Friday, April 23, 2010

This is what you want, this is what you get

Another brilliant Johann Hari column, on the British election this time and the paradigm blasting game changer that was the Lib Dem rise this week.
But something stranger still is happening in The Election That Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Every day in this country, two big forces artificially drag the British government way to the right of the British people, making it enact policies that benefit a small, rich elite at the expense of the rest. We are not supposed to notice this, never mind try to change it. Yet suddenly, in this election, those forces have been exposed.

To understand what these forces are, you have to start with a fact that is usually kept obscure: Britain is a country with a large liberal-left majority. Eighty-five per cent of us say the gap between rich and poor should be "much smaller", and a majority would get there by introducing a maximum wage that caps the incomes of the rich at £135,000 a year. Fifty-eight per cent support a dramatic incr in the minimum wage. Fifty-eight per cent want to ditch Trident - an act of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Seventy-seven per cent want to bring the troops home from Afghanistan now, or within a year at the latest. Fifty-three per cent say people come out of prison worse than they go in, and would rather spend money on more youth clubs than on more prison places.

Across most policies, our views are to the left of all three parties. (These statistics are all from Mori, Ipsos or YouGov polls.) And Brits hold these views even though they are constantly told by the media that they are marginal, impossible, or mad.

Ah, you may say, but that's just what people tell pollsters. They vote for the polar opposite: look at Thatcher's victories. But look again. At every election where Margaret Thatcher stood, 56 per cent of the British people voted against her, for parties committed to higher taxes, higher public spending, and lower inequality. The media declared this to be a "landslide" endorsement of her programme of deregulation that continued for decades, and has now crashed the global economy.
If this seems familiar it should, except in Canada the problem is even more pronounced; six out of ten of us consistently vote center-left to socialist, but between first past the post and the long rightward drift of the Liberal Party, the real priorities and views of Canadians have been treated with utter contempt by our elected representatives for decades.

In a parliamentary system like Britain or our own, a game changing political earthquake that sweeps an outsider to power can actually be followed by real and fundamental reform. Our system has less of the built in institutional impediments to change that the American one does, get enough seats to govern, alone or with the support or just the acquiescence of other parties and you can change the country fundamentally in just a few years.

Stephen Harper has proven that, the one useful lesson he has for Progressives if we are willing to learn it.

I'm hoping for a Labour/Lib Dem coalition in Britain, not least because it would utterly demolish a lot of the mythology and misinformation around Canada's last flirtation with coalition government and create a precedent for cautious Canadian voters to consider before the next one.

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