Sunday, May 09, 2010


Being 'conservative' used to be all about stopping other people having fun. Nowadays there's something of a continuum, with plenty of self-professed conservatives espousing a philosophy that's more about having as much fun as one can oneself — within the limitations of natural ability and privilege — even if that also leads to an increase in misery elsewhere, albeit more indirectly. (So when Don Marco recently quipped that he had been considered "too conservative" for the likes of those Navarrense nutters Opus Dei, we need not suspect him of being some sort of modern-day Savonarola.)

In British politics it's the current PM Gordon Brown who has the most solid killjoy credentials. So for a long time all David Cameron really had to do was to not be Gordon Brown, and a large chunk of the British people would vote for him with some sense of relief. But this week we also saw that a newly re-engaged electorate is still largely unsure where Cameron's crop of Conservatives stand on this all-important axis of fun.

Before the economic crisis and Labour's bankrupting of the country, Cameron had quite effectively repositioned the Tory form of conservatism towards environmental concerns: a slightly more clued-up variant of the hedge-hugging royal conservatism most closely associated with Prince Charles, which in middle-England form is perhaps the one type of self-restraint (i.e. feel-bad) which comes with a feel-good emotional pay-off.

Voters are now seeing however, that when all else fails, the thing the Conservatives most want to conserve is the political status quo, and in this situation that means the electoral system which will only present those pesky Lib-Dems with an opportunity such as they now possess, roughly once every generation or so.

This will have been the sixth General Election I would have been eligible to vote in and has in fact been the second in succession in which I failed to do so. In the other four I've voted for the Tories twice and once apiece for Labour and the far as I can remember.

The voting system that has become so moot this month in the UK encourages tactical democracy. So if I had been in the UK and willing to take part this time, my voting intentions would surely have been influenced by the constituency I was registered to vote in.

I grew up in Chelsea, a safe seat for the Tories and then moved out east to Tower Hamlets, equally un-loseable for Labour. If we still had our home out there in the Docklands, I'd probably have voted for the Lib-Dems...knowing that this was a decision which would ultimately have no impact whatsoever on the make-up of Parliament.

But if I'd registered in Newbury, the constituency within which sits my current UK registered address, I'd have plugged for the sitting Conservative MP Richard Benyon, who barely scraped past the Lib-Dems last time. His family have been wielding power in the area since before the franchise was extended to people living in small houses, but he's proved an excellent local representative and indeed increased his majority considerably last week.

Rather late in the day V has come round to seeing the appeal of Nick Clegg. He might not be left-handed like Cameron, but he's seizing his moment now with great self-assurance, she informs me. (But he went to Westminster the voices say....)

The Tories have got to be hoping that they can string him along for a while before shaking him off their leg after yet another election, possibly as early as the Autumn.

As for Brown, he's done a lot better than most of us suspected he would. Frankly we thought the sniffer dogs would still be out hunting for him after a landslide swing against New Labour. But it didn't happen that way, and now his party (should the Conservatives and Lib-Dems cosy up) has an interesting opportunity to regenerate itself in opposition before the next polling day, for which we are unlikely to have to wait another four years.

This means that Gordon Brown will be able to leave the UK's highest office in much the same way that he was appointed to it, in a process almost wholly disconnected from the ballot box, more akin to the way that large companies handle the discreet exit of their less successful CEOs.

It will be interesting to see what happens if and when Cameron and Clegg get their hands on the books and can report back to us on just how upfront Brown has been about the parlous state of public finances in Britain.

No comments: