The SNP, The electoral system, and the LibDems martyrdom complex

This is a bit of a bag of deleted posts and thoughts around the General Election,which got lost in the maelstrom of the polls being horribly wrong…

SO here’s the first bit of thoughts about the election which occur to me: namely, the SNP got elected cos they’re better at this than anyone else, the LibDems got anhiliated because they’re worse, and Ukip got smashed because our political system is designed for rotten boroughs.

First – Fair play to the SNP– they are better politicians than any other party.

I’m not by nature an automatic SNP voter, not believing as they do in Independence. Their policies weren’t very far away from Labour in all aspects (other than Trident). But the way they communicate their message is far, far better than every other party. They come from, and speak to, the general public, rather than a ruling elite (which has been the case for Labour, LibDems and Tories for decades). They are far more tenacious than the other parties, because they genuinely believe that they can make a difference. And both Sturgeon and Salmond are streets apart from every other politician in the country in terms of technique. Now it may sound insulting to complement them on their technique rather than their policies, but it really isn’t – as a man of words myself, I know the value of communication, and it’s hugely important that they fight for the right to be heard in every interview, panel  and question time. They’re brilliant at it. Here’s a few of their techniques I’ve noticed:

a)    Rebut the question. Salmond and Sturgeon are the only politicians who have the edge over where folk like Evan Davies, Andrew Neil etc. They know the questions likely to be asked and have an answer, often a different way of framing the question.
b)    Talk over people. Interviewers are rude, and interrupt, as do other politicians on panels, so they are just better at interrupting, with short, repeated statements, which punch into whoever is speaking.
c)    Ask questions. They’re great at this – when asked a tricky question on a panel, they deal with the question very quickly, but then turn to one of the other panellists and ask them the sort of question that Andrew Neil would have killed for.
d)    Have a few phrases which can be repeated in the pub the next day. It’s standard stuff, all politicians do it, but Salmond and Sturgeon are just better at it. “In bed with the Tories” was one from the Indyref, and boy did it strike home.

Secondly, First Past the Post has had it’s day

The FPtP system began when there was a very small electorate of property-owning men, who elected out of their number one person  to represent them in parliament. Before the reform act of 1832, about a third of the constituencies were decided upon by fewer than a hundred voters, all being property owning men

It makes sense to have this system when there are few voters and no formal party system –  interesting to note that  the main parties in William Pitt’s time were known as the “Pittites” and the “Foxites”, i.e. rather than any formal party, and they were identified by their views, rather than party allegiance. When the Whigs and Tories did coalesce into more formal parties, their allegiances were more to do with religion (Protestant and Jacobian) than what we would think of as politics.

That was also a time when the only things that parliament enacted were to do with taxes and war – most other things were local, even including the system for electing your MP.

But these days it is a complete anachronism. Constituencies themselves are massive and bear little resemblance to any local governmental system. Generally constituencies change so that the people in power when the boundaries review takes place might get more seats by splitting the opposition vote.

I think the reason we had a two party system for so long was because the first past the post system creates it. History has shown that there is little room for more than two parties for any length of time. But now we live in a multi-party system, and one which won’t go away.

It doesn’t work because it means any minority voice is under-represented. I’m no fan of Ukip, but it is ridiculous to have 1/8th of the electorate voting for a party which has one MP.

It also means, as we shall doubtless find out, that the larger parties become in effect their own coalitions, with people of widely differing views being under the same umbrella, because without that party system, it would be impossible to get elected.

Thirdly, the LibDems got it wrong.

I have a deal of sympathy for the LibDems. But Clegg’s resignation speech, and Paddy Ashdown’ subsequent blaming of the electorate did them no credit. They did bring it on themselves to a certain extent, and I think this is why:

a)    They campaigned in headlines and governed in subsections and clauses. If you say “no student fees” it’s no good going back to the electorate and saying “actually, although we have raised student fees, it works out as better for those who are not going to be terribly well off for years to come”. Actually their changes to the student fees have made life significantly better for many students – the fees should really be called a Graduate Tax, which only comes in after you’re getting fairly well paid – but they weren’t canny enough to see that your promises and your fulfilments have to match – if you promise simple, you have to fulfil simple too.

b)    They enjoyed the Martyrdom complex too much. Common of churches too. They felt that what they were doing was for the sake of the country, and so they had to sacrifice some of their core beliefs in order to provide stable government. And when they realised they were going to be punished by the electorate for it, they sank further into their martyr state of mind, assuming that it was noble, courageous, decent. But in reality, it wasn’t them that was being sacrificed, it was the people who were the victims of the bedroom tax and the disability benefit tests, and the low paid, and all the others that they failed to help. Can you imagine the SNP or Ukip being so generous and “reasonable”? Of course not. That’s why they’re popular – they want to keep their promises.

c)    They went into coalition It was suicide. If it had been confidence and supply, or some other less close relationship, they might have been okay, but becoming so closely aligned with the Conservatives wiped out both their right-leaning and left-leaning supporters. However carefully the LibDems have worked out their own philosophy, the philosophy of their voters is less sophisticated – they consist of folk who are not quite as right wing as the Tories, and not quite so left wing as Labour. By making so little difference to Tory policies, they showed the right wing that there was no point voting for them. By giving the Tories five years (and a fixed term) they showed the left wing they were wrong about them.

d)    They wanted harmony. The LibDems are not folk for an unseemly scrap. But that is what they needed to have, time after time, in public, if they were to gain anything from the coalition. Any disagreements in policy were worked out before those policies were presented to the electorate. Again, the SNP spoke of “holding Labour’s feet to the fire” – whereas with the LibDems they were more likely to offer the Tories a cup of tea while they darned their socks.

I think history will judge the LibDems better than the electorate did, but there is no doubt that they made mistakes in the first two years – and it was then that they lost their seats, not in the run up to the General Election. Funnily enough, I think that’s when Labour lost it too, and that is a sobering reminder to both parties that they should probably not have a year of navel-gazing while they elect their next leader.

Next time – what the Hell Labour are going to do.

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About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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