Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Grand Coalition of the Damned

A Green view of the political consensus between the old parties
Almost two and a half years ago, in Weimar Britain, I considered the parallels between the decline of the liberal-constitutional parties of inter-war Germany, and the exhausted "political consensus" of the three main parties of contemporary British politics. Just as the old German parties drew together around a mindless defence of market democracy in the 1920s in spite of its many failures, so their modern British equivalents have coalesced around a near identical agenda of privatisation of public services and tax breaks for the rich while, inexorably, the Welfare State is beaten down to slowly die. Its formal name is neoliberalism; its reality is people in one of the richest societies in the world unable to eat without food banks, worried about heating bills and rent rises, and consigned to marginalised employment on low wages and unknown hours.

Back in December 2012, UKIP's rise was barely begun and the later "Green surge" and the transformation of Scottish politics in the independence referendum were still a long way off. But all the signs were there - of a political class that has run its course and knows it, but is unwilling to go. An electorate disengaged far beyond apathy. And a rich elite accumulating wealth at a rate that would make the old Czarist nobility blush (indeed, by some indicators, Britain is now more unequal than pre-revolutionary Russia).

Since then of course our political system has juddered into crisis. UKIP topped the polls in the 2014 European elections; the Greens beat the Lib Dems nationwide and then saw their membership nearly quadruple in under a year while some of their poll ratings showed a 10-times increase. And the Scottish referendum brought hundreds of thousands of Scots into a level of political awareness and activity unseen in decades - and soon galvanised masses of people south of the border as well to seek new outlets for their political beliefs. The argument over whether to include UKIP as the fourth party in Leaders' debates on TV soon developed to whether or not to #invitetheGreens and in the end not four, not five, but seven party leaders stood behind podiums - with at least two others warning about legal action over their non-inclusion.

Yet if the Scottish referendum was perhaps the greatest of a whole series of catalysts in the evident disintegration of the old political system, so too was it a warning of just how hard, and how dirty, the Establishment would fight to keep its place at the top table - and defend the interests of its elite paymasters.

Just a couple of weeks before the referendum vote, one poll showed the YES to independence campaign take a narrow lead. Previously complacent Westminster politicians moved into panic mode. Prime Ministers' Questions in the Commons were cancelled as Messrs Miliband, Cameron and Clegg rushed northwards to mount a last-ditch defence of the Union. And like most ditches it was dirty - threats were repeatedly made about Scotland's inability to survive on its own, wild claims issued about capital flight and a repeated insistence of a refusal to share the Pound Sterling.

By voting day, the NO margin was restored, but at just 55 to 45% compared to a longer term expectation of a 70/75 to 30/25 voting down of independence, the result was remarkably close.

The changing faces of UK politics
An this is how it has been and how it will be. As we approach the 7 May General Election, the old parties are bust and know it.

So we have seen a media barrage against Farage (once their darling); exceedingly hostile interviews of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, and all manner of wild tales about the SNP hordes investing Carlisle castle with siege equipment and eating babies on the way south. A satirical piece in the Daily Mash today caught the reality of what passes for debate rather well as it announced the Greens' newly launched manifesto had been banned for claiming oil won't last forever.

But the polls stubbornly point to parliamentary arithmetic which shows neither Labour nor Tory winning much above 280 seats. With the Lib Dems likely to be reduced to as low as 20, there is no prospect of either a Tory/Lib Dem or a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition reaching the magic number of 326 which is an overall majority in the Commons. With all of them locking out the SNP, who may have around 45 seats and similarly unlikely to be able to stitch a three party coalition with UKIP or the Greens without giving up more than they are willing, the final, more than obvious but only recently talked about option hoves into view.

Uniting around continuing with austerity, privatisation of health and other public services, and happy buddies on a range of laws on curbing civil rights and getting involved in foreign wars, the prospect of a Tory-Labour Coalition is far from unlikely. Like the current Grand Coalition of conservative CDU/CSU in Germany with their once-social democratic SPD rivals, the union of Tory and Labour in joint Government would actually be about the most honest thing the two parties would have done in years. Neither of them, nor their Lib Dem pet parrots, are interested in real change - quite the opposite. By uniting, they can continue to stymie calls for electoral reform and by doing so hope to lock out the new emergent parties and they can, for a time at least, buttress the defences of the rich.

The idea has already been trailed by Conservative and Labour grandees: Lord Baker for the Tories and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke for Labour; and it has was commented on favourably by both the rightwing Daily Telegraph and the notionally leftwing Guardian. Even today, with the Tory manifesto launch underway, one STV commentator explained that the two parties were stealing so much of each others' policy agenda that voters were struggling to distinguish between them.

Goering felt first-past-the-post would have helped the Nazis
A Grand Coalition may be an answer for them; but only for a time as it will finally crystallise the real fault lines in our politics - between incumbents and insurgents; between the grey status quo and a wide range of new options for change.

The extreme centre, as Tariq Ali has christened it, will not hold long. But if its proponents self-interestedly continue to refuse to reform our voting system to give all voters an equal say and all parties the representation they democratically deserve, they may want to reflect on the possible final outcome by considering the words of Nazi leader Hermann Goering at his post-war trial in Nuremberg.

Hitler had never won a majority in the Reichstag under Weimar's proportional voting system and the Enabling Act that transformed him into Fuhrer was only passed via arrests of some opponents and threats to others if they did not support it. None of this would have been necessary, the former Reichsmarschall declared, had Germany had Britain's first-past-the-post voting system because "(the Nazis) would have won every seat."

He was probably right.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Change The Tune - Green Party Broadcast Hits at Neoliberal Chorus

The Greens have launched a party broadcast for the General Election which uses a boyband parody to satirise the neoliberal consensus on austerity and privatisation that binds the other main parties together.

Caution - may contain "dad dancing".