When did Britain get scared so easily?
I had been awake for 28 hours and 23 minutes as of this sentence. Polls hadn’t closed yet but the results are clear. The Conservative party have won a majority. It would seem that only Cameron himself managed to predict this result, while the media insisted he wouldn’t be able to get the majority he needed to govern alone.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s not, “how did he manage to win?” that I am concerned with. It’s the nature of politics that has been for far too long and continues to prevail despite the electorate continually apparently deploring negative campaigning.
In Sutton and Cheam, the constituency I spent the last 24 hours in, the incumbent MP Paul Burstow was upended by the Conservative candidate Paul Scully: a Lib Dem ousting that has been repeated in seat after seat up and down the country to spectacularly dire consequences for the party that moulded itself from a comfortable armchair opposition party, where many of its members and MPs felt most at home, to the outer limits of their comfort zone as a governing party. Or at least a minority party in a coalition.
Speaking to people across the 75,000+ people constituency, I noticed a few themes early on. Paul is a great local MP, something which is no surprise, we’ve heard it said about Lib Dem MPs, after all they virtually invented what is known as the incumbency factor. But this was apologetically, and I don’t mean dispargingly apologetic, but sincerely followed by “but it’s the Nick Clegg factor” or “but I just can’t support them nationally”. A theme that was repeated street after street, house after house, voter after voter.
Digging deeper the fear of the Labour SNP coalition or back deal door started to eek out of people. Which immediately got me thinking, “when did the British people get scared so easily?” or more specifically “when did British people start accepting fear as a sole motivator?”. This by the away isn’t aimed at the Tories, before I have a myriad of comments along those lines. It’s actually my incredibly humble opinion that the party with the best scare message won the election. The Lib Dems warned of the lurch to the right or the left, Labour warned of the excessive cuts to public spending and a “Bluekip” coalition, while the Tory tactic was to hammer home the message that the SNP would hold Ed Miliband and the entire country to ransom and were aided by the right wing media branding of Nicola Sturgeon as “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. All in all pretty negative right? Right.
So, back to my original question about scaring easily. I could see the tangible frustration in the various and sometimes tedious but necessary TV debates across a host of TV networks when voters struggled more than is frustratingly usual to get their questions answered and desperate for hope for the coming years. It almost left them no choice than to choose between which of the lesser evils they’d rather be stuck with. And that’s the message the parties were all willing to base their campaigns on. It’s both painfully insulting and so ingrained in our political culture that it’s the norm.
As the country tactically voted their way to a majority Conservative government, it’s disappointing that we as an electorate complain about the system but then in an opportunity to have a truly interesting government coalition, we opted to fear an existential threat rather than trust our guts and or inherent values whatever they may be.
So is this the way politics in Britain will continue? I certainly hope not. And as I pose this question I can all but hear people screaming for a proportionally representative voting system to enhance democracy and allow large minorities to have a voice, which of course would go a long way to solve this type of issue. But so long as we continue to succumb to fear tactics, there will not need to be any real change.