diary of a floating voter, part one

It has occurred to me recently that I must be the thing that all politicians are trying to find: a genuine, bona fide, floating voter.

I exist! And not only do I exist, but I’m politically engaged enough to actually go and vote. And I honestly don’t have a clue who to for in the 2015 general election – or even if I will vote at all.

So I’m going to keep track, on this blog, of which way I’m leaning.

By coincidence, I am also a 100% accurate bellwether voter: in the three general elections in which I have been eligible to vote so far, I have always voted for the winning MP in that constituency, and the party I have voted for has gone on to be in government. (I voted Labour in 2001 and 2005, and Liberal Democrat in 2010).

But I haven’t seen much evidence since 2010 that either of those parties deserve another vote from me. I would call myself, broadly speaking, a kind of socially-conscious modern liberal, so ideologically I suppose I ought to vote Lib Dem, and I think Nick Clegg has his heart in the right place; but I have been bitterly disappointed by the Liberal Democrats’ weakness in the coalition.

And while I grew up supporting Labour, I still feel betrayed by their record in government. It was partly over Iraq, civil liberties and their economic reliance on a banking and housing bubble that means only those of my generation with parental wealth will be able to afford a place to live in twenty or thirty years. But it’s also the way they governed: they were so obsessed with spin and appearance that they lost sight of doing the right thing.

I don’t think I’d ever vote Tory; and yet I sometimes think – although I say it quietly amongst my more lefty friends – that David Cameron is actually quite an intelligent and reasonable fellow. So while I would feel like a terrible traitor for doing so, I wouldn’t rule out a Conservative vote, if only I could be persuaded that Cameron can get his more reactionary backbenchers in line.

On the other hand, I’ve also been impressed with some of the Green Party’s achievements in Brighton, as well as some of their more socially liberal policies.

Basically, I’m anybody’s.

(Well, maybe not UKIP’s. But that doesn’t make much difference: I know plenty of old Tories who say they’d vote for UKIP now, but they’d never take the risk of voting for them in a general election if it meant Labour would get back in. So it’s my vote rather than theirs that the Conservatives need if they ever want to get another majority.)

To scale things up a notch, I am determined to vote in a marginal seat in 2015. It’s looking likely that I’ll be in a Labour vs. Lib-Dem marginal constituency; but if not then I intend to register at my mum’s house in Northampton North – a three-way marginal at the last election – to make sure that my vote really counts.

So I am basically the guy that any party needs to persuade if they want to get into government at the next general election. If they can persuade me, then they’ll probably be on the right lines.

With this in mind, I should say that what I’d really like is to be won back by Labour. The trouble is that they just can’t seem to stop doing things which come across to a floating voter like me as annoying party politicking. Ed Miliband always seems to be trying to make jokes and snide remarks at Prime Minister’s Questions rather than presenting a credible alternative. And I like jokes, but he’s no Beppe Grillo.

And then, this week’s Labour proposal of adopting the Lib Dems’ Mansion Tax policy would have been a welcome one, if it had been a genuine pledge to recognise the merits of that policy and include it in the 2015 manifesto. But it transparently wasn’t that, because there was no such pledge, just a clumsy attempt to make Clegg et al look like they had abandoned the policy (and therefore, we were supposed to assume, their principles). Since pretty much everyone who voted Lib Dem in 2010 is now reconciled to the fact that the Lib Dems have made compromises in order to do things like getting Gay Marriage passed and protecting the Human Rights Act, it just looked like a stunt. Why rub the Lib Dems’ noses in it that they’re locked into a coalition agreement that means they can’t get everything they want right now? They wouldn’t be able to get it from the opposition benches either.

Labour, and Ed Miliband in particular, don’t need to win Tory voters to win the next election. But they do need to win back the people who deserted them to vote for the Lib Dems in 2010. The trouble is, they don’t seem to understand why we deserted them – it was because they were too busy trying to keep power to think about coming up with policies that would improve people’s lives. They took their voters for granted.

They have a long way to go before they look like a government. And until that happens – I’m open to solicitations. Even from UKIP.

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this new government might just be quite good – thanks to new labour

Okay, I’m going to say it: the outcome of this election is – so far – pretty much the best that any liberal or social democrat could have hoped for. Better, in fact.

There, I’ve said it.

Why would I say such a thing? Have I gone mad? How could I be satisfied – hopeful, even – about the idea of a Conservative government, having struggled so hard against it? How could I be pleased that the Liberal Democrat party I voted for, campaigned for in the hope it would help keep the Tories out, have helped it to happen?

Well for one thing, I might be a Liberal Democrat now but I still love the Labour Party, and this result is actually very good for them. They are in a position where they have not only proved they still have a lot of loyal support and can rack up a respectable number of seats in parliament, but they also have a batch of really good, smart potential leaders who are ready to rejuvenate the party now that they don’t have to worry about running the country.

For Labour this may even have been – and I think, deep down, they know it – a good election to lose. They won’t have to be the ones making the cuts, and they’ll be a better party after they’ve had a rest and regrouped. Plus, of course, they are the only opposition now. When it comes to Prime Minister’s Questions that will count.

But that’s not the main reason why I’m hopeful. The main reason I’m hopeful is that, having read the coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems, it’s actually really quite good.

I mean, it’s not perfect: Trident will still be replaced; any idiot will still be able to open their own schools and expect other schools in the area to pay for it; and the idea of ditching the Working Time Directive should appall anyone who’s ever felt their employer might be stealing their life.

But when you look at what the Lib Dem negotiators got in return, it’s just remarkable – it’s almost frightening to see just how far the Conservatives have come.

In particular, the tax agreement that will help people on low incomes (rather than the disgustingly unjust inheritance tax cut the Tories originally proposed); the pupil premium for poorer students; the commission to separate investment and retail banking (which has got Vince Cable’s delicate, expert fingerprints all over it); the fully elected House of Lords – elected by proportional representation, for goodness’ sake…

It’s almost hard to believe that this is the same party at all.

The reason for this, of course, is that under David Cameron’s leadership, it isn’t the same party any more. I’m not quite sure what it is; it’s some kind of capitalist party, of course, but a surprisingly liberal one which is prepared to increase funding for the NHS and scrap ID cards and give tax breaks to low earners.

Which means that everything we thought we knew about the Conservatives: the nasty party; the wreckers of lives; the slashers of schools and the NHS; the police-state Thatcherites we were fully justified in hating…it all goes out of the window.

And with it, perhaps, goes our dogmatic party tribalism, and our ridiculously over-simplistic ‘left-wing/right-wing’ distinction (which never fully accounted for the authoritarian/liberal difference which really matters). And in its place comes this seemingly genuine talk of fairness and reform and collaboration.

But what, you might ask, if it’s all a con? What if our instinctive Tory-hating was right, if Cameron is a bizarre anomaly, and the Conservative backbenchers who represent the ‘real’ Tory party intend to smile now but wreck it all later? Well then, it will be those ‘real’ Conservatives’ fault, everyone will know it, and they’ll be punished by a resurgent Labour Party at the next election for sabotaging a promising new kind of collaborative politics.

And if it works? Then it will have been proved that coalitions can work, and that a fairer electoral system would not lead to unstable governments at all. Basically, it’s a win-win situation.

And who is to thank for this? Gordon Brown.

Well, Brown and Blair, really – New Labour. Blair and Brown forced the Tories to change or face permanent opposition – Tony Blair even once said something along the lines of that his job would only be done when the Conservatives had completely abandoned Thatcherism. And, in getting David Cameron – and, of course, the Liberal Democrats – into government, it looks like maybe they have.

I’m not saying I’d ever vote Tory, of course; and I’m as surprised to be saying this as anyone – but…perhaps this is a Conservative government that – if the Liberal influence can keep a check on the mad backbenches – might just be better than we thought possible.

decisions, decisions

I just don’t know who to vote for in the General Election now. I thought I did; now I don’t. It’s the toughest electoral decision I can remember.

The question for me is very simple – it’s really the same as it has been for the last six or seven years: ‘what can I do to help keep the Tories out of power, without giving Labour a mandate to do very much either?’

All my other general election voting decisions have been easy. My first one was in 2001, where I was so impressed with Tony Blair’s first term, and so annoyed that I’d just missed out on getting to participate in the 1997 mini-social revolution that he’d brought about, that it was basically a no-brainer. I voted in Northampton North – a constituency that was a straight Labour/Tory toss-up – for Sally Keeble, who had been one of the incredible influx of brilliant women into the Labour government in that first term and was doing a pretty impressive job as a junior minister at DFID.

2005 was tougher, but not by much. I was living in Leamington Spa, doing teacher training at Warwick; and if it hadn’t been for Labour’s huge investment in education and the increase of teacher’s pay to a decent level, then as a fairly high-level master’s graduate I wouldn’t have been considering teaching at all. I know a lot of amazing teachers for whom the same thing is true. So Tony and Gordon had stayed true to the promise of making education a priority.

But they hadn’t stayed true to Robin Cook’s principle of an ‘ethical foreign policy.’ I’d been one of the million that had marched against the Iraq war and written letters and been ignored or dismissed just like Cook himself was. So voting for Labour after that wasn’t so easy.

Still – the Leamington and Warwick constituency was another straight Labour/Tory toss-up. So even though the Labour MP, James Plaskitt was a slippery, disingenuous tosser when I met him on the Parade (he was going round telling people he ‘didn’t vote for the invasion of iraq’ when what he’d actually done was voted for every motion which led up to the invasion, ie on the votes that claimed we didn’t need to see WMDs or get a second UN resolution before invading – and then just didn’t bother to turn up for the final vote on declaring war) I voted for him because even though he might as well have been a Tory, the leaders of his party weren’t. (And of course, the leader of the Tories at the time was Michael Howard, a genuinely appalling man who tried to position the Tories just a few notches away from the BNP and was surprised when the British electorate didn’t want that).

Anyway, I voted for Plaskitt, gagged a bit, and then made up for it by voting Liberal and Green in the local council elections (which are done by proportional representation so there’s no need for tactical voting.)

This time around, though, I’m so depressed with Labour: with their infighting – including from Sally Keeble, one the MP’s who idiotically called on Brown to resign because she basically knows she’s going to lose the Northampton North seat – and their failure to come up with a single policy that seems genuinely useful.

But my constituency is Islington North. It’s a very safe Labour seat, currently held by Jeremy Corbyn, who is probably one of the most fundamentally decent MPs in the Labour Party. He always rebels when he thinks it’s right, and he also has a very nice beard. I like him and when he keeps the seat (which he will), I’ll be more than happy for him to be my MP.

But on the other hand, that means I don’t have to actually vote for him. I can vote for whoever I like. And if I vote for the Liberal candidate, I can help increase the overall Liberal share of the popular vote, which could be important if there’s a hung parliament and we get a proper debate about electoral reform…plus I like the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is a good, principled leader who speaks five languages (very useful in foreign affairs) and would make a smashing Prime Minister, and Vince Cable would be a Chancellor who actually has a PhD in Economics and knows what he’s talking about.

Plus…I don’t even hate David Cameron. I mean, I know he hates me. Or at least, doesn’t consider me or my family and friends worth looking after as long as he gets to do his tax breaks for the super-rich and married couples, which doesn’t include me. And I know he’d cut teacher’s salaries back again to the kind of obscene level they were under the last Tory government.

But I don’t really hate him, because he’s tried to remind the Tories that they once used to stand for maturity and a strong society and a government that keeps out of people’s way when it’s not needed. And these are good things. I mean, I could never vote for a Conservative party candidate because with the exception of Ken Clarke and John Bercow, the rest of the parliamentary party seem to be the same greedy, xenophobic, homophobic bastards with that irritating sense of entitlement that they always were.

So it’s going to be tricky. I’m going to read the manifestos and see what I think after that. I’ll probably let you know.