Friday, May 8, 2015

Did only selfish shits vote Tory?

My friend Tim, one of the most eloquent and entertaining voices among my Facebook friends, wrote this in response to the Tory victory in yesterday's General Election: 

“While I've read what feels like several thousand Conservative voters justifying their choice, I'm still looking to find one who says it was best for the country. Virtually unanimously, they felt it was the best choice for them personally.”

As a former Labour party member who seriously considered voting Tory, I started writing a reply. When it got beyond 500 words, I put it here instead. It doesn't mean I voted Tory; merely that I can see why people would so without being self-centred, evil sociopaths.
I wrote a long post yesterday on why I found all six options on my ballot paper repellent, so I could easily have justified voting Tory as the least-worst option without being in it just for myself.

As an aside, if you’re well-off and vote Tory out of naked self-interest (lower taxes), then that’s seen as a bad thing. If you’re not so well off and vote Labour for more benefits or more public services (funded by other people’s higher taxes), isn’t that also naked self-interest? At what income level does naked self-interest go from being despicable to being noble?

As it happens, that argument doesn’t apply to me. I have a well-paid job, I own my house and car, and I have enough in savings and investments to see my children through university. Voting out of naked economic self-interest wouldn't just be immoral; it would be irrational because I’m well enough off not to need a Tory tax cut. I’d much rather be taxed fairly and see those taxes spent wisely for the benefit of the country as a whole. And I’m not so well off that I’d be affected by any ‘soak the rich’ policies Labour might devise, so self-interest doesn’t come into it either way.

As part of my job, I read a lot of international reports on the state of the global economy. They have persistently said that Europe is stagnating, except for Britain. The overwhelming conclusion is that our government has done a better job of fixing the post-crash economy than anyone else in Europe. You'd need to be pretty callous for that to be enough, but for some people it is, even if the Tories can’t take all the credit (you could also give some credit to Labour for not joining the euro).

While the arguments for voting Tory are hardly compelling, the arguments for voting against Labour are strong. Here's why.

If Labour had won, they would certainly have tried to take more of the burden off the vulnerable, but would they have managed the economy well enough so they could afford to make a significant difference? It's hard to say, but promising to fund their programme with a smash-and-grab on the undeserving rich had a whiff of desperation. They tried that in the 70s and failed. It also makes them look just as divisive as the Tories. You can certainly do a lot of good by dividing the cake more fairly, but in the long term you need a bigger cake (or vote Green for a smaller cake with no icing). 

For many, it wasn't that people didn't like what Labour was offering; they simply didn't believe Labour could deliver it, and Miliband et al would foul up a lot of other things while they spent five years failing to deliver.

Ed forgets his lines and forgets to look at his cribsheet
Then there’s Miliband himself. He’s not a bad man, and in the human being stakes he’s preferable to Cameron, but he wasn’t fit to be prime minister. His failings as a leader are too numerous to list, but his failure to mention either the deficit or immigration at the party conference last year stands out. 

The fact that he forgot them shows that he was more interested in presentation than content. He made a spectacular cock-up because, as it turned out, he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was when he decided, out of pure vanity, to show off.

Remember his “vision”? When asked, he said, “How do we reverse the sense of national decline? How do we give people a sense that you can be optimistic about Britain, that the next generation can do better than the last? … What kind of country do we want to create for our kids?” 

That’s right, his “vision” was three questions. No answers, just questions. Ultimately, people didn't see him as prime-ministerial material. For some, that was enough. Not for me though. 

I can hear it now: "It's policies that matter not personalities, right?" Two things: first, Labour's first policy after Gordon Brown was to choose Ed Miliband over several more plausible candidates, including his far more impressive brother. Ed's inadequacy is an indictment of the party as a whole. Second, look at George W Bush on the morning of 9/11. At that moment, when America was under its bloodiest attack since 1812, did Americans really care what was in his election manifesto? They needed a leader. We're still suffering from the mistakes W made in those vital hours. Leaders are important.

As anyone who has seen me jump railings to cross the road will know, I don't like remote bureaucrats making decisions for me. I don't like being told what I can and can’t do. I don't like being told what I can say, think, eat, smoke or drink. I like to think I'm as much of an adult as I'm ever going to be, and I've yet to see a politician or civil servant who is better qualified to run my life than I am. This micro-management of individual behaviour started under Labour, and even if the Tories haven't exactly rolled it back, they don't seem as keen as Labour to extend it.

This isn’t an argument for “I should be able to do whatever I want and screw everybody else.” It’s an argument for “I and everybody else should be able to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t screw everybody else”. Sorry Ed and Harriet, that doesn’t mean banning everything that other people find vaguely annoying, because the concept of society means being in and around other people and we’re all different. It’s called diversity – something that Labour claims to support, but only when it’s the right kind of approved diversity. It means trusting your fellow members of society. 

Labour doesn't trust the people and nor, it seems, do many of its supporters. If you want proof, look at all the posts on Facebook today trotting out the old mantra: "Ignorant voters did what their masters in Fleet Street told them." In other words, the electorate (i.e. what used to be known as the working class) is too stupid to decide for itself and needs to be guided by its betters. Never mind foreign wars and PPI; where Labour has truly lost its way is in going from a party of the working class to party that fears and mistrusts the working class, and it’s ready, even enthusiastic, to pass more laws to keep them in their place.

I believe in power to the people. I don't believe in power only to the people with a first in PPE from Cambridge followed by a career in Labour HQ. That makes you the new aristocracy, and it no more qualifies you to boss people about than being the 15th Earl of Westmoreland ever did. People have fought and died for centuries to make this one of the freest countries in the world, but those civil liberties have been persistently eroded in the early years of this century, mainly by Labour. Miliband, far from being ashamed of this, looked set to continue the process. Throwing away your freedom and everyone else’s in exchange for improvements in public services that might be negligible or even non-existent is the worst kind of self-interest imaginable. 

It's easy to say when you're comfortably off, but civil liberties are more important than a few pence more on Family Tax Credit or deciding that hospital cleaners be from the public rather than the private sector. 

Maybe Labour will finally get that message. Sometimes you have to break a bone to make it heal properly. This is what the electorate has done to Labour.