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Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

As I write this, the British public are voting for their new government. I hear it could possibly be the closest election in UK history and another coalition will probably have to be created.

I have watched this election cycle with some interest. While today’s polling outcome will not affect me directly which I admit is part of the attraction, I believe it has held my attention mainly because the campaigning hasn’t gone on so long that I’ve become numb to the main players and their party messages. It may not feel like it to UK citizens but your democratic process is a sprint compared to our grueling marathon of a system.

I mean in the US, our next presidential election is eighteen months off and already we have half a dozen Republican candidates who’ve thrown their hats in the ring with who knows how many more on the horizon. Forgive us if our eyes glaze over because the American public will soon be enduring infuriatingly negative TV ads, incessant campaign phone calls (for those still possessing a land line) and a whole lot of mud-raking, fact twisting and pseudo-patriotic rhetoric being thrown about for the next year and a half. Not to mention the caucuses, primaries and conventions that predict, eliminate and finally anoint the official candidates for the actual general election. The UK’s twenty-five day campaign period sounds like an impossible dream that could never be achieved matter how desperately we wish it to be so.

So how have I been following this more imminent election, you may ask? Well, I did watch a portion of the Leaders’ Debate on YouTube.

Seven party leaders on one stage - debate or game show image credit ITV

Seven party leaders on one stage – debate or game show
image credit ITV

It was a bit overwhelming, but I got the gist of it. Farage is a xenophobe. Cameron, as you would expect, is defensive. Miliband is being mistaken for Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is still in the doghouse for breaking his no-tuition fees promise from the last election.

I realize I have no right to suggest what’s best for another country’s people, but based on that debate performance perhaps your best option is to allow the ladies to form a coalition and let them get on with running things. Though with the SNP and Plaid Cymru as two-thirds of equation, you might not have much of United Kingdom left in the end.

Apart from the aforementioned debate the rest of my political research comes from my telly viewing (of course). I have the background of shows like Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and House of Cards. That’s not to insinuate that any of the current leaders would go to the cold-blooded extremes of Francis Urquhart.

I also watched the TV movie Coalition for more understanding on how the current government was negotiated.

 

I was taken with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s dilemma between joining the Tories or Labour and his idealistic desire to finally put his party in a position to make a difference in government. Alas I didn’t know about Tuition-gate nor the fact that Clegg had the option to pull out of the coalition when it was obvious the Tories weren’t going to play nice. I understand this would have forced another election, but he apparently chose to go with the status quo which turned him into an ineffectual deputy prime minister instead.

There has been one series, however, that has really given me the clearest picture of this highly-contested national campaign and that is the satirical sitcom, Ballot Monkeys. In it we follow the campaign teams of the four major parties as they travel up and down the country trying to inspire the British public to vote for them. There is nothing more revealing than seeing things from the point of view of a politician’s staff.

Conservatives

Desperate for the women’s vote and trying hard not to come across as posh toffs, the Tories seem to be sending a mixed message about who their leader really is – David or Boris.

 

Labour

Ed Miliband has the loyalty and trust of his party staff. Nevertheless, their campaign strategy is to focus on the team rather than their leader who they perceive as having some public appeal issues.

 

Lib Dems

Having your leader be seen as a failure has put a lot of pressure on Lib Dem coordinator Kevin Sturridge (Ben Miller) in particular. He carries on his shoulders the stress of supporter apathy and the virtual shunning of his entire party in the media. It’s bound to take a toll on such a committed supporter.

 

UKIP

And finally we come to UKIP. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Farage’s Army are portrayed as ultra-nationalistic, anti-immigrant and homophobic as well as violent. Poor Gerry Stagg (Andy Nyman) seems to be the only level head in the entire party, but he’s wasted by constantly having to stamp out fires created by supporters, candidates and the party leader himself.

 

I realize Ballot Monkeys is deliberately exaggerating the foibles of the candidates and the character of their voter base. That being said, no party gets preferential treatment and everyone gets roasted equally. Another aspect of this show is that they waited until the last minute to film each episode so national events and the inevitable campaign trail gaffes could be included in a timely fashion. If that’s not a commitment to accuracy, I don’t know what is.

Since I’m not a UK citizen (and under a UKIP government, I never will be), I obviously don’t have a vote. Nor do I have the perspective of one who lives under the unique conditions and problems of that country. However, I did take a 25 question on-line quiz which identified the party with which I most agree philosophically. Let’s just say my coalition’s color would be orange…

As my British readers go to the polls today  I bid you to vote your conscience whatever your political views might be. It’s the way democracy works and if you don’t like the outcome you only have to wait five years at the most to change it!

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Yesterday Queen Elizabeth II made her annual appearance at the State Opening of Parliament. According to parliament.uk, this ceremony “marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.” For one single day, the government joins in a show of unity. Sounds lovely, eh?

The 2013 State Opening of Parliament image credit mirror.co.uk

The 2013 State Opening of Parliament image credit mirror.co.uk

As for the other 364 days of the year, I think politicians in the UK must be very similar to their counterparts in America – contentious, fractious and incapable of compromise.  And as serendipity would have it, I just finished watching a sitcom series about this very subject.

No Job For A Lady follows new Labour MP Jean Price as she learns the ins and outs of Parliament during the tail end of the Thatcher years.  Portrayed by Penelope Keith, Jean is an idealistic woman of mature years trying to make a difference without comprising any of her principles. With her fellow Labour party office mate, a cynical realist named Ken Miller to show her the ropes and her party’s whip, Norman, to rein in her enthusiasm, Jean quickly learns that bureaucracy and long-winded twaddle rule the House of Commons.

That point is made even clearer when she encounters her adversaries, the Tory MPs, and more specifically, Sir Godfrey Eagan.  Godfrey is an extreme cliché of the privileged classes (I hope, anyway) – self-absorbed; condescending; a true believer in the harsh Conservative doctrine of the Thatcher period; and obsessed with money, therefore, oblivious to the plight of people without it.  From this description you’d think Godfrey the most despicable man in politics, but just wait. That dubious honor will be awarded shortly.  Godfrey is charming in an amusingly insincere way and Jean has found it a better strategy to pair* with him in order to keep an eye on what he’s up to.
Throughout the three series of No Job For A Lady, Jean learns to play the political games necessary to achieve her ends; however, she retains her strongly held socialist principles and her commitment to her constituents in need. And while we are definitely meant to root for Jean, she is by no means perfect. In fact, she can be quite stubborn and self-righteous at times.

For example she interferes in a child custody dispute by stealing confidential information from her work colleague and friend, Ken.  She is also responsible, in part, for the failure of a local small business due to her organized boycott of a news agent selling magazines that degrade women.  The shop owner agrees to her conditions, but his business fails when Tory party customers stage a counter boycott against the liberal and feminist periodicals sold there.

In the end, the series demonstrates that democracy is an imperfect system, a slippery slope for even the most well-meaning of public servants. Some of the topics and references may be dated, but many continue to be relevant. For instance, there are still far more male MPs in Parliament than female ones.  And I’m willing to bet the Labour Party and the Tories have yet to come to a philosophical agreement about what works best – the type of government that believes “there is no such thing as society” (Margaret Thatcher) or the one that acts as a safety net.

*Pairing is an arrangement where an MP of one party agrees with an MP of an opposing party not to vote in a particular division. This gives both MPs the opportunity not to attend – definition courtesy of parliament.uk.

As for the most despicable fictional character in politics, well, in my estimation that distinction goes to The Thick of It‘s Malcolm Tucker. Here he describes the devastation his ambition has wrought :

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