Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the western world have become increasingly divided-not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy. What’s more, the crazies seem to be gaining the upper hand. Rational thought cannot prevail in the current social and media environment, where elections are won by appealing to voters’ hearts rather than their minds. The rapid-fire pace of modern politics, the hypnotic repetition of daily news items and even the multitude of visual sources of information all make it difficult for the voice of reason to be heard. In his Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives to be published in the UK in July though already available on Kindle but published in Canada last year, Canadian philosopher Joseph Heath argues for ‘slow politics’. It is, he suggests, impossible to restore sanity merely by being sane and trying to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. The only way to restore sanity is by engaging in collective action against the social conditions that have crowded it out.
While it is doubtful whether the campaign in the past week has restored sanity to the election, what has been evident is how far news reporting has slipped. Other issues, such as the refuge situation in the Mediterranean—though the implication of what Ed said about Libya was unfortunate especially as he voted for British intervention--and the Gallipoli centenary, have rightly taken prominence. On the front page of today’s BBC News website, the election is mentioned in two stories and in none of the Watch/Listen videos, though of course there is the specific election section. Is this simply because the election campaign has really yet to leap into life…possible given that there are 10 days before the election? In fact, much of the news coverage is still concentrating on the aftermath of the election and the constitutional implications of another hung parliament. With Labour and the Conservatives still locked together—though there is a suggestion that the Conservative are edging ahead—this is perhaps not surprising but what is also the case is the growing recognition amongst the electorate that neither Labour or the Conservatives are coming clean about the financial implications of them becoming the next government. This lack of transparency, though hardly new in elections, is becoming increasingly annoying for voters. For instance, we know that both parties will make further cuts in public spending but we do not know where the cuts will fall and there is little likelihood that we will before 7 May. This is a ‘crazy’ situation and is based on the premise that voters just have to trust politicians making it impossible for choice to be based on any rational principles at all…you know we’re going to make cuts and you just have to believe that the cuts we make will be the right ones!
The electoral arithmetic is becoming increasingly complex. If the current projections are right, the Conservatives will be the largest party on 8 May. The Newsnight index last night gave them 286 with Labour on 267. With Lib-Dem support this would give a Lib-Dem-Conservative coalition 310 seats while a Labour-SNP ‘arrangement’ would have 315 seats, both short of the majority they need to govern. This leaves 25 others, including the Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Northern Ireland parties effectively holding the balance of power..a very messy outcome to the election. The critical issue therefore is how far tactical voting will come into play. For instance, the polls are certainly looking bad for Labour in Scotland as the SNP builds on the momentum it achieved in the referendum campaign--even though it lost. The result in some parts of Scotland is 'vote for your sitting MP irrespective of which party you support as a way of keeping the SNP out'. This could work if, say Labour supporters can hold their noses and vote say Lib-Dem. It all depends on whether the share desire to hold back the nationalist onslaught is stronger than often long-held party loyalties. If the same approach were used in England, it could buttress support for Lib-Dem and Conservative sitting MPs…the argument is that to keep Ed out of Number 10 and prevent the SNP calling the tune vote for your incumbent. In effect, a Lib-Dem-Conservative electoral pact. Whether this would be popular with the electorate or would be simply seen as electoral opportunism is unclear but it could finally break the electoral deadlock in England. Now if people vote this way then it will be a rational decision…an assertion that the ‘crazies’ cannot always have things their own way.