An open letter to Jess Asato and Adrian Holmes,
A few weeks ago I signed an online letter about protecting the NHS from privatization through a website which helpfully forwarded the letter to all the parliamentary candidates standing in my area, Norwich North. The one candidate who bothered to reply to me was you, Adrian, even though it was at the time when your party, Jess - the party which founded the NHS - was supposedly making it the forefront of its election campaigning. Well, horses for courses, and you are no doubt busy with all those doorstep conversations, Jess, but forgive me if I see that as yet another nail in the coffin of my confidence in the Labour party’s fitness to govern this country for the benefit of its inhabitants.
All the same - and I can’t fully express the rage and grief with which I write this – I’m strongly tempted to vote for Jess on Thursday. It is absolutely no reflection on you, Adrian: I’ve known about and admired your work in Norwich for years, especially your campaigns for Train Wood and against unnecessary road expansion.
Nor is it a rejection of your party. I support the Green Party because it stands for all the things I want my government and my country to stand for: a just society with opportunities for all to live better; a serious programme of investment in skilled jobs working to improve the world rather than to profit from its decline; a proper understanding of the urgency of climate change; a genuine commitment to disarmament, starting with canceling Trident; a desire to return railways to public ownership for public benefit; a commitment to keep private profit out of the NHS and to put more resources in. Also, the Green Party appears to be genuinely democratic in its working, with every member entitled to submit and vote on policies for the manifesto. I do not expect to see Green MPs dragged by the party whips into the lobbies to vote against their convictions. I do not expect Green MPs to vote in favour of wars of choice. I do expect Green MPs to regulate big businesses rather than be bought by them. How I wish I could say the same about the Labour Party.
But we live under a stupid and wasteful electoral system. Where I live, Norwich North, Labour lost the seat - virtually gave it away, in order to punish the sitting MP for rebelling against the Iraq War and NHS privatization – in 2009 to Chloe Smith, the Deloitte appointee to the Conservative Party’s PR department who was so spectacularly useless at the Treasury that her interview with Jeremy Paxman has become a byword for car-crash television. All the same, polling data suggests that the seat is the 7th or 8th most marginal between Tory and Labour.
And there’s my dilemma. If we wake up on Friday morning to find that Chloe Smith has got a single vote more than Jess, she will continue to sit in Parliament, supposedly representing the people of this constituency even though most of us will have voted for someone else. This time there is a real possibility that no party will get an overall majority in the House of Commons, so this one seat could make the difference of who gets to head the government (worst case scenario, and say goodbye to equality under the law, Tory-UKIP-DUP. Best case, Labour-Green-SNP – but Milliband claims he won’t hear of a deal with the SNP. Possibly because the LibDems have been busy signaling that they might be open to offers from Labour).
Such arrangements will require maturity and compromise from our political class, which I’m not convinced they have. Also, the arrangements are likely to be unstable. I suspect there will be another election within a couple of years, however I vote this time. But I am 55 years old and a cancer patient. I have seen enough of the damage that Tory governments have done within my lifetime, and I fear more of the same. But I also fear the damage Labour may do, with its Tory-lite policies, acceptance of the failed and discredited policies of austerity, refusal to stand against TTIP and to decommission Trident, and blithe ignoring of the environmental consequences of our present way of life. Although Ed Miliband has done some half-decent things in opposition - refusing to support another open-ended war, against Syria this time, stands out - I detest the thought that voting for Labour on Thursday will be seen as endorsing the cowardly and misguided policies which make up much of the manifesto.
So I want you to know, Jess, that if I did vote for you it will be entirely in the spirit of the Alternative Vote, which your party campaigned to deny to us voters. Your party would currently be my third or fourth choice, after the Green Party, after the NHA Party, perhaps after the SNP if I could vote for them. Nothing against you personally: you are young enough to be untainted by the Blair years, you have run a decent campaign and you seem like a pretty nice person. If you do get into parliament I hope you will set an example of integrity and courage and work to push your party in a better direction. In which case, best of luck.
But this is not good enough. Why do we tolerate a system which erases our political wishes? Why do we allow the nose-holding, least-worst, grudging vote to be indistinguishable from that of the true believer. Especially, such votes are indistinguishable to those who get elected, who can preen themselves on a majority even if most of it was in fact delivered through gritted teeth, which means tactical voting is invisible to the elected. It also depends on a million things out of the voter’s control: I have no idea, for instance, how many people in my constituency are feeling exactly the same as me at this moment, and making the same bitter calculations.
If I had happened to move to the other side of the city instead of where I live now, I would have a real chance of being represented by a Green MP, Lesley Grahame, who actually does stand for what I believe in, (I’ve met her several times, too, and have the greatest respect and admiration for her: I hope she wins). Accidents of geography are already much too significant in our unequal life chances, with postcode lotteries affecting education, health and wealth. Why do we allow this to also be true in our politics? And, as long as the major parties remain major, there is no incentive for them to change it.
So what to do, in the actually existing Britain of our time? Which vote will make real change – long term change – for the better more likely?
Thinking forward to Friday morning when the count is in, I dread the overall result for the next few years of this country. But I can’t control that, only my own part in it. I would like, at this late stage, to feel proud of my vote, to feel that it did actually stand for something better than the desperate norm we have grown used to.
So, I know which vote will make me feel better about my choices and about the country I live in. I know which policies I want to become mainstream and which ones I want to see marginalized. I know which vote will move the country in a better direction, even if the candidate I vote for does not win this time. It’s a long game. So, Jess, I’m sorry, but the Labour Party isn’t ready yet for my vote. The Green Party is.