Saturday, April 24, 2010

Don't be swayed by Polly Toynbee's support for the old politics

Way back in the days of the Alliance, there were those in the SDP who really understood what liberalism was about, expecting and celebrating diversity and non conformity and respecting individuals, and there were others who just didn't, feeling more comfortable in a more authoritarian set up where everyone's expected, like sheep, to stick to the party line. When the merger came, the more liberal leaning ones stayed with the new party, and the more authoritarian ones didn't and many ended up backing the New Labour project.

Polly Toynbee was one of those who headed back towards the Labour Party and even now, as it looks into the abyss, she urges people to vote for it. She recognises its faults - interestingly she picks up on recent comments by Gordon Brown about Iran and North Korea (yeah, is he going to invade them?) and on illegal migrants.

What's interesting is that she barely mentions the really awful stuff that Labour has presided over:

- instigating an illegal war in Iraq (with Conservative support)
- sending troops into battle without proper equipment
- widening the gap between rich and poor
- British complicity in torture
- the disgusting detention of children in immigration centres
- complicity with the Conservatives over MPs' expenses and party funding
- blocking attempts to reform Lords and voting system
- erosion of civil liberties - police stopping people taking innocent photos
- the fundamentally illiberal Digital Economy Bill (with Conservatives support)
- 42 days' detention

There's more where that list came from too. Quite a sickening record.

The main thrust of Polly's argument is that the current electoral system, with all its flaws, will let the Tories in and they are EVIL. Well, she's not far from being right on her second point, but her scaremongering doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. For a start, she suggests that we feed the current poll figures into the BBC seats calculator and that should scare progressives into voting Labour.

It's not as if the example she gave handed an absolute majority to the Tories:

"Look at the result according to yesterday's BBC poll of polls: Clegg gets 30% and a puny 102 seats, Cameron gets 33% and only 258 seats, while Brown comes third with 27% and emerges as the victor with 261 seats."

The Tories find theselves with 3 seats less than Labour!

What Polly Toynbee seems to be arguing for is Labour dominance, the continuation of the Labservative hegemony that has blighted our politics for decades which as long as its left of centre is ok.

While she acknowledges that our electoral system is "disgraceful", her advice, to vote Labour, is not going to change that in any meaningful way. This is the same party who pledged to reform the House of Lords in 1997. Ok, so they threw out the hereditaries and came to a bit of a craven stop. Of course they are not going to bring about the sort of reform we need.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats, even if it doesn't directly elect you a Liberal Democrat MP, will be a powerful catalyst for change. Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver the sort of change that will properly engage people in politics.

Many polls are indicating that people want a hung Parliament. The only people who don't are those who have most to lose - the Labservatives.

If a coalition government emerges, it will not be the same as Government by one party on its own - for example, look at Scotland. We haven't had single party government for years. For 8 years the Liberal Democrats were in coalition with Labour. It wasn't perfect, but it delivered the abolition of tuition fees and free personal care which Labour at Westminster did not bring in. The Freedom of Information legislation brought in up here was so much more robust than Westminster's - in fact, it was a direct catalyst in our own expenses scandal which happened more than 5 years earlier than Westminster's. I've got plenty to say about the current SNP minority government, not much of it complimentary, but at least it's learning, sometimes the hard way, that it needs to work with the other parties. Overall, I think that politics at Holyrood is much healthier than at Westminster.

In a hung parliament, you can bet your life that the Liberal Democrats will stand absolutely behind their policies for fair taxes, cleaning up politics, giving children the support they need in school and getting the economy on a stable, sustainable,green footing, taking the banks by the scruff of the neck and sorting them out once and for all.

Polly Toynbee, in trying to scare us by raising the spectre of a Tory government, actually illustrates why we need change and why the real choice in this election is between the Labservative hegemony and the real people centred reform offered by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. For the first time in my lifetime, we have the chance to change politics for good. Let's just do it.

James tackles the same subect in his inimitably stonking form. No wonder he was once referred to as the Lib Dem Blogosphere's Tactical Nuclear B*****d

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