I have largely kept quiet about the forthcoming election since I am struggling to wrap my head around the subject. This is strange because the appearance of a £30 billion – yes, billion! – black hole in the Tories’ spending plans, with the obvious implication of drastic cuts to welfare, means that this election should feature something which was characteristically absent during the Blair and Brown years: a choice between the Left and the right. A vast ideological chasm may not have opened up between the parties, but there is still surely a detectable gap. Add to this the more visible, more assertive minor parties, such as UKIP, the SNP, and the Greens, and we should be luxuriating in a more exciting election.
Perhaps the reason why we are not is because the two leading parties will have an opportunity to junk all of their policies once they are trying to cobble together some sort of government. David Cameron’s EU referendum, Ed Miliband’s extra £42 billion in public spending, Cameron’s £30 billion in savings – they are all ultimately expendable. Oh yes, we did have all of these policies, Cameron/Miliband will explain after the election, but unfortunately you didn’t endorse them outright. So we are now forced to never think about them ever again. Manifestoes will be consigned to history with all of the solemnity with which a dead goldfish is flushed down the toilet.
A poll today from Ipsos MORI reports that a mere 9% of voters trust the stated policy commitments of the parties, and this affirms that the electioneering stage of the election is simply dead time. One senses that the parties are treating it as a window for PR, an opportunity to showcase what they supposedly stand for and to send messages about their brand values. The result is a weirdly disembodied election and what is so weird about it is the cosy feeling of conspiracy and of parties snuggling together. Aside from Nicola Sturgeon, the political leaders have refrained from speculating upon how their opponents’ policies will be manifested outside of the realm of fantasy, for the precise reason that this would narrow the gap between the parties. Labour will not say that the Conservatives’ saving plans are all talk and that they are unlikely to survive the first hour of Lib-Con Coalition negotiations, because Labour defines itself against the glorious fantasy of swingeingly savage Conservatives. Likewise, the Tories are not going to acknowledge that Labour’s current fiscal generosity will be curtailed in government by the more austerity-minded Liberals and (yes) SNP.
What is so peculiar about this election, however, is that there is no actual incentive for Labour or the Tories to win outright. Why, if this happened then they would be honour-bound to implement budgetary commitments which were only ever intended as brand fantasies. The nightmares which are causing Cameron and Miliband to awaken in a cold sweat at the moment are probably identical: it is the day after the election, to nationwide surprise they have a parliamentary majority, and so there is nothing to stop them from starting on that £30 billion of cutting or that £42 billion of extra spending. The political leaders would be stabbed in the back by their own manifestoes. The only solution would be to call another election in a desperate attempt to reduce their power.
So this is why I have not written very much about the election.
[Previously on Tychy: “Why aren’t Stem Cells an Election Issue?“]