And so it begins. The Election that feels like it’s been upon us for months is finally upon us. Almost finally.
Now the parties can stop pretending to campaign and start really campaigning. Yes, apparently it can get worse. Since no-one was campaigning previously, all those increasingly intolerant poster campaigns that have blighted my trip to work for the last few weeks must only have existed in my imagination. (Which, given that two of them involved David Cameron’s head photoshopped onto Gene Hunt’s body, I can easily believe.)
Like everything in politics these days, even the Election announcement was leaked and reported in advance. Yesterday BBC News told me that the election would be announced today. And today it was, amazingly, announced. At this rate the next four weeks could last a lifetime.
The BBC seem to be at pains to talk up this election (which to be fair is probably a much needed shot in the arm for the electorate). To accomplish this they’ve been going out of their way to emphasise the allegedly massive differences between Labour and Conservative policies. Or rather, the differences in their rhetoric: ‘cuts now’ or ‘cuts later’, ‘this is no time for change’ or ‘this is time for change’. The trouble is, when you get right down to it the slogans belie the essential similarity of the underlying policies.
In fact I’ll go further — I don’t really believe that the parties mean what they say. I’m sure this comes down to my alarmingly detached view of the news, but my strong feeling is that the only reason Labour are talking about ‘cuts later’ is not because they necessarily think it makes sound fiscal sense but because it sounds slightly different from the Tory position. And vice versa. When everyone wants cuts, it’s all about product differentiation. It’s possible to argue that it does make sound fiscal sense, just as it’s possible to argue that announcing an NI increase months ahead of time isn’t like trying to have your cake and eat it, but when I listen to politicians at election time I find myself beset by an inability to believe a single word that comes out of their mouths.
I don’t mean to sound like one of these disenfranchised apathetic stay-at-home voters the news is always telling me about. I’m not that. I do vote, and I feel strongly that it’s our responsibility to vote (if only to stop the BNP increasing their market share). What I’m realising, other than that my cynicism may be at the stage where it has a clinical name, is that I don’t really vote based on individual policies. Because I don’t believe that the parties are sincere about their policies. More often than not they appear to be an arbitrary means to an end, an idea dreamed up in a campaign HQ as a way to sound good to the electorate.
Instead, I think my vote is driven by ideology. I vote for a party because I believe that what they stand for, in totality, is in line with my moral or social values. I don’t even think I judge this mainly by aggregating all their policies together, I think it’s about big statements: freedom, equality, social justice. That kind of thing. The broad political sweep of left, middle and right.
Where individual policies probably do influence me is that I may vote against the ones that offend me. In a world where the two main parties are hardly different in many of their policies, only one intends to overturn the ban on fox-hunting, and that party will definitely not get my vote. Both of the main parties are almost equally repressive, emotive and hypocritical on the subject of immigration so neither will probably get my vote. (This is because I’m a bleeding heart liberal).
All of which means that the less the parties have to say over the next four weeks, the greater chance they stand of getting my vote.
I have a dream.