I am currently on a writing job, so can't spend too much time on this. But the elections deserve at least a word or two on the Tomb.
First of all, let us all rejoice in another Liberal Democide, a Liberal Defenestration, a Liberal Decomposition, a Liberal Debacle, a Liberal Demolition Derby, a Liberal Demise. Let's hug ourselves with pleasure at Liberals Demolished, and Liberals Disemboweled. There is no more civilized spectator sport than rubber-necking at a Liberal Democrash. They're Lib Dead, Lib Dumped, and Lib Derelict. They're finished. Brian Paddick got less than 5% in the London mayoral elections, actually losing to Jenny Jones of the Greens, only just beating the ex-civil servant 'non-party-political' Siobhan Benita (to whom we will return). Nationwide, they were mauled by Labour. Their share of the vote remained in the region of 15%, meaning that they haven't recovered from their nadir last year. They lost over three hundred councillors. They held onto six councils, all in relatively wealthy areas of Cheltenham, Hertfordshire, the Lake District, Hampshire, and Portsmouth. Their long march into Labour heartlands has been reversed, and their retreat has left orange carcasses everywhere. It is not so much that the centre is collapsing, though there is an element of that. It is that the Liberals can no longer occupy any space to the left of the centre.
The wolf-eyed replicant
seems unperturbed. Watching him on the news yesterday, I suddenly saw that he had the look of a man who did not give an immense fuck. He said the words 'sad' and 'sorry', and pouted in what might be a cyborg's imitation of human affect. But it was as frigid as a penguin's fart. One imagines him, faced with a demoralised membership and backbench, scowling at them all to grow up and live in the real world. This is what it costs to be in office, to make difficult decisions. There are parties and party leaders across Europe who are willingly immolating themselves in order to implement austerity measures and appease the gods of finance. For Nick Clegg, to be down to 16% in local elections is no great pain. He expects growth to resume at some point before 2015, and Osborne to introduce an inflationary, give-away budget just before the general election. And perhaps there will be some landmark liberal reform just in time for the vote: the abolition of badger confinement, or the introduction of large print safety tags on electric blankets.
Second, and much better, the Tories finally got some of what they are due. Their share of the vote is back down to 31%, they lost the GLA, and they lost over four hundred council seats. Their notoriously ill-disciplined backbenchers are already decrying Cameronite triangulation for having failed to motivate grassroots conservatives with the classic poujadist pabulum: prison for strikers, deportation of you-know-who, and the restoration of the cat o' nine tails. How about that? And the reactionaries are not stupid. They may slightly over-estimate the challenge from UKIP, for now, but they understand the need for a more populist conservatism. One Tory MP complained yesterday that the government had wasted the last budget cutting taxes for the rich when they could have cut fuel duty. The latter would have been a conventionally right-wing policy, while also handing a material incentive to the base. Because the major reason the Tories lost was not due to a Labour surge, but to the complete demoralisation of the right-wing vote. Turnout was the lowest for over a decade. Labour under Ed Miliband certainly can't be credited with galvanising people on the basis of anything so tangible as an agenda. It was almost wholly an anti-government vote.
Third - oh, and this is delicious - the rout of the fascists. As things stand, the BNP seem to have lost every seat they contested, and their mayoral candidate received less than 2% in London. The sad old geezer with the orange Sainsbury's bag who returned twice to deliver BNP newsletters in our area won't live to the see the Fourth Reich after all. Their electoral meltdown, after a decade of constantly expanding their base, seemed to have come very suddenly after their peak in 2009. It must be said, because few will admit it, that it didn't actually happen that way; there was a great deal of hard work by anti-fascists going on below the media radar to split the fascists from their right-wing, racist electoral base, thus preventing these racists from empowering a bunch of Nazis. Such campaigns made all the difference in Barking and Stoke, which were the key electoral battlegrounds in 2010, where the BNP's slide began. Simultaneously, there were ongoing fights to prevent the 'mainstreaming' of Griffin and the BNP, by fighting for a 'no platform' position within unions, student bodies and so on. And of course, the physical obstruction of the far right organised under the canopy of the EDL, whose aim has been to incite the sort of riots and racial polarisation that gave the BNP their first open door in Burnley, Bradford and elsewhere. (How different those cities look and feel today). The EDL's decisive setback, I still maintain, was in Tower Hamlets. Since then, they have been losing momentum and numbers. There is still a mass base for right-wing, racist and authoritarian politics. It just won't find expression in an empowered fascist bloc for now.
Finally, and this is no good at all, Boris Johnson returns to City Hall. His friendships with Alexander Lebedev and Sarah Sands - respectively, proprietor and editor of the Evening Standard - undoubtedly helped. The Standard ran a scare campaign to mobilise the anti-Ken Livingstone vote, claiming that reams of illegitimate votes were being racked up for Ken in Muslim areas. But this would have had less traction were it not for the Labour Right. These people embarked on a sabotage campaign in print and on television, their hatred for him vastly disproportionate to their real political differences with him. Some openly said they supported Boris Johnson and would vote for him. Others muttered darkly that it was far from ideal that Ken was the candidate. 'Hold your nose' and vote for him was Tom Watson's advice. Some of this reflected resentment over the way Livingstone had himself defied the party bosses and the right-wing managerial establishment in the East End to back Lutfur Rahman. More generally, it reflected discontent with Ken's anti-racist, centre-left politics, the way that he would occasionally shoot from the hip and embarrass the functionaries of our increasingly managed democracy. And it has been suggested, and I can't help concurring, that there's a certain amount of resentment in the charisma-free political class over his ability to communicate with the plebs.
I don't completely disagree with those who say that Ken Livingstone helped sabotaged himself.
It's true that he could have motivated more people to turn out and vote
for him, that his campaign wasn't hugely ambitious and that he's far too
fond of the Metropolitan Police. It's also true that he said some
stupid things, offered some hostages to fortune, and allowed Andrew
Gilligan to provoke him into a ridiculous miscalculation over his tax affairs. But he would have carried an election on this agenda in 2000 or 2004. His defeat cannot largely be explained by his lack of radicalism alone. The fact is that he got fewer votes than the Labour Party itself,
which was hardly running on a programme of radicalism; meanwhile, Boris
received considerably more votes than the Conservatives. There was an
active anti-Ken vote. This could only have been neutralised to the extent that
Johnson was successfully depicted as an ally and confederate of the
government, which he adamantly refused to be. That is why it was so important that sections of the Labour Right endorsed Johnson, thus colluding in the attempt to represent him as something other than a Tory.
There was also a slight whimper of excitement among some Labourites over
Siobhan Benita, a former civil servant who espoused a vague, seemingly
apolitical liberalism - a drip, you might say, of the first water.
Well, why not? She was a close colleague of Gus O'Donnell, the former
Blairite cabinet secretary, and had accumulated supporters such as Sir
Richard Branson and Michael Portillo. She had high profile
communications experts on her campaign team, who procured some
glittering coverage of the passionate 'Mum for London' with her 'People
Not Politics' schtick. They made her a t-shirt which, appropriating a
recent Stonewall campaign, said "I'm an independent. Get over it."
Inevitably her clothing and appearance came up. Because she's a lady
and, well, that goes with territory does it not? Between lechery on the
one hand, and condescension on the other ("she's awfully pretty,
but..."), it seemed that her professional dress and business-like
demeanour conformed to a certain ego-ideal among the capital's petty
bourgeois ideological producers. She was like Nicola Horlick, supermum,
juggling a career and a family, striking an almost Zen balance on all
sides. As a consequence, Benita polled much better than pre-election
surveys anticipated. But if London's politicos have got that out of their system, I hope it's the last we'll be seeing of that sort of thing. I disapprove of the 'non-political' politician, just as I think we need more of what the bores call 'punch and judy politics', not less.
As for Livingstone, I regret that this was his last election. As the results came in, and his tally crept ever closer to Boris, one almost thought he might do it on second preference votes. To paraphrase P G Wodehouse, the voice of Fate seemed to call him, but it was the wrong number. "Harrow? Is it me you're looking for? No?" No. Goodbye, Ken.
Labels: boris johnson, david cameron, elections, ken livingstone, liberals, london, mayor, nick clegg, tories