In which I go to a party and consider a political tsunami

Two weeks ago I confidently announced the Friday was blogday from now on. And then last week I failed to post anything, so I think we can all agree that that idea’s going well. I have an excuse though, which given my mother’s reluctance to write me a note excluding me from blogging duties*, I shall explain myself.

I was at a party.

Ok, so it’s not a great excuse. It’s pretty much on a par with taking a  day off school to go to the Radio 1 roadshow, a common practice at my school, but another one I could never get my own parents on side with. Anyway, last week was the RNA‘s Summer Party which includes the presentation of the Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. As an award contender, I squeezed myself into my spanx, did my hair, applied actual make-up and made my merry way to London town. There were seventeen of us up for the award, which mathematically equated to a 5.88% chance of winning, and the winner was… drum roll please… not me. Ah well, never mind. It’s fantastic just to be a contender etc. etc. Cue much use of my excellent ‘magnanimous loser face,’ and many many congratulations to the very lovely and clever Jo Thomas who actually did win. Hurrah for her!

2014 Joan Hessayon contenders
2014 Joan Hessayon Award contenders

Whilst I was glamming it up in London Town being all writerly and control-panted, there were European and local elections going on across the country. The results of those elections caused a political earthquake, or tsunami, or storm (depending on the natural force metaphor selected by your news provider of choice), which is a media way of trying to make the story that UKIP did quite well and the Lib Dems did quite badly sound significantly more exciting than it actually is.

If you look at the actual numbers – I know boring, but potentially actually informative – you end up feeling that rather than looking at a tsunami you’re looking at a moderately sized wave, and nobody ever uttered the phrase, ‘Look! A moderately sized wave – run for the hills!’

There are a few reasons for thinking that politicians from the main parties should dial down the panic levels in relation to the UKIP surge (and be warned – there are very few jokes in this bit, but there are a number of moderately interesting statistics). Firstly, turnout in the European elections is always low. This year, in the UK, it was around 34%. As a comparison the turnout in the 2010 general election was just over 65%, so there’s an awful lot of potential voters who simply didn’t participate in this election. Within the 34% who voted, UKIP secured around 27.5% of the vote – that’s less than a third of the vote from a third of the electorate, and it’s always wise to be a little bit cautious about electoral figures based on relatively low turnouts.

Secondly, it’s very difficult to assess how much of the UKIP vote is either likely to translate into UKIP votes at a general election, or is suggestive of strong anti-EU feeling. Mid-term European elections are traditionally a repository for protest votes and dissatisfaction with the government of the day. A YouGov poll looking at general election voting intentions yesterday put Labour’s lead over the Tories at 7% (38 to 31) with UKIP down on 16% – significantly different from the European election results just a week ago. And we can add to that the fact that pre-election polls suggested a disjoint between voters choosing UKIP in the European elections, and voters who actually want to leave the EU. A YouGov poll just before election day suggested that 42% of voters who planned to vote UKIP, would actually vote to stay in the EU in a referendum on the subject.

All in all, that suggests that what we’re dealing with here is a significant protest vote, and the main parties have to decide how they deal with that. The answer to that question all depends on what they think people are protesting against. Is the appeal of UKIP that they’re anti-EU and anti-immigration? Or is it that people feel Nigel Farage is an ‘ordinary bloke’ rather than a media-trained slick politician? Some of those polling figures, combined with the fact that scandalette after scandalette during the campaign failed to dent UKIP support suggests to me that it’s probably more the latter than the former.

So here’s a crazy idea for the other political parties – less spin, less focus-groups, less trying to guess what the electorate might want and pretending to care, less trying to make Ed Milliband look like a ‘regular guy’ when he’s clearly the natural born leader of the political uber-nerds, and more saying what you really think and letting the electorate decide. The European election results suggest to me an electorate grown weary of politicians, tired of the disingenuous streak that runs through political debate, and which isn’t often challenged effectively by the Westminster bubble political press. So stop wittering on about which party leader has the best idea of the cost of a pint of milk, and try actually thinking something’s a good idea and then doing it. It really doesn’t seem that complicated. *Sighs wearily in the direction of Westminster*

So there you go – a writerly awards party and a little bit of electoral statistics. A lovely start to the day.

Comment your little hearts out and come back tomorrow when there will be a bonus blog post following on from Laura E James in the Main Character Blog Hop.


* At least I assume she’d be reluctant. I haven’t actually asked. That would seem like I was taking the whole endeavour far too seriously.

In which I think about Europe

So, apparently these UKIP fellows did bally well in the recent local elections. It appears that the Great British public like the beer drinking, fag smoking, only very occasionally photographed doing a Nazi salute, “man of the people” vibe that UKIP candidates portray. Their surge in popularity has sent the Conservatives into their traditional flatspin over all issues that might vaguely relate to Europe, and forced the government’s hand over the question of an EU referendum.

Now, I’m not generally in favour of referenda (as I explained all the way back here). It’s a wariness linked to my general slight unease with the whole democracy thing. It’s all very well letting the people decide, but I’ve met people and some of them are not that bright.

It seems to be quite widely accepted that, given the choice, the British would probably vote against further EU integration and may even vote to leave the EU altogether. There’s some interesting poll stats from last November here. Attitudes to European integration are fascinating, and seem to go right to the roots of how we, as individuals, view our place in society and the wider world. It’s not at all weird or unusual for an English person to be opposed to Irish republicanism, opposed to Scottish independence, and also opposed to the European Union, when, in a sense, those are all questions of where we draw lines on maps, of who we consider part of the “us” rather than the “them.”

And that’s why, purely based on gut instinct, I’m massively in favour of the EU, massively in favour of us learning to see ourselves as European, as well as British. I think it’s a positive thing when we make our mental “us” as big and inclusive as possible. I think drawing lines between people, whether those lines are based on religion, race, gender, sexuality or geography, is just not a particularly nice thing to do.

It’s probably not a terribly practical thing to do either. Big business is now international. Organised crime is international too. Whatever the rhetoric, small national governments are struggling to get multinationals, like Google, Amazon etc. to pay national taxes and work within the letter of national regulation. Government/regulation on a continental scale might have a fighting chance.

So, yay Europe so far as I’m concerned, although it’s not a point of view you’re likely to hear vigorously expounded by too many politicians at the moment, which is a shame. It’s symptomatic of the wider problem of how modern politicians are led by polls and focus groups, rather than being prepared to try to influence and persuade based on their own beliefs. Ho-hum.

I think I mentioned, a few weeks ago, that I was maybe going to hold off the more political blogging in future. I’d say that was going well, wouldn’t you?