Friday, 5 June 2009

“A plague on both your Houses, and on your second, third or fourth homes!”

Or, to follow Mercutio’s way of thinking in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and to paraphrase Shakespeare again, “There’s something rotten in the state of Britain.”

Oh dear, this could become one of those blog rants that I was determined to avoid. Brewster & Budleigh United is supposed to be a nice and cosy, informative and sensibly written celebration of the links between our two towns.

It all started with a row over breakfast some weeks ago because I hadn’t sent off my postal voting paper. I have to confess that I was feeling just a little bit cynical and cheesed-off with politicians and elections.

You see, the thing is (just in case our US readers are unaware – and they probably are totally and happily oblivious) Britain voted in the European elections yesterday, Thursday 4 June. Just to make it more confusing for outsiders we also had County Council elections taking place.

Well, the big day arrived, with a rather small turn-out of voters so it seems.

A larger than usual proportion of the British electorate apparently abstained, or threw its votes away in protest on minority parties, perhaps confused by the increased number of these on the voting paper.

One thing that’s clear is that UK voters have been taking revenge on their current elected representatives for the variously corrupt, dishonest and lazy practices involved in MPs' expenses claims over what seems to have been many many years.

It's been estimated that 325 out of 646 MPs will be swept away at the next General Election for a new Government either this year or in 2010.

The revelations of the sometimes outrageous expenses claimed by members of the House of Commons were made by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which had bought leaked information. Often these claims related to expenses involving second homes or even third homes which politicians insisted were vital to their work. MPs from all the major political parties have been embarrassed by the revelations and under pressure to repay some of the payments they had received.

Of course, long before that, we’d been regaled with stories of some equally dishonest members of the House of Lords.

Well before Election Day arrived, our postman was complaining about the added weight of election material in addition to normal mail that has to be delivered to every UK home. We both agreed that we’d never seen so many candidates (17 in total) from so many political parties (that we’d never heard of) listed on one voting paper that we are supposed to tick. It’s clear that people’s disillusionment with many of their MPs and the has resulted in a rejection of the main parties and a proliferation of often unknown candidates and causes who were seeking our votes.


And amongst all the party political propaganda there were clear attempts to whip up nostalgia for a golden age when the UK was united by noble idealism for a common cause. We had the picture of a Spitfire and references to the NEW Battle for Britain from the British National Party.

Reinforced by that picture of Churchill on the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leaflet affirming Britain’s independence from hateful Europe and the tyranny of Brussels rather than from Berlin and the Nazis.

And some political parties were surely in direct competition with each other.

It’s fairly clear who The Christian Party ‘Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship’ were representing. The Greens have been around long enough. And you couldn't fail to identify Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall with its outline of the county on the voting paper.

But for many voters there must have been confusion in their minds about what the parties stand for, and a fragmentation of votes between conflicting but similar-sounding causes.

Some traditional Labour supporters may have been tempted to abandon Prime Minister Gordon Brown and vote for The Socialist Labour Party (Leader Arthur Scargill) at a time when strong leadership is needed in left-wing politics.

At the other end of the political spectrum, that opening message “Say NO to unlimited immigration” from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)’s election material sounded a very BNP-like note.

Voters are already confused about the benefits of belonging to the European Community. The Liberal Democrats, strong in the South-West of England, would like to have a foot in both camps and promote themselves as "constructive and critical friends of Europe" while ridiculing Brussels red tape. The Conservatives are also offering a choice by promising a referendum on Europe if they are elected to government.

But least four other political parties are unambiguously pandering to widespread anti-European sentiment. The best known is UKIP. The Pro-Democracy: Libertas.eu Party is also asking voters if they are “horrified by the Brussels gravy train excesses” and complaining about “Brussels bureaucracy hampering British businesses.” The English Democrats Party claims to be “Putting England first!” And the No2EU: Yes to Democracy Party is even saying that its candidates, if successful, will refuse to “board the notorious EU gravy train by taking their seats” in the European Parliament.

And the perplexity must have been reinforced when voters saw the various logos on the voting paper where they were supposed to indicate their choice.

Confusingly the Jury Team and the The Fair Pay Fair Trade Party, as well as coming next to each other on the voting paper, both used the Scales of Justice as their logo.

The Conservatives chose a tree as their new logo some time ago. But the Pensioners Party has gone one better by planting two trees to identify them on the voting paper. In theory they ought to have swept the board because, as they say, everyone is or is going to be a pensioner…

Then there was YD as a logo which I eventually tracked via Google to its website where you can watch a series of YouTube videos generally expressing annoyance at the current system. Fine, I suppose. By now we’re all fairly annoyed with all politicians.

The only one without a logo was Katie Olivia Hopkins. As an Independent she came at the bottom. How unfair! Just because she’s not a political party she wasn’t listed in alphabetical order. This could have been an advantage because she is clearly an underdog.

And thinking of underdogs, I blame the 2008 US elections and President Obama for the present disintegrating state of British politics.

Every so often in politics, it seems, there’s a yearning for a new era of idealism and re-building, characterised by a youthful-looking leader seemingly uncontaminated by previous events. Maybe we thought we saw it once in Tony Blair. And now perhaps, Britain is looking longingly across the Atlantic where it seems that a fresh start is being made to avoid mistakes of the past. President Obama’s easy charm, his powers of oratory, his self-deprecating wit with that “mutt” reference along with his professed desire for a new era of transparency and harmony in world politics inspired British voters who long to see integrity in their leaders. (We haven’t yet been told that the cost of the Obamas’ new pet dog was charged to White House expenses, of course).

And the story of how Mr Obama himself made it to the top as the first black President of the United States had something movingly symbolic about it that our British politicians would find hard to match. At the very most all they can do is to echo the President’s words from his inaugural address “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”

After the last few weeks of political contortions and shameful lying on the part of many of their elected representatives British voters are in a mood for demanding nothing less.

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