Britons have Voted – and Won!
Let me first say, before I am accused by various nationalists, that I do not use the term Briton in the Brythonic manner but in the common sense usage as citizens and natives of the United Kingdom.
After all the hype and brouhaha, everybody got the results of the election so terribly wrong. That is, with the exception of Scotland – where a brass monkey with an SNP sign around its neck would have made it to Westminster – everyone underestimated the plain good common sense of the British people.
The peoples of Britain were offered very clear alternatives – total confusion with a hung Parliament or giving someone a clear mandate. They chose to bestow this honour on the slow, steady and proven reforms of the Conservative Party. Evidently, despite the pundits and his legions of critics, Cameron and his colleagues have been doing something right.
My last blog expressed concerns that Wales would follow their Scottish cousins and turn out in large numbers for the nationalist cause. I needn’t have worried. Indeed, Conservatives are celebrating their best results in Wales for some thirty years, winning 11 of the 40 Welsh seats – and increase of three. One of these seats, Gower, is however significant in that it had been Labour for 100 years. The Labour Party vote remained relatively steady, losing one seat and the Lib Dems losing two – leaving them with one seat in Wales. This is sad given that Wales was traditionally a Liberal Party heartland. Significantly there was no change in the Plaid Cymru position of three seats. Despite the drum beating, the people of Wales rejected the narrow path of Welsh nationalism and chose the steady as it goes common sense approach.
Quite clearly the notion of Wales being a Conservative disaster area has long gone. The people of Wales have recognised that to be part of the world they had to be of the world.
[From a personal perspective, I note that the seat in which I have roots, the Vale of Clwyd in North Wales, was one of the seats picked up by the Conservatives from Labour.]
So what about Scotland? Cameron certainly has got a thorn in his side with the massive SNP representation. Nicola Sturgeon has proven herself an ideologue of the first order. Her comments about Cameron during the campaign indicate a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work. But I think Cameron is as smooth as she is rough – and certainly not one to be underestimated. He took the fire out of UKIP by promising an in/out referendum on Europe. He now has the opportunity to implement his devolution plans for both Wales and Scotland. Doubtless this will win over many of the moderate Scots who, drunk with over-proof nationalism, voted SNP. As things settle down, the economy improves and the Scots and Welsh begin to feel the full force of devolution this nationalism will surely dissipate.
A small but important point that emerged out of the election caught my eye. Two of Parliament’s overt and nasty anti-Semites and anti-Israel MPS lost their seats. And therein is a further irony.
George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, was thrashed by Labor's Naseem Shah. Shah won 19,977 votes, whereas Galloway's Respect Party – whatever that meant - managed a mere 8,557. In her victory speech Shah said Galloway's election campaign had "demeaned democracy," and she told him "you have been sent on your way."
In the seat of Bradford East the anti-Israeli MP, David Ward the Liberal Democrat, was roundly defeated by Imran Hussain of Labor with 19,312 votes, as opposed to Ward's 12,228. It is interesting to note that the Conservative Party also fielded a candidate of migrant origins, Iftikhar Ahmed, who trailed third with 4,682. It shows the changing demographic of that city. It is a city I once knew quite well. It is a reflection of the increasingly plural nature of Britain’s society.
Ari Soffer, the British-born English Managing Editor of the Israeli national news service, Arutz Sheva commented that "defeats for Galloway and Ward are very important in showing that Jew-baiting doesn't pay off as a political strategy. The results reflect well on the British people."
There are also a couple of worthwhile procedural points that can be made about the election.
The British electoral system has two features which I think are of great advantage over the more arcane and complicated systems in use in many other countries, say for example, Australia.
The so-called ‘First past the Post’ electoral system really concentrates a person’s mind when it comes to casting their final vote. What they may say to pollsters or in the pub or to journos or to each other counts for nothing when they come to that final irrevocable choice. The candidate with the most votes wins. Period.
Moreover, the UK does not compel its citizens to vote. Only the committed, those who really care actually make the effort and get out and vote.
By direct contrast are the more complicated systems of preferential and proportional representation models. In such the voter thinks he or she can have two bob each way, he or she is, therefore, tempted to vote in a non-committal way knowing that his or her vote will be trashed around in the preferential process. Moreover, if he or she is compelled to vote and feel that they’re there under sufferance they will be more inclined to vote for off-beat parties whose vote will distort the ultimate result.
Yes, we know all the arguments about the enhanced democratic value of preferential voting, we also have had ample experience of the chaos and undemocratic comprise made to form governments under such systems. To cite one very immediate example – on 7 May, not only did Britain vote, but Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister agreed to an 11th-hour deal to form a new coalition government. This agreement came seven weeks after the Israeli election. It came just before a deadline to form an administration. Netanyahu’s Likud is no longer the largest party in the Knesset and Netanyahu needed the backing from the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party to give him the necessary 61 seats majority. Seven weeks of horse trading!
Not convinced – have a look at Australia’s political mess. Australia has a preferential electoral system for its lower House of Representatives and a proportional voting system for its Senate. The prior Labor minority government had to rely on independents, whose views demonstrably failed to reflect the feelings of their electorates. The government and three of the independents were decisively tossed out at the last election. After receiving a mandate for economic change the current Prime Minister has seen his budget and economic reform programme trashed by a Senate whose decision making depends upon a handful of fools totally and utterly unrepresentative of the nation but were elected because of the flow of preferences from major parties that happened to come their way. They sit as Senators by default. Period.
Britain now has a government with a clear mandate. It is to be hoped that Cameron uses his mandate with acuity and compassion. From a personal perspective I’m happy inasmuch as I hoped in the concluding sentence in my last blog – the winner of the election is - the United Kingdom!
However, in the excitement of it all, the election has, to some extent, overshadowed the VE celebrations marking 70 years since the end of the Second War in Europe. That we live in a free world, free to make such political choices, is something we should be grateful to our previous generations. It is a subject worthy of deep reflection.