Friday, May 7, 2010

Election Fright (and other technological disasters)

Apologies for the rather brief and disjointed nature of this blog. The main reason being that my computer appears to be undergoing some sort of crisis and has slowed its workings to a crawl. Is there are anything more frustrating in life than owning a Mac and watching The Spinning Wheel of Doom whirr away as you wait interminably for a page or document to load? I have given up trying to load pictures - each TSWOD delay felt like it was bringing on an aneurysm.

Secondly, I haven't been to bed yet because it was election night in the UK. This was the Viagra Election in that it kept you up all night. Fascinating result after fascinating result, which left the pundits speechless and the politician's tongue-tied. This morning, as of 11 a.m, there is no overall majority. The Conservatives are the largest party, yet the Labour Government (the second largest party) has the right as incumbent to see if it can form a minority Government. However, the Liberal Democrats, the third largest party, who dreamed of a breakthrough that never materialised, hold the balance of power. Their leader Nick Clegg has indicated the Tories, as the largest party, should have the chance to see if they can form a Government. Presumably a deal with him in return for a commitment to change the voting system, or offer a referendum on it, which is the Holy Grail of the Lib Dems. Understandably, as they received a almost a quarter of the votes cast, but won less than a tenth of the seats available. Problem is it is hard to see the Tories and Lib Dems doing a deal, as they differ so much in policy. The Lib Dems are much closer to the Labour party in spirit, and the latter would offer them more concrete guarantees about changing the voting system. Yet the feeling seems to be among the Lib Dems politicians (not their supporters, many of who are disgruntled Labour folk who would rather hack their own eyeballs out with a teaspoon than cosy up to the Tories) that the will of the people is they speak first to the Tories. Of course this could all change. Expect many days of horse trading and negotiations.

Here are some other observations of a pretty dramatic evening:

1. The British habit of waiting patiently in line come what may was demolished. Not without good reason either. I went to vote yesterday morning and the queue was enormous. It was clear the turn out was going to be high. When people got home from work and went to vote the queues grew.  By the time some polling stations closed at 10pm hundreds of people in seats across the country were locked out and refused the opportunity to exercise their democratic right. Some places ran out of ballot papers. Outrageous, given that while more people voted than last time, it was hardly a gargantuan turn out. TV news showed scores of angry would-be voters haranguing officials. In some seats where the races was tight, there could even be legal challenges to the result if parties feel their vote suffered. It is pretty shabby for a nation who often sends monitors to check on the validity of elections overseas to preside over such a farce. File it alongside the hanging chads of Florida in 2000 and it's palpably clear we in the West should be rather careful in casting sanctimonious aspersions on fair and free elections in other countries.

2. Exit polls, which had become notoriously unreliable ('Tell me about it,' says Senator Kerry) were given some much needed credibility last night. The BBC one got it pretty much spot on, despite the fact that most of the broadcasters and politicians lined up to rubbish it initially.

3. The random fringe parties that a General Election attracts add some much needed colour and humour. At Tory leader and probable next Prime Minister David Cameron's count in Witney, the Monster Raving Loony Party fielded a guy who looked like Boss Hog from the Dukes of Hazard. Meanwhile, at the result of current PM Gordon Brown's constituency, a fringe candidate stood on the platform, fist raised in some kind of protest or salute. Unfortunately he didn't bank on Gordon making such a long speech, so half way through, in full view of the camera, his arm began to fall, his face betraying the strain. It got so that the most interesting part wasn't whether Brown would concede defeat to the Tories, but whether the fist would remain above the perpendicular. It didn't. It sagged and flagged, giving everyone a handy metaphor for Mr Brown's political career.

4. Broadcasters must realise that we don't give a fig what celebrities think of the election. The otherwise admirable BBC coverage kept cutting to a boat on the Thames where a series of increasingly inebriated slebs pronounced slurring verdicts on the proceedings that ranged from the banal to the bleeding obvious.

5. Don't attempt to stay up all night without any coffee in the house. And don't offer to drive the kids to school either. London streets + no sleep = high blood pressure and terrified kids.

If any serious resolution materialises I will update the blog, but otherwise that's it for me. I will return next week with some politics-free stuff and hopefully a working computer.


Dan - Friday


  1. What a pleasure it must have been to have politicians tongue-tied - even if it only lasted nanoseconds.

  2. Stan - If you haven't seen politicians tongue-tied and/or incoherent then you missed the 8 years of W Bush.

    Dan - Laughing at the guy who couldn't keep him arm up straight for the duration of the speech must have given punch-drunk voters a welcome release from the incredible seriousness that blankets the country on election night. I'm sorry it isn't over; the hanging chads kept the majority of voters in the US breathless while we waited to learn that the man who actually won the vote didn't win the election.

    As an Obama supporter, I can only wish the British the kind of election night we had in 2008. I was juggling the land line phone and two cells to be on with my children who were with friends in bars in three different places. The young people wanted to be with a like-minded crowd when the winner was announced. When it happened, a bit before 11:00pm, there was a roar and then laughing and crying. Multitudes across the country were crying, including some of the TV people. For that night, for that moment, as a country we realized that we were better than we thought we could be. We had elected a man of color. Never mind the Bush/Cheney nightmare. We had elected a president we could be proud of. Racism disappeared for a few minutes, although it has come back with a vengeance. His policies aren't hugely popular but he is. When we see him on the world stage, we are proud of him and we are proud of us. One hundred and forty years after the end of slavery and over 40 years after the Civil Rights Act we had elected a black man president and anyone who lived through the the 50's and 60's in the US was shocked that it had happened so soon.

    Whether or not he is elected to a second term, and I certainly will try to make that happen, he is the 44th President of the United States and the haters in this country can't change that.


  3. Stan - the whole thing seems to have left them all a bit tongue tied still. Today, in the aftermath, you had the rare sight of broadcasters bemoaning the lack of politicians willing to appear in front of camera to discuss what was going on. Unprecedented.

    Beth, Florida and 2000 and the Bush 'coup' has been mentioned a few times here, not least because it seemed at one stage Cameron, the Tories and their many friends in the media would try and bounce them into power before people could complain. The difference is that Cameron did get more votes than anyone else, unlike George W.

    We had our Obama moment back in 1997 when Tony Blair swept the hated last Tory dynasty away in an unexpected landslide. Much disliked Cabinet ministers lost their seats, humble pie was eaten, wrongs were righted, and it felt like it was a fresh beginning, lots of hope and expectation. It didn't last of course; it never does, and we know what happened next.But for one glorious evening, as arrogant minister after arrogant minister fell, and years of Tory hurt, lies, sleaze and arrogance, the whores of the press at their bidding, were being wiped from the public consciousness, GK Chesterton's words rang true. I even heard a distant echo last night as the old order was shaken up:

    But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
    Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

  4. Dan

    Good post. It does seem kind of strange that we run off to monitor elections in "third-world" countries, but can't manage to get our own right. I am still of the opinion that Al Gore was elected President. My friends tell me to get over it, but I just can't. I will follow the news to see how you guys work it all out.

    Just finished Blood Atonement. Excellent read! Enjoyed it more than the first one. Like getting to know your characters better, especially Grant. Keep'em coming.