With more than ten years of the Scottish Left Review under our belts the Scottish Left Review has been around for long enough to have seen a good many elections – General, Scottish Parliament, European, local. The Scottish Left Review does not and will never advocate voting for any specific party, or indeed against voting for a specific party. What we have done during previous elections has always included two things. The first of these is to help people understand how their vote counts – to explore what options for tactical voting there are, to show the potential effects of different uses of proportional votes and so on. The second was to debate what sorts of outcome might be most likely to deliver a policy shift to the left, or at least would halt any further drift to the right. We have done this in a number of ways in the past, such as by examining the voting record of individual sitting candidates, by reviewing manifestos, by calculating what spread of votes would deliver what balance of party representation and so on.
This time we simply haven’t bothered. There are some things we could have looked at. For example, given that there is a very close link between the corrupting of the whole political and economic system in Britain and the corrupting of individual MPs, we could have looked at the conflicts of interests individual candidate have with private financial and business interests. It’s just that at Westminster the web of influence between business interests and the elected representatives is so extensive that – with some honourable exceptions – it probably wouldn’t really help many of you differentiate between your options. We could have explored the limited opportunities for tactical voting that the Westminster first-past-the-post system offers but Lord Ashcroft got there before us – in the small proportion of seats which will make any real difference to the outcome of this election the parties are all ploughing in massive sums of money to make sure that the will-power of independently-minded voters does not accidentally screw-up their master plans. We could review the manifestos, but there reaches a point when to say ‘this party will make things less bad less quickly than that party’ goes beyond a straw which even the most optimistic among us would invest our time into clutching. There is, plain and simply, not much for those on the left to say or write about this election which is positive.
There reaches a point when to say ‘this party will make things less bad less quickly than that party’ goes beyond a straw which even the most optimistic among us would invest our time into clutching
It shouldn’t be like this. Everyone – not least the Tories – knows instinctively that the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the neoliberal political-economic consensus should be a ripe period for those who opposed it. The problem is that none of the political parties with even an outside chance of gaining a seat in this election opposed that consensus. In recent issues (and again in Gary Fraser’s article in this issue) we have explored exactly how the blame for the mess that we are in has been at least in part transferred from the private to the public sectors. We could have gone much further with this. For example, it is worth noting the types of story which are increasingly dominating the media agenda – banks and their misdeeds are on the front pages less than they were and while politicians and their peccadilloes are still front and centre, we are seeing another surge in media interest in crime. In particular, the sorts of crime that are seen as ‘uniting the views of the nation’ – the child killers and paedophiles, the serial killers and people who assault the elderly. We have much more on ‘feral teenagers’ (and just stop for a second to think about the reaction if it was to become everyday parlance to refer to ‘sub-human bankers’ – class war is only justifiable when the missiles are directed at the lower classes). And there is no let up in celebrity gossip and its interminable scandals.
This is important. There is a great uneasiness among the powerful just now. We are now out of recession and it is all just
a process of working out the best way to stabilise and then grow the economy again, right? Well, in fact you will have noticed that there is a bit of fear about a ‘double dip’ recession creeping around. Just as with ‘quantative easing’ and all the other jargon of the crash it is important to decode this. A ‘double dip’ problem is one which gets worse, gets briefly better and then gets worse again (possibly much worse). Now, imagine taking seriously the idea that when your light bulb is about give up the ghost and flickers dark, briefly coming back to life before dieing for ever you would stand about in the flickering light and say ‘I’m a bit worried this might be a double-dip lighting failure’. What people are saying is that there is a real risk that the initial crash is over but that the recession may have barely begun.
The commentator class has suddenly taken a great interest in 20th century economic history and you may find references to the great depression or the Japanese period of ‘stagflation’ to be ‘so 2009’. Perhaps so, but it is worth pointing out two things. Firstly, it is a pity that the commentariat hadn’t taken a little more interest in the Wall Street Crash back in 2006 when its lessons might actually have been valuable. But more importantly, ask your more neoliberally minded friends to answer a simply question – what date was the Wall Street Crash and from what date do we generally mark the beginning of the Great Depression? The answer to the question is that the crash happened in 1929 and most people date the Great Depression from about 1932. So, if the neoliberal crash was 2009, why the confidence that the worst is over?
This is not simply to offer doom-mongering, it is to put the 2010 General Election in context. Because if we are going to look to history to teach us anything it is worth remembering what came after the Great Depression, which was fascism and world war. Now, let us not for a second get caught up in hyperbole or allow anyone to suggest that this is yet another lazy warning that a fascist state is round the corner or anything of the sort. But it is point out that if we do face a number of years of very difficult economic circumstances for a very large number of people then we need to know what is likely to come next. The pressures either tend towards those who have been put into difficult circumstances turning on those who put them there or otherwise transferring their anger and frustration elsewhere. For example on paedophiles, ‘feral teenagers’, those who mug the elderly. Or possibly we will just start passing laws preventing foreigners (especially if they aren’t white) from building places of worship – but that couldn’t happen in Europe, right?
OK, none of this is exactly a revelation – economy may still get worse, social cohesion breaks down and transferred anger redirects towards minority groups, a thesis which has been trotted out plenty of times of late. But what does this mean for the election? Well, think about the five years ahead through this prism. On the left we have been primarily focussed on three broad areas – international policy and war, public expenditure and the welfare state and civil liberties. And in the run-up to this election two of these have been set aside (on the basis that there will be a solid parliamentary majority for war and surveillance irrespective of the outcome). And so it has become about who will cut more and who will cut fastest – the predictable successful transference of blame from private to public. But what about the potential to see this election as putting in place a Parliament which will have to preside over potential social upheaval? What if we look at it like that?
There are different ways to look at it. Perhaps a Labour Government would be less likely to swim with the media current of increasing polarisation among the working class. Perhaps. Perhaps a Labour opposition could do more to stem the tide of polarisation if it wasn’t in Government. Perhaps. Perhaps the best hope would be for smaller parties to hold some balance of power and moderate the tendency to chase after Murdoch and the Mail. Perhaps. But then, it doesn’t actually matter much really, because whichever of these outcomes we conclude would be best, we have such minimal power to influence them (especially in Scotland) it is hard to think of something constructive to say.
So, instead, we hope you find interesting some thoughts from a number of writers on the possible consequences of possible outcomes. As to how to cast your vote? Well, we can only offer you the best of luck.