With a bare 10 days to go until the General Election here in the UK, politicians are becoming increasingly febrile – while the populace are engulfed in a thick fog of ennui. I am finding it rather hard to get excited about the vote, though I’m finding feelings of horror and depression much easier to generate. It seems that no news bulletin can pass without a political bigwig taking a further swing with a sledgehammer at the very fragile foundations of my respect for their party and the political process – perhaps this is a deliberate process to get the masses to disenfranchise themselves?
Over the last couple of days, those hot-beds of revolutionary fervour – the Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph – have done sterling work to identify those people who will be first up against the wall come the glorious revolution. Share and enjoy! But otherwise, the more reactionary elements of the press (i.e. most of it) seem determined (like Chicken Licken) to convince us that the sky will fall-in should the next government by formed by the Labour party with assistance from the SNP – and this collapse of the heavens will find the poor English suffering a forced diet of haggis and Irn-Bru while wearing a kilt. Of course, a coalition government dominated by its junior partner is a real risk in this country, as the last five years of rule by the Liberal Democrats with barely a whimper heard from the poor Tories has ably demonstrated. Given the probable experience of the LibDems, if I was in control of the SNP (unlikely I’ll admit) I’d be very reluctant to be the junior partner in a coalition – it does seem to be electoral suicide (though Nick Clegg may yet surprise us – and himself). And what about the poor Unionists in Northern Ireland – where are the scare stories about them being the junior partner in a Coalition? I, for one, am not keen on the forced daily marches past my flat (which has the misfortune to lie near a Catholic church) and I really don’t look good in orange, though who does? Still, I suppose it would be good for the mural industry.
Curiously given the very consistent predictions made by those paid to forecast such things, both major parties seem to be in denial about having to work with a hung parliament (sadly, this involves neither rope nor gibbet – though this might be a way to increase voter turnout!). Given that a majority government seems rather less likely than Glen Miller winning the National Lottery and investing his winnings in a unicorn farm, it does make me wonder just how well considered the promises about the future contained in their manifestos might be – wishful thinking is all very well, but I’m not sure it’s any way to run a country.
However, despite my disillusionment (which does rather suggest that I once had illusions) I do feel that it is my civic duty to vote – people did die etc, though I’m not sure when laying down their lives the conduct of this current election was quite what they had in mind (though lacking access to a necromancer, I shall never know). Oddly, when seeking advice as to how to exercise my very limited power, it all seems to assume that I will vote entirely to improve my financial position. Now, as this blog makes clear, I am at least as self-centred as the next man (unless he happens to be Kanye West) but I feel it would be terribly inappropriate (downright rude in fact) to assume that a vague hope of my slight enrichment is the biggest issue facing this country at the moment. I feel that my vote should be used to improve the lot of the population at large, to the extent that is feasible. As a result, I fear I will be seen as a dangerous aberration by many economists (and a source of horror to the late Ayn Rand).
By chance, I have been reading The Price of Inequality by George Stiglitz in the run-up to the election and he has something to say of some relevance to this process. Initially, I found this work rather irritating as he kept repeating the blindingly obvious but after a while I found whilst he was still saying the obvious, it was stuff I’d never previously realised or thought about. Whilst I am not necessarily convinced by all his conclusions – he is a much better economist than me and so may well be able to cover my eyes with wool – he has made me doubt (and largely abandon) some previously quite firmly held beliefs. As I hurtle towards the grave, I have come to realise that conventional wisdom is much stronger on the “conventional” than it is on the “wisdom”.
The book is mostly based around the US-experience – though he does take time out to lambast the ECB and the Euro – but many of the conclusions seem to apply very directly to dear old Blighty. In particular, in a world in which political parties gain the vast majority of their funding from a few very rich individuals and major corporations it is perhaps no surprise that their priorities do not align with those of the typical voter. With most of the media also controlled by much the same interests (though The Guardian is, I believe, controlled (or at least bank-rolled) by Autotrader – and so in the hands of the second-hand car business and sheepskin coat) we can begin to see why the public may be disengaged from politics and grabbing at the lifebelt which the fringe parties seem to offer. It also struck me that whilst we – the great unwashed – get to influence the political process once every five years and have to pick a whole raft of (probably fictional) policies, if you have enough money to pay for a lobbyist you can influence politics every day of the week and on very specific policies. Money may not buy you happiness, but I suspect it does buy you quite a lot of influence over the world of Westminster, if you chose to use it in that way.
However, I think it may well be the sterling work of Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander on More-or-Less which may have the greatest impact on my voting choice in 7 May. For now, I remain a floating voter – or perhaps a sinking one.