opposed - a similar campaign may be being conducted which involves getting people who will in fact be voting Lab/Con/LibDem to say that they're voting SNP in order both to engender complacency in the SNP ranks and to enable any actual result short of outright world domination by them to be portrayed by what is still a virulently Unionist-friendly media as being some sort of failure.)
Nonetheless, it is clear beyond reasonable doubt at this stage that the SNP are due to make very substantial gains on Thursday. The polling forecasts of forty-five, fifty or more seats are, as I've just said, beyond all likelihood; but bear in mind that this is a party which in 2010 - in an election in which not a single seat in Scotland changed parties - held just six seats, and were only remotely close to winning one or two beyond those. In the event of even the most conservative of estimates, getting over thirty seats - a majority - would indicate a huge surge in support, and would possibly be a defining generational change not just in Scottish politics, but for the whole Westminster system.
This will particularly be the case if the Unionist parties behave in the way that their rhetoric up to now would seem to indicate. Cameron's scaremongering about the possibility of the SNP (to use that horrible American phrase) 'holding Labour's feet to the fire' to get rather more progressive policies enacted than would be the case in the event of an overall majority for a Labour party still controlled in large measure by Blairite entryists, coupled with Milliband's apparent willingness to see Cameron returned to power rather than talk to other progressive factions in parliament, would indicate an impending crisis of legitimacy with regard to Westminster rule, at least over Scotland. It certainly has the Unionist press in London (which includes all the papers and magazines, not just the most rebarbative right-wing ones) in such a lather that scarcely a day has gone by during the campaign without editorials and comment columns alike reduced to a froth-flecked hysteria, condemning not only the SNP and its leader (with the added ingredient of open misogyny now added to the already poisonous brew), but the entire Scottish electorate. How dare they vote for non-Unionist parties! How ungrateful they are for the sacrifices of all those brave Tommies in thirty-seven world wars who went off to fight for King and Country (although not their King, nor their Country either)!
Quite who it is they are hoping to persuade through daily rantings comparing Nicola Sturgeon to Stalin, or being unable - in that standard British way - to differentiate between different forms of nationalism, decrying them all equally whilst plastering the Union Jack all over their pages to celebrate the birth of another pampered aristocratic brat and making sabre-rattling noises towards the demnation Russian Bear; as I say, quite who this is aimed at isn't clear. If it is aimed at the people of Scotland, then it must count as an own-goal from inside your opponents' half; they do not seem to have realised that the people of Scotland - having liberated themselves from the confines of the kailyard and the shortbread tin - are most definitely not going back in there. Not ever. And, seeing the venom, bile and spite directed at them from the Tripods of Westminster, the media and the City, the less likely it is that they can ever be persuaded just to pipe down and let the Important People in London carry on making all the important decisions.
It is a similar strategy - if one may dignify it with such a word - to that which has been deployed on the ground (or do I mean, 'in the gutter'?) by the Labour Party's Scotland Regional Office (prop., J. Murphy, BA (failed)). Instead of their promise to listen to the people of Scotland after the Referendum result last year, they have - in the same way that they did after being booted out of office in Scotland in 2007, and again after they were most emphatically kept out of office again four years later - decided that they would rather hector, bluster, insult, patronise and just outright lie to the very people they say that they want to bring back to the fold. That they do not appear to see the absurdity of what they are doing is ascribable to one of two explanations: either they have become so in-turned, so out of touch and so blinded by their own hubris and viciousness that they genuinely think that their divine right to rule can be restored by epic blustering; or that they are in the pay of a Far East betting syndicate and are, in fact, deliberately throwing the game. No other rational analysis is possible.
After hubris comes Nemesis, however, and the possible wiping out - or, at least, incapacitation for years to come - of a Labour Party establishment grown corpulent and terminally corrupt on its own sense of entitlement is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It remains to be seen, however, how many Fainthearts may revert to voting for them at the last, and how many Portillo Moments we may have the joy of witnessing as Friday morning progresses. I intend, like last time, to conduct a rolling blog post throughout the night to chronicle events. I may cackle gleefully from time to time, if that's all right with you.
Am I going to be making any prediction as to the ultimate outcome? Well, I made a complete tit of myself in 2010, so I am at least inured to the ridicule inherent in getting it hopelessly wrong this time as well. So, yes, I am. I have, however, taken the precaution of producing a number of possible outcomes first, and have factored in my own hunches to the figures. Here's what I've settled on:
- Labour 280
- Conservative 270
- Liberal Democrat 40
- SNP 35
- Democratic Unionist 9
- Sinn Féin 5
- SDLP 3
- Plaid Cymru 3
- Green 1
- Independent Unionist 1
- Respect 1
- Speaker 1
- UKIP 1
See you on Thursday night, from 2200 hours.