Obligatory election post

I haven’t written anything about this coming election so far. There are a variety of reasons for this: for one thing, I haven’t had the inclination, despite having plenty of time on my hands, for writing blog posts as frequently as I used to (although I tend to write essay-length posts; alerts to news stories tend to go out on Twitter nowadays). I also don’t really believe in any of the parties, and don’t want any of them to win. Labour have no real new ideas, they are too authoritarian, too willing to bend the knee to America or Europe at the expense of individuals, and are basically run by a soft Tory clique. The Tories are pretending to be all compassionate and talking about big society, etc., but their instinct is to protect the rich, they will cut services to ordinary people while cutting taxes for the rich, and they have a nasty clique of Islamophobic bigots close to their leader. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, while they may seem like the “least worst” in some respects, are much too pro-EU for my liking.

I have a few notes about things I’ve been hearing about the election. I’ve not been following it that closely. I’ve only got one vote and I already know where it’s going. But here are a few notes, anyway.

First, this afternoon I was listening to David Cameron’s speech in Northern Ireland, on the subject of his party’s alliance, merger, I don’t know what, with the Ulster Unionist Party. Now, the UUP are basically a shadow of their old self, as they used to be the main Protestant, pro-Union party in Northern Ireland and were a major player in the Good Friday agreement of 1998. In the last election, they were almost wiped out and were left with only one MP. There has been a Conservative party in Northern Ireland for years as well, but they have not made much of an impact. So, one locally insignificant party teams up with a spent force.

David Cameron can’t kid anyone that the UUP aren’t a sectarian party. They represent middle-class Protestants. They aren’t even the biggest Protestant party in terms of MPs; the Democratic Unionist Party is. Yet there is talk of one of their politicians (Reg Empey) getting a cabinet seat if the Tories win. He also promised an end to “costly, open-ended inquiries”, clearly meaning inquiries into state crimes during the Troubles. This was an obvious attempt to win the Protestant vote, since it is they who identify with the state and they who made up much of its workforce during the Troubles.

Second, “bigotgate”. As a letter pointed out in the Guardian the other day, standard practice is to disconnect and remove any microphone as soon as an interview is over. Sky News left Gordon Brown wearing his, and caught him making a barely audible comment about a woman he’d just interviewed, calling her a “bigot” because of a remark she’d made about eastern European immigration. They then ran to her and told her what he’d said, and made a news story out of the remark and her reaction to it. She subsequently decided she wasn’t going to vote at all.

This seems too much like cutting off her nose to spite her face to me, though perhaps she doesn’t want to vote Labour because of what Brown said about her but won’t vote for anyone else. Still, I do understand how irritating it is to have someone banging on about immigration with their head full of nonsense from the popular press. I was working in the logistics industry just after the accession, when all the Polish migrants were in this country supposedly taking British jobs. There was plenty of work then, except in the first few months of 2006 for some reason. Now all the Polish workers have gone home, and there’s no work for me either. I wonder why?

Third, about postal voting. Yet again, constituencies with a heavy Asian population have been implicated in postal vote fraud. A journalist from the Independent went to Bow, east London, to investigate and was set on by a gang of Asian teenage thugs — you can see the result and read the whole story here. It’s not clear from the article that the beating was by people connected to the fraud and not just yobs who didn’t like an “outsider” sniffing around their “patch”, but an article printed in the paper today indicates that it happened after the reporter knocked on the door of a local Asian Labour council candidate, Khales Uddin Ahmed. Three Labour candidates in that borough alone have been “spoken to” by police who are looking into allegations of “electoral fraud using falsely-registered postal votes”.

This doesn’t appear to be the “Islamist” element in Tower Hamlets politics, and it’s a mystery that programmes which purport to “expose” the likes of Islamic Forum Europe are pretty much silent on this matter. In the past, postal votes have been used to make sure that the elders deliver the youth’s vote, not trusting them to vote Labour because they are dissatisfied with them over matters like the Iraq war. Still, it makes the community look bad, as if any area with a substantial Muslim population will be prone to third-world political tricks, tribalism and fraud. (Of course, it’s not confined to the Asian community: in the past, political workers have gone to old people’s homes to sign the old folk up for postal votes, then switched them to proxy votes and cast their votes themselves. That’s known as “granny farming”.)

There is another worrying element to this: currently, anyone can get a postal vote and nobody needs a reason. Some people always vote by post. It’s particularly good if, like me, you work through an agency and the phone could ring at 7:30am with a job that might drag on well into the night. But it’s also great if you’re ill. If you’ve got a debilitating illness and you’re housebound or bedridden, and let’s say certain stubborn elements of the medical profession refuse to accept that your illness exists other than in your head, it need not deprive you of your right to vote because you don’t need a reason to vote by post. It also spares such a sick person from having to jump through too many hoops to justify their demand for a postal vote. That could all change if this fraud problem keeps up.

Talking of which, ME awareness week (also here) is next week, and I asked someone who is involved with one of the major ME patients’ groups what I could do a few weeks ago. They suggested getting a copy of the election manifesto published by Action for ME and the Association of Young People with ME (AYME) (you can get the PDF of it here). The first thing that struck me when seeing the document was that it was covered with pictures of mostly very healthy-looking, happy people, many of them pictured outdoors. A closer examination showed that they were “snaps”, not professional pictures, that one was in a wheelchair and two were shot in dim light and that they came from AfME’s “Faces of ME” campaign. However, divorced from the stories accompanying them on the FoME page (and why do they have PDF files for straight text files containing the people’s stories?), they just look like happy, smiling faces and a picture of health, and not much of an indication that ME is a really serious, disabling illness. The upper reaches of severity are quite absent — no feeding tubes, Hickman lines, eye pads or Gilderdale-esque long-suffering faces. The upshot was that I didn’t send anyone the manifesto simply because the pictures give the distinct impression that these people weren’t really suffering; it completely lets down the written content of the manifesto.

Back to the election itself, I plan to vote for the local Lib Dem candidate (Edward Davey) who, according to theyworkforyou.com, voted strongly against the Iraq war and in favour of investigations into it, in favour of getting rid of the hereditary peers, against Trident, against the recent anti-terrorism laws and against ID cards. I’m not a “tribal voter” although you can read an interesting article about this kind of voting, by Gary Younge on the Guardian’s website here. My family used to be, if not exactly tribal, then at least passionately pro-Labour, but for me, that tie was broken well before the Iraq war — it was broken when I saw the shenanigans at the NUS conference in 1996, in which voting, and even cheering, was orchestrated for the student Labour “sheep” by people giving indications from the balcony, and at which dissenting candidates were condemned as “Trots” (Trotskyites). The aim was to get rid of a demand for a return to pre-Thatcher student grant levels (admittedly, completely unrealistic given the massive numbers of students which were in the system by then) in favour of, well, basically waiting for what Labour was going to say. I am hoping that Labour will lose its majority and that the Lib Dems will have a strong showing, so as to blunt New Labour’s authoritarian, US-sycophantic tendencies and perhaps open the way for electoral reform. I really do not want to see another five years of this securocratic, authoritarian party or Cameron’s gang of overprivileged wet-behind-the-ears public schoolboys and hardline neo-cons like Michael Gove. We need real change.

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