Monday, 14 April 2014

On The Eve?

One day, we will say good bye.
Nominations for the European elections don't close for another week and a half, but the poll on 22 May (which coincides with local elections across England) is already set to mark a major staging post in the collapse of the existing political system.

UKIP, a rightwing party promoting exit from the European Union, is climbing in the polls, comfortably ahead of the Conservatives and jostling with Labour for first place in some. Meanwhile, albeit on a lower level of support, the Greens are in a struggle with the Lib dems - the latest poll puts them on 6% each (with the Lib dem option prompted while the Green one isn't). There is a real prospect that the two Government parties will come in in third and fifth place respectively in a nationwide poll.

The repercussions are potentially immense - the Coalition is already coming apart at the seams as its constituent parts struggle to appeal to very different electorates by stressing an often fake set of differences with each other (as in a recent entirely manufactured "row" about wind turbines). Yet somehow they need to keep their alliance together in some meaningful way for another full year thanks to their own decision to create fixed term parliaments. The likely chaos that will ensure, with Lib Dems turning on each other and Tories trying to fix deals (and maybe even some defections) to UKIP, could lead to a collapse of the Government and a constitutional crisis of unprecedented proportions.

To add further grit to the Establishment's discomfort, if UKIP, largely perceived to be the English Nationalist Party in disguise (its former Scottish leader has written his compatriots off as "subsidy junkies"), polls particularly well, its emergence as a key player in politics south of the Border is likely to give the "Yes" campaign for Scottish independence its biggest fillip yet. The gap in the "Better Together" camp's favour has narrowed considerably in recent weeks. If a rising tide of right-wing "Little Englanderism" is confirmed, the social democratically-inclined Scots are increasingly likely to want to follow their own course when they vote in September's independence referendum.

And so we may stand on the eve of major change in the politics of our country - few of the players seem to appreciate just how major; perhaps our machine politicians can't. After all, they are not programmed for change, and for all their focus groups, sound bites and professional advisers, and their evident delight at creating their very own isolated, self-cloning and totally sterile "political class", it is as likely as not that many of them are about to find the Westminster bubble is fragile and insubstantial indeed.

Yet UKIP is not a genuine alternative to the three neoliberal parties it wants so keenly to join at the trough. It is narrow, self-defeating, inward-looking: it is no wonder that when a recent group of its supporters was asked to name one thing they liked about Britain, all that they came up with was "the past".

We don't need the three old parties. But we can do better than vote for a political pastiche like the populism evinced by Nigel Farage, the blokely stockbroker who wants tax cuts for the rich, opposed action to stop tax evasion and wants to cut the NHS and state pensions. Most Britons support instead a more equal, tolerant society: the vast majority want the return of industries like energy and transport to public ownership, back inclusive social policies like gay marriage and want action with other countries in Europe and elsewhere to protect consumers, workers and the environment - all things that UKIP is hostile to.

In the European elections, the Greens provide by far the strongest option for people who want a more equal society that uses its resources carefully and shares its wealth fairly. They were very close to winning MEPs in several regions last time: it is to be hoped that leftwing voters will turn to them to elect members with a very different agenda, people who can build on the work already done by the two current English Green EuroMPs in protecting workers' and consumers' rights in the face of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition's efforts to rip up workplace safety and employment rights. In Yorkshire and the Humber and in the North-West regions, there is the additional appeal that the Green candidates there are in pole position to oust the UK's only two overtly fascist MEPs. With the elections held on proportional representation, every vote will count effectively.

But beyond the European vote, the challenge will remain, whatever the results. As we face a more polarised and fractured political scene, the Left above all must put aside its sometimes sectarian differences and its dogma; with people from a range of progressive parties, trade unions, civic groups and communities, we need to recapture the mainstream for collectivism, for the common good. The peoples of these islands are not by nature inclined to selfishness or exclusion: we are better than that.

So, for those of us who care for a fairer world, who deeply and genuinely love our country as the open-hearted, generous spirited society it once was and can be again, there is much, much work to do: but the good news is that we have real choices and, this time, we really can make the difference.

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