Fishy Tales

04 May 2005

conservatives Will Kill Us All

Bugbear of the moment

A political historian (i.e. academic) on Radio 4 this morning was asked how he would vote.
His response was something like:
"Well, my dad was a miner, so I've always voted Labour and will vote New Labour now".

I'll bet there are also loads of people whose family/friends/peers have always voted Tory, so they will do the same. In a way that should be my bag, given that my dad was a self-made businessman who would always vote Tory, and now I'm a middle-class married "professional" who feels overburdened with tax - though more especially a nightmarishly complicated tax system which tends to mean that if you can't afford an accountant you're liable to get shafted. Gordon Brown can go hang as far as I'm concerned.

Then there are loads of people who won't vote at all. They may think they're making a statement about how disaffected they are, which is true to a very limited extent (and appropriate noises will be made by those in power after Polling Day), but actually non-voters are actively promoting the status quo. "No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in" is really saying that you would like less government interference in your life, in which case you should vote for the parties that best provide for that interest, that appear to value individual freedoms most highly. Or, of course, there may just be candidates for a party with opinions like your own who - wonder of wonders - don't toe the party line. You never know.

But I strongly suspect there is a general trend towards conservatism, towards people voting as they always have done. This is after all why there are so many safe Tory/Labour seats and so few marginal seats. Something greatly assisted by the odd bit of boundary redefinition, of course.

It's all about people acting according to preconceptions, people who feel they already know what all the parties and candidates are like, or who feel they already know what the result of the election is going to be.

If I were feeling generous, I could see this conservative tendency as the enduring faithfulness of a mother, child or dog - a touching unconditional devotion. But I'm not feeling generous. Instead I see it as at best laziness or submission to peer pressure; at worst a wilful ignorance, where we are driven by preconceived ideas and near-bigotry rather than taking a good look at how things actually are and making our own minds up on that basis.

But - and it's a big but - I'm betraying a bigotry of my own here, in tarring many of those who yet have to speak through the ballot box with the same brush. I, too, was inspired by that sense of the nation speaking loud and clear and with hope in its heart when New Labour first got into power. Maybe something similar could just happen again, though with a different party standing for our aspirations.

I hope so.


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