In Holland on Tuesday, crowds parted in a stampede when a heckler started yelling during a two-minute silence. The Queen was there, laying a wreath at the large monument in Dam square to commemorate the War dead. Watching the pictures, you can see the crowd spread like a ripple around the man, turn and peel away. 60 people were injured and further pictures show the Queen, in high heels and furs, and much beloved by the country, pelting from the scene.
So much for silence.
Britain as I write is about to announce its General Election result. Much has been said about the quirks of the system that allow parties to gain disproportionate representation in the Parliament when they gain rather less proportion of the vote. But that is the way it is. And Britain decided to vote for the Conservative party.
The ensuing hours and days will decide who actually governs, what deals may be done but it is clear the country has chosen its party. The Tories – as they have been known even before they were Conservatives – have the largest share of the vote – I believe – and the largest number of seats.
The tenor of this decision is extremely worrying.
One week ago the final leaders debate was shoe-horned into talking about immigration. The hitherto wildly popular Nick Clegg proposed to grant an amnesty to all illegal immigrants currently residing in the country. Enfranchise them, he was saying. Bring them inside the bounds of the system, allow them to share in the community of the country.
ABSOLUTELY NOT! Cried the bewildered country flustering and puffing Clegg’s campaign was likened to a slow-punctured tire. For one week he continually ran out of steam.
Britain has been taught to be afraid for a very long time. In boom years we were still flummoxed by the threat of Romanians and Bulgarians so as not to grant them workers rights when they joined the EU. Never mind the Polish and the rest in Eastern Europe has done so much to invigorate society, not to mention the economy, integrating well and setting up their own businesses, innovative styles of living.
Britain has been taught to be afraid. And it keeps believing. An economic fear can never be out of sight, even in boom times. The economy is separated from the will of the people and believed to be a Master that we all serve. Rodney Paradox is eloquent in portraying this argument, as it applies to money.
One of the most telling aspects of election night as it was covered with no little showmanship on the BBC, was the reactions and the actions of the Markets that swirled around looking like gods from the sky at the common people’s actions and what how would they judge them. “Markets settled amidst the news that Britain appeared to be heading for a Conservative minority government – the pound rose to its highest level against the euro and the dollar for 18 months” ran the ticker tape across the bottom of the screen.
You can’t ignore the markets but let’s see them for what they are – a series of decisions by financially powerful people whose interests are not allied to yours and mine. They may coincide glancingly, but their horizons are often short-term. The paradox is that these short-term horizons have long-term consequences and the current debt speculation cannot be dismissed. If the horizons of these traders was allied to the interests of the people, like good governors or stewards. It may grow less wild. In any case, last night Markets was looking at the British people and allowed itself a thin David-Cameron smile of pleasure.
The Tories have always had an indestructible base of 33% of the country’s sympathy. When we hoped it would die it began to sprout Grandchildren with interests as narrow as their predecessors. Maybe there was once a reason for voting Tory, it has long since run out. With this bedrock of support the party needed a small flip to steady its lead and it did so on immigration. Just as the ripples of fear ran through a crowd and caused it to flee in Amsterdam, so did the country as it headed for the polls.
Let’s get some policy points clear:
The Tories are not better on the economy – Lib Dems Vincent Cable made by far the better calls consistently over the last two years.
They have not become more socially friendly – the Big Society and its fob to hold more frequent referenda a nonsensical mirage designed to shield the central corridors from view. To keep the people happy as it were. At the slightest hint they have sneered at gays and of course despised immigrants.
They advocated an invasion in Iraq.
Their leaders are shrill and unsteady. They know when to crack a line at the right time and that was what happened last Thursday.
Cameron stood on stage one week ago and voiced the nation’s fears to it. “This loony to my left wants you to lose the pound, give up nuclear, allow in immigrants and let your values run to rot” he delivered over an hour and a half. He did so with enough presumed authority for it to pass down enough worried throats. The psyche is such that is needs another worry and Cameron supplied his in force.
The Liberal Democrats did not win because the country is not ready. For a state of openness and clarity, fairness and broadly based prosperity. The country wishes to run by its coterie. Change is frightening, and fear won the vote.
That the Lib Dems didn’t even make a dent in the country’s populous is alarming and after a brief period of upliftment it appears this was too much for the deep underground.
The next days will see a flurry of discussion and it may even be that we see a Liberal-Labour coalition in Parliament. The deep insight into all this is – the country has not really changed and that for all the open lines of communication these days, has not really begun to understand itself.
It certainly baffles me.
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More literary offerings next week.