Why the Conservatives won’t win a majority at the General Election

Do the Tories have any policies?

This is a question I have found myself asking on a regular basis every time I see something related to the General Election (GE) in the news or on the internet. It is blindingly obvious that the Tories main tactic this campaign it attack the Labour party with ruthlessness and vigour. I do not dispute that Ed Miliband may or may not be the best candidate for Prime Minister but I would much rather have him than Cameron and the Conservatives.

The pettiness of the Conservative’s GE campaign is baffling, but understandable. The Tories waffle on constantly about their success with the economy, but what else? This struck me on Thursday in particular when watching the regional news. On it there was an interview (and a corresponding news article can be found here) with Chancellor George (Gideon) Osborne, within which he said it was vote for the Tories for a stable and “growing” economy, or vote for Labour, with a poor track record, which would also lead to the SNP storming Westminster (not in aforementioned article).

I’m sorry Mr Osborne but is Scotland no longer part of the United Kingdom? I did not realise Scottish people were not allowed their own representation in the UK’s parliament.

These attacks get weaker and weaker each day with the actual news being the overwhelming support the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have received in wake of the Leaders’ Debates earlier in April. To me, the Tories constant rebuking of Labour and the SNP only demonstrate the deep fear penetrating Westminster today. The likelihood of a Labour-SNP (and Green?) coalition is fast becoming a realistic prospect. A recent Guardian article caught my attention, fielding the question as to what would happen if the SNP stood candidates outside of Scotland. It revealed how a Survation poll put SNP’s share of parliamentary seats across the UK at 9%, 1% above the Liberal Democrats. This, combined with the Liberal Democrats’ 8% and Greens feeble 4% place left wingers with a sizeable 21% share of the vote, not far off the Tories’ 30. This almost mirrors a similar YouGov poll, putting the SNP at 11% of the vote. However, as this is all hypothetical, the only power SNP will likely have is influencing which party holds power after May 7th.

Because of this the only option is for continued attacks on Labour in the press and by politicians themselves. The Tories, unsurprisingly, are being championed along by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. In fact, one news story about how ‘70% of the FTSE Top 100‘ say Miliband and Labour would be a ‘catastrophe’ for the economy has been on the front page of the Mail for 5 days – it’s not really breaking news anymore, yet there it stays. Within said article, it is written how Labour has ‘vowed to force companies to offer staff a full time contract if they have been working regular hours for three months’. How is this a bad thing for the country? The same article notes that there are 1.8 million people living on zero-hour contracts. All this reads to me is that big businesses want to keep people down and poor, so they are easy to use to their advantage.

Other self-defeating digs at Labour include Friday’s “scandal”, how – shock horror – Ed Miliband has slept with more than one woman. This point seems to negate common Miliband-slander: that he is a geek, furthering the Tories campaign ineptitude. Ed’s love-life was important enough to make the front page of the Mail in print (perhaps what most people will encounter in their day), but obviously not important enough to make the top of its website. I do not see how these types of posts,about the people involved do not constitute an invasion of their personal privacy, considering they include a lot of intimate detail as well as multiple pictures. These sorts of attacks perhaps demonstrates the weakness in Tory campaigning in another way – because the Mail has nothing to champion or defend on behalf of the Conservatives it has to dig around to find something to report on just to try and keep the Tories on top.

Thursday’s Question Time raised some interesting points about the recent furore about non-domiciled (non-doms) people, a status rich businesspeople can purchase meaning they pay no tax to the UK on incomes made abroad. Labour want to abolish them, meaning the question around the table was how much the abolishment of non-doms would cost the country. Expectedly, many different numbers were thrown around. In my opinion, the likelihood of thousands of Brits registered as non-doms upping sticks and leaving the country is slim. Caroline Lucas righteously noted that if these people who choose to be taxed unfairly at the cost of everyone else want to leave, so be it, they are morally unjust. The Daily Telegraph even noted that the Conservatives would rather target Ed Balls and avoid the issue, something the broadsheet notes most find an ‘archaic injustice’. The same article noted how the public love an underdog, and so in effect, the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot, because this is exactly what Miliband has become. By showing their support for the non-dom status, the Tories only demonstrate that they are a party for the rich, supporting antiquated policies benefitting only themselves. Almost daily the Conservatives push this idea onto the public, exacerbating the effect the daily attacks on Miliband have. David Cameron has high approval ratings with the public, and it will be interesting to see how this changes as the election campaigns push on.

I am not endorsing the Labour party or saying that they will win the election, in fact I am still on the fence as to which way to vote. Nevertheless, what I am sure of is that I will not vote for a party which engages in dirty, smear-campaigning in order to swing the vote, and I’m equally sure many others will not either. The Conservative party has a lot to learn: if you want people to engage in politics and lend their support, prove to them that after 5 years in power you are competent in politics and have policies which are sensible and work towards the greater good rather than dodge issues and resort to scathing and immature personal attacks on someone who is obviously a formidable opponent. It is for this reason, the fact that the Tories have insofar presented nothing solid or appealing to the public, that I feel they will not win a majority at the election on May 7th, and as a disclaimer I suppose I should say that if they do I will eat my hat and move to Australia, never to return.

This article can also be found on my university course’s blog: International Relations Today.

Mourning Democracy – the loss of Britain’s most important value

Do we live in a democracy? This is a question I regularly ask myself. Politics is a fundamental part of international relations, and while we tend to focus on the global at university, to me it is wholly necessary to understand processes at home before applying same said processes to the international.

This piece will focus less on the “power” of the press, but the new inevitably comes into it. Democracy, or ‘rule by the people‘, is perhaps the corner stone of our society, one of the key components of David Cameron’s “British values“, and an ideologies held in high esteem by the British public but to me, a lowly commentator, it seems many do not really know what democracy means.

There is, in my a opinion, a compelling argument to suggest we do not live in a democracy, but rather a society masquerading as a democracy. How can we live in a democracy when the majority of the population live within parliamentary safe seats? Using myself as an example, I come from Wiltshire, where my constituency is made up of predominantly white, middle class and older voters. Despite my rigorous campaigning in opposition, it seems my North Wiltshire constituency will be terminally held by the Conservatives, when I know for a fact that many people (mostly young) would never vote conservative.

It seems ridiculous to me that political parties can seed candidates into safe seats i.e. have MPs run in constituencies when their respective parties are almost guaranteed a win. Obviously there are cases where spanners have been thrown into the works, but on the whole this is the case. Boris Johnson’s upcoming run for MP in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a north-London Tory safe seat is a prime example of this. How can this be considered democracy? With some research, safe seats stem from the First Past the Post system here in the UK where the candidate with the most votes gets the seat. But what if there are multiple candidates and the winner receives only, say, 30% of the votes? 70% of the people are not being represented by the winning candidate. How can we say this is democracy?

This week it was reported how Tory and Labour MPs Malcolm Rifkind (himself representing in a “rock-solid Tory safe seat“) and Jack Straw were found to be accepting payments from corporations to represent their business interests in parliament. It would be foolish to think that these are the only two MPs to be doing this. I agree that MPs should be able to supplement their incomes outside of parliament, but I agree with Ed Miliband that it would be preferable for MPs to devote themselves wholeheartedly to parliament through increasing the pay of politicians. Although it may seem like they do not do much, MPs obviously have a hard and important job, and it would be a lie to say that my passionately Labour history teacher from Secondary School has not influenced me in my opinions on this controversial issues. To him, it made sense for MPs to be paid, say, a blanket amount of £300,000 and no more. This would include general pay and would cover their expenses. I hope I am not alone in thinking this would be better in general. It is not democratic for corporations to be able to by influence in the government, when trans-national corporations already command a lot of the power in government.

Many people do not vote and because of the above reasons it is not hard to understand why. Democracy in the UK is broken. I agree with David Cameron, democracy is incredibly important and is something that should be cherished, preserved and certainly not taken for granted, but what we have is not democracy. I am not attempting to suggest that I have the answers, but to me it seems the most obvious reform would be either proportional representation, where a party that wins 30% of votes, gets 30% of the seats, or alternatively a gradual shift to direct democracy, where everyone can vote directly on policies, rather than for a person to represent them.

Last year, in the wake of the bedroom tax issue, I exchanged a series of letters with my local MPs scolding him for voting for the bedroom tax, in contrast to what I felt would be a better representation of his constituencies. He gave me no discernible or credible reason for his opinions on the bedroom tax, suggesting to me he was voting purely in his own interests. Again, I must reiterate that this is not democracy. This has been seen time and time again – any scandal or issue it seems is dealt with through the personal opinions of MPs rather than that of the people they should be representing (gay marriage comes to mind).

Direct democracy avoids all of this. I’m not saying that every policy should be voted on by everyone – that is impractical and would fast become annoying, but for some issues, such as say tax, action on climate change or indeed gay marriage, everyone should be entitled to vote as these are issues that directly affect everyone. It is already utilised in Switzerland to some affect. There are obviously disadvantages, as we have learnt in IR Theory, the majority often do not know what is best for them and this would not be helped by the likes of the tabloids such as the Sun and yes, the Daily Mail which spout nonsense on a daily basis yet have such a devoted following. That being said, it can be argued that a new group of voters are emerging – voters that are more tolerant and liberal and better educated, so this in fact may become less of an issue. Similarly, perhaps this could be guaranteed by a constitution as well as the fact we would still have elected MPs for the majority of issues.

As I said above I do not know all the answers, but I do know that we are not living in what we think we are, rather, hiding behind a masquerade of democracy in which MPs are bought by corporations and thousands of votes are wasted because of a fundamentally flawed electoral system. Change is coming, I am certain. Today the Green Party released its manifesto (slightly marred by some embarrassing radio interviews) offering an alternative to a three-party Westminster and the same can be said for opposite side in the form of UKIP. This is a welcome change and something that I sincerely hope gains more momentum in the future. Democracy may be waning, but it is not lost, and I know that myself and others will continue to campaign for its revival into the future.

Miliband, Labour and Devolution

Inarguably, the Scottish independence referendum and its aftermath is the biggest news story this week; as a frequenter of both the Guardian and the Daily Mail (the perhaps most read papers on each end of the political spectrum), I can see just how important the referendum is to each paper. 4 days after the vote, both are still reporting on it. What I find interesting about their coverage, however, is the way in which it has been conducted.

Upon clicking on the Guardian homepage, I am immediately greeted by the following article: Cameron faces pressure to seal Scotland deal underneath lie a further 5 articles concerning the headline, including a Guardian view (The Guardian view on David Cameron playing politics with constitutional reform). I especially appreciate the inclusion of a ‘view’ (that is, a admittance of what the newspaper’s official stance on the issue is) and this is something I have noticed a lot over the past few weeks, as at least when you are considering the newspaper’s spin on the topic, you are aware of what they actually think.

In comparison, the Daily Mail news site greets me with a small link to the equivalent article, under a large, unflattering picture of Alex Salmond and his accompanying article, with the following headline: Miliband REJECTS English Votes for English laws and accuses Cameron of playing politics with Westminster ‘vow’ to Scotland. Without even reading the article, I can immediately tell the spin the Mail will take: anti-Labour and anti-Miliband.

I find this use of linguistics particularly interesting, with the Guardian using a straightforward, unbiased headline giving the reader a snapshot of the story, with the Mail in contrast, using a long-winded line laden with lexis and punctuation designed to incur anger.

The Mail refers to Ed Miliband constantly as ‘Mr. Miliband’ with David Cameron referred to in full. The use of ‘Mr’ can certainly be seen as belittling, which to an extent is fair enough as it is no secret that the Mail has right-wing leanings. The article constantly refers to his apparent rejection of ‘English votes for English laws’ which is actually never explicitly rejected by ‘Mr’ Miliband. This Miliband-bashing is nothing new to the Daily Mail, with an almost daily slew of slander coming his way. It is fine to not support or endorse Labour, but it is beggars belief that any paper that publishes an article entitled ‘Ed Miliband is WEIRD’ can be considered good journalism. The capital letters and sarcastic tone of writing undermines significantly Labour’s view on devolution to both Scotland – who should primarily be the focus in the political post-referendum sphere – and England.

It is obvious as to why Miliband avoids directly answering this question (should Scottish MPs have the vote on purely English issues?) as a large part of Labour’s MPs are Scottish based, yet nevertheless, I agree with the principle that Scotland’s devolution should be the government’s priority given that 45% of the Scottish population embraced independence and voted yes. This only lessens my respect for David Cameron, given his conditional and tactical addition of English devolution, alongside Scotland’s. To me, this appears as a result of Cameron’s near failure to maintain the Union, with Glasgow and Dundee voting in favour of independence, which if achieved, would have certainly seen his resignation.

English devolution is important, especially as currently the political focus is on London, but the inability of Scottish MPs to vote on English issues in Westminster would be unfair and also draw up further questions: should non-London MPs get to vote on London-centric issues and vice-versa? Similarly, how much time should be focused on London in Westminster etc. This is an obvious ploy by Cameron to reduce the influence of Labour, the main (barely) left-leaning party in parliament and leave England how the Tories would like it – right wing and conservative.

To me, this only stresses the importance of an awareness of what the papers want you to believe, and in no way am I suggesting that the Guardian is unbiased, yet in this case, I feel it offers a fairer and more comprehensive analysis of the current situation. The devolution question raises countless others, and it will be interesting to see how it develops over the coming days and weeks especially considering Cameron’s reneging on pre-referendum promises which is doing nothing to help the reputation of parliament, politicians or the Conservatives.

(Note: I appreciate the Daily Mail cannot really be considered a broad-sheet or even a well-respected publication, yet I chose it as so many people read it everyday.)