I didn’t write anything about the election while it was happening, but now that it’s all settled, I’ve got some thoughts on the matter.
The most interesting fact is that no one won. This is not an extraordinary occurrence—it’s the normal state of politics in many European countries—but it’s something new to the UK. There’s a nasty streak of exceptionalism running through the British political mindset that seems to believe that none of that stuff could properly work here. An upper house not composed of nobles and cronies? A Parliament whose composition is not decided by a small number of swing voters in a few constituencies? These are considered to be preposterous ideas that would lead to weak government, financial chaos, and the extinction of our way of life.
We’ve had thirteen years of strong government. Whilst Labour undoubtedly achieved a lot of good during its tenure (although much of that is not readily visible to those of us who are economically fortunate), it used its majority to force through some really odious bills. It created thousands of new offences. It stripped away centuries-old civil liberties. It followed George Bush into a stupid war that still hasn’t ended. One of its last acts was to whip through the ill-considered Digital Economy Bill in the last few days of the dying Parliament.
And, despite having promised electoral reform in 1997, Labour never quite got around to implementing the recommendations of the Jenkins Report). It started to reform the House of Lords, but lost interest half way.
Of course, before the strong government of Blair, we had the strong government of Thatcher. That didn’t work out all too well, either.
Labour deserved to lose this time. In fact, Labour had to lose. I hope that it doesn’t take it too long to recover, though: a weak opposition is no good for the country.
What we’ve got this time is a Parliament in which no one party dominates. To form a majority, they’ve got to negotiate and form a coalition. This is normal in other countries. In fact, it’s normal in Scotland and Wales. Compromise is an inherent part of the process, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad.
It’s been interesting to watch the complaints from Labour partisans, outraged that the Liberal Democrats would be traitorous enough to form a government with the Conservatives. This, of course, is missing the point. If the Liberal Democrats were Labour, they’d be in the Labour Party. They’re a distinct party, with distinct policies, and no one who’s aware of the Orange Book or of Nick Clegg’s CV would be in any doubt that they share certain philosophies with the Conservatives as well as with Labour.
Personally, I’m wary of the Conservatives. Despite their moves to the centre in recent years, they still provide a home to tax dodgers, bigots, and homophobes. They’re still far too comfortable with hereditary privilege, and too ready to toss the right wing tabloids a demagogic bone when it suits them. I’m not nearly rich enough to be better off under the Tories—very few people are—but I’ll be all right. I worry about those at the bottom of the pile, though: there’s a noticeable lack of solidarity in the Conservative mindset.
But if an alliance with the Liberal Democrats can chip off some of the crazier edges of both parties’ manifestos, I think it might just be all right. After reading the coalition agreement, I haven’t seen a lot to dislike.
Except one thing.
We have agreed that there should be an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work. We will consider jointly the mechanism for implementing the limit.
This tabloid-pleasing cap on non-EU immigration is one of the most stupid pieces of policy I have seen in a long time. For a start, the existing agreements of freedom of movement cover the EU, the EEA, and Switzerland. Will Norwegians and Swiss be subject to a cap?
Second, since we have these freedom of movement agreements within Europe, we can’t control the actual volume of immigration. A cap will not necessarily reduce the volume of immigration. In fact, it will merely change the composition. There will be fewer Kiwis and Aussies (whom Mail readers probably quite like) and as many or more Poles (whom I suspect they don’t).
Finally, it’s already the case in law that employers must consider EU/EEA applicants before getting a visa for someone from another country. An arbitrary limit will simply make it harder for businesses to fill posts that have specific skill requirements that can’t be filled at home.
I don’t know whether the immigration cap is based on racism or the lump of labour fallacy, but either way, it’s a bad policy.
Apart from that, though, I’m optimistic. The civil liberties promises in particular go further than I’d ever have hoped in rolling back Labour’s authoritarian encroachments.
At the moment, these are all just promises. What remains to be seen is what they do about it.
And hey, even if they did make George Osborne Chancellor, at least he’s under adult supervision.