So it’s official: the Prime Minister has seen the Queen, dissolved Parliament and called this year’s general election. It will take place on May 6, exactly a month from now.
I’m immoderately excited about this election for two reasons. Firstly, because it’ll be the first general election in which I get to vote – I was a whippersnapper of 15 back at the last one, i.e. old enough to follow what was going on and want to get involved, but not actually old enough to join in. This time, it’s poll time.
Secondly, because the elections of 2001 and 2005, the ones I remember clearly, were neither of them terrifically interesting. The 1997 one was, but being not-quite-eight means I only have dim memories of the night – a day off school, having things explained I didn’t understand, my parents being excited, and my dad nipping out after the polls had closed to steal one of the big Vote Labour signs. (I kid you not. It lived under my parents’ bed for years.)
This one, on the other hand, is shaping up to be a titanic struggle, and hopefully not in the ‘utter disaster’ sense of the word. The opinion polls are swinging around all over the place: YouGov and Opinium say the Tories have a 10-point lead, ICM puts it at only 4, and we’ve still got five weeks in which potentially anything could happen.
What is looking likely, for the first time in many years, is a hung parliament. The Tories are undoubtedly doing well, but they’d need to secure their biggest swing in decades to get a ruling majority, and so far their ability to do so doesn’t look convincing. There’s also the point that a significant proportion of people deeply disillusioned with Labour are from the left-hand end of the party’s support, pissed off about things like ID cards, pandering to religious lobbies, surveillance, and so on – who will likely switch to the Lib Dems.
What would actually happen in the event of a hung parliament is unclear. The obvious thing would be for one or the other main party to ally with the Lib Dems, but I can’t see them getting into bed with the Tories, and coalescing with the currently extremely unpopular Labour remnant – and possibly leaving Brown at the head of government – would hurt their popularity.
On the other hand, given how long the Lib Dems have been our third party, it’s even harder to imagine them refusing an opportunity to kind-of be in power.
From where I’m standing, a Labour/LD coalition looks like the least of several evils – the Libs can’t pull off an upset on the scale to govern on their own, but they can at least keep in check the worst civil-liberty-destroying excesses of the Labour remnant, assuming that a semi-elected Labour minority would even dare carry on with all the things that are currently biting them in the backside.
A Tory government would just be a thousand kinds of bad, a Tory/LD coalition would be nearly as bad and also destroy my faith in the Libs, and a Labour majority would be catastrophic at this point – it’d effectively be a mandate to carry on pissing around.
For what it’s worth, I live in a heavily student area, which translates to heavily left-leaning politics when people bother to vote at all; our Lib Dem MP is relatively safe, and I’m perfectly satisfied with that. (The dude is also a great MP – involved with the community, and lives and works here most of the time. He showed up to the communal meal our local mosque had at the end of Ramadan and talked to a bunch of people, supports the local rugby team, and is generally awesome.) So probably no seismic shifts specifically round here.
But I’ll still be casting my vote, being a firm believer in the principle that those who don’t vote don’t get to complain afterwards (the people who refuse to vote for anyone on principle should go and spoil their papers, thus acknowledging that yes, they care, and are abstaining on grounds of morality rather than laziness).
It’s also been drilled into me by my mother since I was very small that not-voting is not only abrogating your right to have a say in the running of the country, itself a stupid thing to do, but also devaluing the sacrifices of the people who died to secure the vote for women, people of colour, young adults and the poor.
The voting is only the start, though: after that comes the magnificent British television ritual that is the election night broadcast. We can’t do it on the same scale as the US presidential elections – having one-fifth the population and a much more sedate approach to politics will do that – but let nobody say we can’t still hand down nailbiting television. Brian Cathcart wrote a book chronicling the ’97 election coverage, Were You Still Up For Portillo?, which manages to capture the electric charge of an important election even 13 years and much disillusionment after the fact. I hope this one will be as gripping.