Nelson may have said that England expects every man to do his duty, but whereas an act of self-sacrifice for the good of one’s country may be a noble gesture at a time of war, when it comes to a peacetime polling booth, self-interest plays a more decisive part in the thought processes than considerations for the nation. Yes, we may take a look at the wider picture in the days leading up to D-Day, but ultimately we want the administration that we will personally prosper under. It’s only natural, of course. I wouldn’t expect a Surrey stockbroker to vote according to who will best benefit a single-mother on the check-out at a Gateshead branch of Poundland any more than I would expect her to vote for whichever party will ensure he isn’t saddled with too much inheritance tax. Besides, the notion of voting is sold to us via party political broadcasts as a way in which we can improve our lot rather than someone else’s.
The perennial problem of distinguishing between Labour and the Conservatives is one both the SNP and UKIP have capitalised on recently, and it is true that the two alleged extremes of the political spectrum in this country have been engaged in an illicit affair of a kind that Lady Chatterley and her gardener would be familiar with for far longer than is ever admitted, certainly by those involved. This unhealthy union is not even necessarily a case of opposites attracting, more a begrudging recognition of shared aims that official ideology doesn’t acknowledge. Fifty years ago, the break with the old-school patrician Toryism that the election of Harold Wilson as PM brought about saw the Conservatives choose a grammar-school graduate to pitch against the avuncular Huddersfield pipe-smoker in a deliberate attempt to replicate the same popular appeal.
The Labour/Tory incest-fest was rekindled by the success of Tony Blair, in part attributable to the fact that New Labour often proved to be more reactionary and right-wing than any Tory administration would have been, ingratiating themselves with the bankers and big business as well as encouraging the stealthy privatisation of public services in a way even Thatcher was hesitant to. They had cherry-picked the most contentious Tory policies and got away with it thanks to headline-grabbing distractions such as the Good Friday Agreement, the Minimum Wage and Civil Partnerships. This left the Tories in a quandary for the best part of a decade. Their thunder had been stolen by the enemy, and their eventual response (as it had been in 1965) was to elect a party leader modelled on the man who had condemned them to the opposition benches.
The lack of distinguishing features between the two parties had only ever increased during the Blair & Brown years, with the expenses’ scandal publicly confirming what many members of the electorate had long suspected, that Labour in power had proven to be largely composed of the same self-serving agents of avarice that had previously been associated with John Major’s administration. The Dark Lord Mandelson had famously declared ‘We’re all Thatcherites now’ and, amongst the many actions he undertook that vindicated this declaration, he had planned the controversial privatisation of the Royal Mail that went ahead once Labour were out of office again. Wilson begat Heath, Thatcher begat Blair, and Blair begat Cameron.
Midway through Blair’s reign, Labour inherited the ‘Nasty Party’ mantle, especially when it came to increasingly draconian legislation regarding civil liberties, the surveillance state and reforms of the legal system. One might almost speculate they were the tenants of a rented property they knew they would shortly have to vacate and had decided to redecorate the premises before moving out so that the incoming tenants wouldn’t have to. The Tories would have happily moved in and found the decor very much to their taste had their inability to cover the rent not necessitated a flat-share with the Lib Dems. Now, however, the Tories can finally afford the rent without the need to curb their less agreeable aspects to accommodate their flatmate; they can finally do what the hell they like and redesign their home without having to consider anyone else’s opinion.
There is a grain of truth in the claims that the Liberal Democrats blocked some of the more extreme ambitions of the Tories, yet the electorate have held Nick Clegg’s hapless posse responsible for those that made it through, and Clegg and his party have paid the price whilst their senior partners have emerged stronger than ever. The late Conservative Peer, Lord Boothby, once said ‘the Tory Party is ruthless’, and even though the context then was of how they will dispense with an ineffective leader, the ruthlessness he spoke of was in evidence last Thursday night as far as their Coalition comrades were concerned.
It’s tempting to generalise and come to the conclusion that any individual entering public office, whatever colours are nailed to their mast, does so solely from a self-interested desire to feather their nest. The examples are all-too abundant, yet for every crate of rotten apples there will be a decent constituency MP in it for all the right reasons. These rarely ascend to the Cabinet table and therefore receive little exposure beyond their constituencies and it is instead the power-hungry megalomaniacs who come to represent their entire profession. However, if the aforementioned megalomaniacs instigate policies we ourselves will do alright by, then we will overlook the policies we know have the potential to place others in peril.
Had Labour won the Election, I think there are some issues they would have tackled differently, but there was never any indication given that they would have modified the planned welfare cuts, for example; and I’ve a feeling that many policies poised to be unleashed by the Tories would have progressed more or less identically had Red Ed been resident on Downing Street. The ‘tough love’ approach pioneered by Thatcher when it came to those on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder is admired by many and can have positive results. It’s an approach not dissimilar to the half-time bollocking given by a football coach whose team are losing; but while Alex Ferguson’s infamous ‘hairdryer’ tactic can work wonders when it comes to kicking a ball around a pitch for ninety minutes, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to apply it to someone who genuinely needs the help of the state in a way that will be unimaginable to the majority of the electorate. Announcing every alteration intended to improve the lot of the less fortunate in the manner of a threat doesn’t help either.
Just as every bent MP can tar all of his honest colleagues with the same toxic brush, every mobility-scooter fatty claiming they cannot walk before being captured on camera turning out for their local Sunday League side solidifies the public perception of anyone faced with little option but to claim some form of benefit because a physical or mental disability leaves them incapable of earning a living as being a Jeremy Kyle contestant. This then gives the party in power carte-blanche to reserve their most vicious cuts for a tiny minority of the population they’ve successfully demonised because they know their efforts will be applauded; and whilst many who have lived their adult lives as indolent charlatans rightly deserve outing, the welfare Hoover also threatens to suck-up those who cannot survive without state intervention. I’ve no doubt the already-wealthy, the upwardly mobile and the middle-income earners will be fine for the next five years, but I fear for the few who aren’t in a position to join those ranks, whether afflicted by illness, poverty or wrongful conviction. And I don’t believe the Tories do.