So the Practice Election is over.Â I thought it was the European Parliament election, and the local council elections. That’s what I thought it was. But apparently I was wrong and it was just a practice-run for the general election that David Cameron is so keen on. I assume this because I’m being told to vote Conservative “if [I'm] sick of Gordon Brown’s hopeless Govenment”.
The Conservative position at the moment seems to be ‘Vote For Us; We’re Not Labour’. They’ve got a checklist on their leaflet of policies that they support and Labour oppose — which is fine, but they’re bound to differ on some points or they’d be the same party, so unless they explain why these policies are good ideas, they’re saying little more than ‘We Support Our Own Policies’. And they’re all just generically right-wing policies. Everything on the list is in the form ‘voting against EU [blank]‘. I get how they’re not Labour, but they do seem to be UKIP.
Third on the list is ‘Voting to keep the UK’s opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive, allowing people to choose how much overtime they work’. As I understand it, the idea of the Directive is to make sure nobody is forced them to work nominally-voluntary overtime, say by paying them so little that they basically have no choice. I don’t know if I support that, but if I oppose it it’s not because (from the leaflet):
More than three million people in the UK, many working in the health service, have opted out of the Euro-regulations because they rely on overtime to boost their pay to make ends meet.
Maybe I’ve misunderstood this, but it seems to me that if you need to work overtime in order to make ends meet, then you’re being exploited. If you have a full-time job and can’t support yourself on your basic salary, you’re not being paid enough. Unless they all have irresponsibly vast progenies, this isn’t an argument against the Working Time Directive, it’s an argument for a massive increase in the minimum wageÂ and a Working Time Directive. These are surelyÂ exactly the people this regulation is designed to protect? Once it’s illegal for them to do the overtime, presumably their employers will be forced to increase their wages, because they’re not going to turn up if the pay isn’t enough to live on. They’ll look for something else and claim benefits in the meantime. Surely that’sÂ exactly the point?
But mostly what makes me cross about the Conservatives lately is their ‘handling’ of the MPs’ Expenses scandal. David Cameron, realising that ‘MPs’ becomes ‘the Government’ in people’s heads, then ‘Gordon Brown’ and then ‘Labour’, keeps standing up in Parliament shouting about how Gordon Brown has ‘lost control’ and ‘isn’t it time to call an election and let the public say how they feel’, all without mentioning that almost all the really bad expenses stories were Tory MPs. Brown can’t control the opposition MPs, therefore there should be an election, at which everyone will vote Conservative because they’re ahead in the polls principally because they swindled their expenses.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t much like Labour either. But I think the extent of their present unpopularity is unfair — it’s caused more by bad timing, Gordon Brown’s inability to control his own facial muscles and the cross-party-at-worst expenses scandal than anything they’ve particularly done wrong — and the Conservatives aren’t better. The Conservatives think anti-science nonsense-fountain Nadine Dorries is a viable MP. Ann Widdecombe, an insane, shouty, far-right lunatic who supported The Master for Prime Minister, is their health secretary. They are, if anything, worse than Labour at almost everything that Labour are unpopular for, but they’ve cunningly exploited it as a selling point anyway because they’re The Opposition, and it’s an easier narrative if you can Vote For Change than if there are inconvenient details like, say, the Liberal Democrats to worry about.
And people fall for it. The council election results are in. The Guardian put them on a map, and it just looks like a map of Britain painted blue. There’s one Lib Dem council, a few with No Overall Control, and the rest are Tory (and a few in a nice sky blue that wasn’t on the key so I don’t know what it means).
There are even fears that the BNP might get a seat on the EU Parliament. That’s almost criminal — they’re not remotely interested in contributing to the running of the EU; they just want cash. A seat on the Parliament comes with £5 million of funding, which they could use to push their racist agenda. You can’t let a racist fringe party have that kind of public money just because you’re upset at MPs. And again, they’re not a protest vote because they’re worse than either Labour or the Conservatives. Okay, so some Labour and Tory MPs fiddled their expenses, but BNP members (they escaped the scandal by cunningly not having any MPs) have made explosives, attacked people, robbed houses, stolen cars and assaulted the police.
And it’s hard to say before the results come out, but apparently there’s a chance they’ll manage it. If they do, I shall blame the Telegraph newspaper. There’s no point blaming the people who voted BNP or the BNP themselves; they’re all idiots or racists or both, and you can’t expect any better of those people. But the Telegraph ought to know better.
The reason I blame the Telegraph is that they were the ones to break the expenses story. And they could have done so properly: reporting the genuinely scandalous examples as such, while praising or quietly ignoring MPs whose expenses claims were perfectly reasonable. Instead, they tried to read a scandal into even the most innocent behaviour, and paint all MPs as equally corrupt. Possibly they did this because targeting the worst offenders is difficult for a historically pro-Tory paper, but it did wonders for the BNP, who immediately started shouting nonsense like ‘punish the pigs’ as if petty revenge was a good reason to vote fascist. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, who are less corrupt and less terrifyingly illiberal than any of the above parties, haven’t been doing as well as one might expect, and I put this down to the Telegraph trying to paint them as corrupt for no good reason and the ‘two-party’ false dilemma whereby people unhappy with life under a Labour government automatically side with the Tories without bothering to look up either party’s policies.
Basically, people need to take a good long look at their reasons for voting. ‘Punishing’ the government is not a reason. A demand for vague, unspecified ‘change’ is not a reason. ‘We always vote Labour in our family’ is not a reason. A reason is something like ‘I strongly agree with his policies on Europe and the environment’.
Because it turns out this stuff might be important some day.