Only four months of campaigning in the British General Election to go. The result may herald half a decade of uncertainty but there is a singular lack of public engagement with the parties who may or may not be in government after May 2015.
We have said that the political situation is volatile. What stands this week as good analysis could collapse on an incident or on luck in a fortnight. Two weeks on from our last posting on British politics, it is looking as if the SNP surge may be less ‘certain’ than was suggested while we have seen a countervailing increase in interest and even support for the Leftist Greens in the same period.
Although each Party has passionate advocates, the wider electorate seems not very impressed with any of them. Each seems to be caught in a ghetto of core support, unable to reach out to the increasing number of people disenchanted with the political class.
That it gets to the point where people decide not to bother to vote is unlikely. The uncertainty creates the illusion of being in a participative theatrical event. You cannot participate if you stay at home but the lack of enthusiasm and general distrust suggests that more voters than usual are going to be up for grabs all the way through to election day.
Neither Labour nor the Conservatives are at serious existential threat from the Far Right and Far Left to their rear but both may be denied majorities by a simple accumulation of disenchantments. Neither has a Leader who inspires although for different reasons.
Ed Miliband, for example, is much liked in the public sector and trades union core of the British Left. He will carry that massive vote fairly easily but many natural Labour voters who are not part of that core are viscerally irritated by his demeanour and repetitive rhetoric. Privately you hear: “if only that Alan Johnson (perceived as a more able working class-origin moderniser) were in charge”.
Many Tories despair of Cameron’s naked and often unprincipled populism, constantly ducking and diving to deal with the threat from UKIP. He is a competent enough Prime Minister but slippery, quite prepared to sacrifice what some conservatives consider to be core libertarian or national economic interest principles if it suits him and his hold on power.
The populist bullying of the Muslim community in particular was what the centre-right public appeared to want (though they would never have said as much) and so that is what they got. Yet at the same time, he will adopt a statist attitude to internet freedoms which uses terrorism and abuse as excuses to mobilise the more authoritarian elements in society.
The Liberal Democrats appear to have a strategy that is little more than hoping to hold on to sufficient seats in order to be coalition arbiters and keep a few bottoms in ministerial chairs, while UKIP’s opportunistic rediscovery of Judaeo-Christian values may have held its core vote of grumpy right-wing bumpkins in place but has wiped out the chances of it acquiring a more sophisticated centrist protest vote.
In England, only the Greens with a hodge podge of (according to the Daily Telegraph) outrageous policy ideas look as if they have come alive – benefiting paradoxically from their misguided exclusion from the TV Debates. Their ideas look a little less crazy (though most are) if you look at them from the perspective of a system that seems to so many people to have failed. After all, Syriza were a bunch of crazies only three years ago.
Of course, the Greens will be lucky to get two or three seats. Although their radical ideas are not all to be dismissed outright, two thirds should be. In the end we will get more of the same politically, only more chaotic, but we should perhaps be grateful for the emergence of some nutty left-wing idealism to shake up the cynics, opportunists, dullards and old codgers of the other four parties.