Saturday, 23 May 2015

A fairer economy, a stronger society and a challenge to radicals

The mood of blank despair that followed the General Election is now showing signs of mutating into a narrative of expedient gradualism - the "one more heave" theory of political organisation familiar to those of us who remember the 1980s and 1990s.  Labour's leadership election seems to be focusing on internal tribalism, with the gorging, self-deluding Blairites feasting on the carrion of Miliband's flawed strategy of purely focusing on the dispossessed and vulnerable, while simultaneously cosying up to the establishment as a statesman-lite, a key factor in Labour's downfall and retreat to its redoubts.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats have been forced into a situation where the only choices are to adapt or die.  I shall refrain from passing comment at this stage on the Carmichael stooshie, merely to observe that this is a symptom rather than a cause of party that was playing club cricket against the Australians.  However, in some ways the Liberal narrative is much more adaptable to the changed political climate than a monolithic assertion of hegemonic right, which both Labour and the SNP are in danger of deluding themselves with.

As a liberal, with both an upper- and a lower-case, the conduct of much of the Coalition appalled me from both a tactical and presentational perspective.  I suspect, however, that the reflexive Labour tribalists who spent five years excoriating the Liberal Democrats will be finding, if they are capable, cause for reflection as the Tories rule untrammelled by any restraint, although the fissiparous nature of the contemporary Conservatives is already becoming apparent.  Clegg had a difficult task in convincing even his own party that the moderating achievements existed, and the compromises over health and democratic reform were totally unacceptable.  Politicians make mistakes - the biggest is pretending to be some sort of perfect being for whom apology and learning are alien concept.

What is more dismaying is the continued fighting of the battle on grounds defined by the Tory party and its cheerleaders.  Although the economy is the centrepiece of the electoral debate, it is not the only one, and if it is not framed in a view of what the function of civil society and its institutions should be, then the reductionist narrative is always going to favour a party which puts bank balances at the centre of discourse.  Competence in managing the economy, or at least a plausible simulacrum, becomes the lodestone and other issues are crowded out.

Discarding the Liberal Democrats' fatuous last week, mainlining Mary Whitehouse through "decency" and the risible "head/heart" triangulation, which would have scared anyone who thought that the Coalition had been a good or bad thing back into the tribal redoubts (and therefore was a factor in losing the party even more seats, the entire messaging needs an overhaul.  To see placards bearing the slogan "Stronger Economy, Fairer Society" may have been an appropriate message in 2010 from a tactical perspective, but it completely undersold the message of what radical politics should be around in an age when economists are largely discredited.

Without suggesting that the slogan should merely be re-formulated, there is a good case to argue for a focus on "Stronger Society, Fairer Economy".   A stronger economy does not in itself guarantee a better society - the grotesqueries of the massive increase in income inequality promoted since 1979 and accelerated after 1997 do not translate into overall social cohesion or diversity.  If the proceeds of growth are being increasingly captured by a small group at the top of the income distribution, adding to the concentration of property ownership, and the extraction of economic rent from those below them as a transfer payment, then this is not creating either a stronger or a fairer community.  The economy is the means to the end, not the sole objective of political activity.

Countering this with a set of values, and a programme flowing from them, that puts the individual citizen at the centre of a political programme is a challenge for the left.  The concepts of trickledown and noblesse oblige need not merely to be spelt out but challenged - the narrative of a genuinely progressive taxation system that does not allow evasion and avoidance, but which means that all who have benefited are contributing fairly to the wider good, is missing.  The idea that all people have an equal right to be heard, to be represented and to participate in decisions that affect their lives has been perverted into a consumerist parody that suggests that pure buying power is the determinant of all social and political worth.

The explanation that the Tory "triumph" was won on the back of fear is plausible, but it is not just the short-term anti-Scottish racism and phobia of Ed Miliband that is the fear we need to understand.  The consequences of encouraging citizens to take and use power are anathema to both conventional left and right, as they might not take the "right" approach.  This may be in aggregate a problem if decision-making is consistently counterintuitive, but it is no argument against radical transfer of power back to the citizen and their communities,  providing, of course, that there is a rule of law and protection of individual rights - civic, human and property.  Trusting and encouraging people to define politics as something that they have a stake in requires many preconditions, including a structure of electoral democracy and institutions that prevents both oppression and dictatorship.

It will not be easy to construct a policy programme that meets all these needs, and there will have to be expediency and compromise to win electoral battles under the current system.  Until we see leaders of radical parties articulating a new approach and a new set of values, consistently and engagingly, then the die is loaded against anything other than a maintenance of the fretful status quo.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Halting the backward march of Labour - too much to ask?

Of the comforting narratives that we consoled ourselves with in the run-up to the 2015 election there was the concept of "peak Tory".  The suggestion that the demographics and attitudes of the Conservative support base would inevitably scupper their future capability of delivering sufficient votes for a majority in a skewed and broken system was a security blanket - based around an analysis that the ageing and Southern-focused nature of contemporary Toryism would not propel them over the line.  Instead, an effective campaign, allied to ineptitude on a grand scale elsewhere, managed to deliver the most skewed result in a decade, since Blair's third "triumph" in 2005.

Given the nature of Britain's electoral landscape, the prospect of a change in 2020 will only emerge with some coherence from the Labour Party.  As with the Tories it appears to be in long-term decline, but unlike the Tory message of self-centredness and fear, there was nothing in Labour's programme that appeared to be a sufficient rallying-cry to expand beyond a declining tribal base.  About the only positive aspect of Labour's appeal was not being part of the Bullingdon, hedge-fund arrogantocracy - it was a sufficiently marginal preference for many between Miliband and Cameron as Prime Minister, even within the progressive milieu of politics.

Labour's leadership election will be revelatory as to whether any lessons have been learned.  Some of the policies espoused during the campaign, and derided as "left-wing", were entirely sensible and just - for example the reform of the taxation of large properties, the abolition of legalised tax avoidance through non-domiciled status, the faltering first steps towards a housing policy not skewed towards the buy-to-let vampires and a coherent position on membership of the European Union.  However this came too late to escape from the corner that their strategists had allowed them to be walled up in. Fighting on Tory ground, portrayed as lunatic for even daring to challenge the status quo, the party did not prove to be sufficiently resilient or resourceful to recognise a changing political landscape and respond accordingly.

The reappearance of the Blairites immediately after the election was unedifying.  The sight of Mandelson's barely-concealed glee, added to the fratricidal maunderings of David Miliband, demonstrated how far Labour needs to travel.  With the currently-declared candidates for leader all espousing a form of gradualism that requires the Tories to implode rather than encouraging electors to change their minds, this is depressing.  At least the Liberal Democrat walloping has produced a cataclysm that makes reorientation and contemplation of a more radical future acceptable.

Politics does not have to be dressed up in management jargon.  Indeed it cheapens and diminishes debate to refer to the "aspirational", the "hard-working" or any of the other tropes used as shorthand for ideological laxity.  What is needed is for a root-and-branch consideration of the role of the political system and its actors, recognising that the model that sustained two-party competition for two centuries has not merely stretched but been permanently broken.  The left does not seem to recognise this or respond, whereas the Tories have been clever enough to react and do enough to survive.

A deep loathing of the Tories does not create either necessary or sufficient momentum to propel others into power except in exceptional circumstances.  Labour experienced this in 1945 and 1997, and the Liberals in 1906.  Seismic elections don't happen that often.  In a system skewed against subtle and representative shifts in popular opinion, the Tories do well through hegemony and a squabbling, tribal opposition.  As a non-member, what I want Labour to be able to articulate is tolerance for diversity and to avoid its sense of entitlement to be the next government from coming to the fore against a programme that is genuinely inclusive and populist.

Whoever is the next leader has to grasp several thorny issues and propel them to the fore.  The first is the democratic deficit, and accepting that pluralism of opinion and allegiance is not a problem but an opportunity.  Working with other parties and groups should be natural and fluid - especially given Labour's annihilation in Scotland and other former fiefdoms.  National parties, Greens, Liberal Democrats and others have a great deal to contribute to a reforming and modernising agenda that is not high on the gimmicks of Osborne's Northern devolution but systemic in empowering the citizen.

Secondly, housing.  Attlee's government achieved great success on the terms it set out.  After the Second World War the housing shortage was acute, and there had been insufficient progress even beforehand in terms of addressing the quality and acceptability of housing.  We do not face destruction from the air at the moment, but a perfect storm of under-supply and a rentier class propped up on intergenerational wealth transfers and the largesse of the state in supplying housing benefit income.  Taking steps to increase supply through social housing and controls on buy-to-let, through a combination of taxation and legislation, is important for all parties, and if Labour are timorous then the terms of the debate can only become even more bizarre.

Thirdly there is the small matter of regional and national economic and social disparities.  Commentators point out that a substantial surge in UKIP support has come from groups that Labour previously relied upon as a bedrock.  Some, the xenophobes and the lunatics, will never be weaned off their simplistic panacea, but any programme that recognises that the South-East of England is not the only region that can generate wealth, prosperity and a decent quality of life (although the latter remains open to question) would make common ground with the national parties in Scotland, Wales and the increasingly coherent and united regional lobbies.

Fourthly, there is the promotion of social cohesion.  This has been demonised by the right as a form of radical desire to expropriate ex-patriates, but the recognition that even the most successful individuals rely on not merely the paid labour but the acquiescence and participation of others would be a useful first step.  It provides a moral justification for reasonable levels of taxation and a measure of progressive redistribution.  Promoting the concept that citizenship gives rights but a measure of obligation is not difficult, and not incompatible with meeting individual desires for betterment, cannot be that difficult - it does not mean pandering to groups of swing voters but articulating views of what a decent society will look like and how it can be achieved.

Labour is currently ideologically rootless.  As the vehicle that has the greatest potential to deliver change, the debate over the next few months will be crucial.  Unless it accepts that the terms of debate and the electoral landscape have shifted, then the 2020 election will not only be a repeat of 1987, but beyond that the fragmentation and incoherence of the alternative narrative is at risk of bequeathing an unhealthy one-party hegemony.  Labour does not hold all, or even many, of the answers at the moment, but it needs to move beyond its current internalised comfort and ask the question not merely why it lost the 2015 election but has lost the confidence of potential supporters and allies.  Difficult times but a test of whether there is a mature response to a partially-unnecessary defeat.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Is a Kipper really only worth 0.9% of a Tory?

As the General Election recedes and the new landscape reveals itself, the idiocy of the electoral system needs to remain at the fore of politics and as an articulated grievance not just of the media and political classes but as a clear argument on the legitimacy of government.

One of the key defences of the current system, which merely requires an MP to secure one more vote than the second-placed candidate, irrespective of the share he or she achieves of the total poll, is that the voter is not electing a party but a representative.  This is, legalistically, true, although in recent decades the inclusion of party logos on ballot papers undermines this yet further.

First past the post (FPTP) produces massive, and inconsistent, distortions of the worth of an individual's vote.  In the most recent election, nearly 31 million valid votes were cast, requiring an average of 47,633 across 650 seats.  Recognising that there won't be equality in either the number of voters or turnout across seats, this is a crude measure of the worth of individual votes.

Examining total party support, across all constituencies, reveals the following number of votes required to elect an MP:

Democratic Unionist - 23,033
Scottish Nationalist - 25,972
Conservative - 34,140
Labour - 40,277
Sinn Fein - 44,058
Ulster Unionist - 57,468
Plaid Cymru - 60,655
Liberal Democrat - 301,986
Green - 1,157, 613
UKIP - 3,888,129

There will inevitably be volatility in party support between elections, and no system will ever produce an equality of outcome, but this is an egregious demonstration of the failings of the current system.  Taking this into account, I am compiling a Tory Equivalent Vote going back to 1951 for each party, to demonstrate quite how arbitrary the system has become.  As an example, in 2001 a Labour vote was 192% as effective as a Tory vote in securing MPs.  However, it is only in 2015 that Green and UKIP votes were respectively only 3% and 0.9% on the TEV scale.

As an aside, the weakness of the TEV is that it does not count votes for parties who did not secure a single MP, but as they are by definition ineffective in terms of representation this is less than important.

The TEV for 2015 is therefore as follows (2010 in brackets):

Democratic Unionist - 148% (166%)
Scottish Nationalist - 131% (42%)
Conservative - 100% (100%)
Labour - 85% (105%)
Sinn Fein - 77% (101%)
Ulster Unionist - 59% (NA)
Plaid Cymru - 56% (62%)
Liberal Democrat - 11% (29%)
Green - 3% (13%)
UKIP - 0.9% (NA)

Any system that can produce such distortion and volatility is not legitimate, nor is it effective in articulating people's preferences.  As a travesty of democracy, and as a contributor to the demise of trust in the ability of the political process to articulate and channel legitimate debate, this is stark.  It should not be a matter of partisanship but justice.  The Tories and their allies have been the most consistent beneficiaries - there needs to be a hard process of mobilisation that acknowledges change is required and more quickly than conventional party politics can offer.  A real test for Labour will be whether it recognises that this is not 1983 all over again, but a completely changed landscape.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Liberal legacy: a definition of the politics of hope

In the light of the recent reversals of political fortune, consolation comes in the form of the philosophical underpinnings of public life, or alcohol.  Having exhausted the latter, I was idly trawling the net for inspiration - and unearthed the principles that inspired me to join the Liberal Party thirty years ago.  I am indebted to the following link for reminding me as to why they stand the test of time:

For a document that is thirty-five years old, it sets out very rigorously what politics should be about, with a heady dash of utopianism in the internationalism that was courageous in the context of the Cold War and which should, despite the xenophobia and narrow-mindedness that we appear to be returning to, inform the dialogue of current politicians and opinion-formers.  In claiming to lead, we should expect government to demonstrate not merely responsiveness to the nebulosity of "public opinion" but also to the moral and positional superiority that they claim.

It would be naive to expect that there will be any serious attention given to political principles in the inquests that will follow the Liberal and Labour implosions, but without defining what progressive politics is supposed to be about it will be yet another missed opportunity based around electoral calculation rather than creating a force that can root itself in the optimistic camp, rather than leaving the coherence and clarity to a Tory force that defines itself through fear, loathing and a narrow focus on economic and societal conformity.

In some ways, the challenge is going to be greatest for the Labour party in the months to come.  It should have succeeded in advancing in England, but its manifest failure comes as a function of arrogance that there is an axiomatic return to the pendulum of politics - a myth and one which should have been laid to rest in the 1990s and 2000s.  Labour is not a party that currently has any coherence or collective passion, mirroring the Tories in a cynical but ultimately parodic pursuit of power, and unless there is an injection of vision and values, this will condemn them to further marginalisation.

In a post-industrial world, and a world defined as much by communities (local, virtual and wider) and technology, a politics based on using and celebrating this diversity is probably the only way forward for those of us who are still looking for a balanced, sustainable society.  It may not be any of the conventional parties who offer this vision, but as a starting point for community politics, seizing the initiative and the political space for a post-austerity vision, the "left" should not be too proud about remembering that the progressive dilemma is decades-old, and that there have been fewer concise expressions of radicalism and humanity than the old Liberal constitution.

Delete the party references, and there is a basis for, with suitable updating, the formation of a radical politics for the next thirty years:

Preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Party (1980 edition)

1. The Liberal Party exists to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property, and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its chief care is for the rights and opportunities of the individual, and in all spheres it sets freedom first.
2. It looks forward to a world in which all people live together in peace under an effective and democratically constituted World Authority; in which all people enjoy access to the earth’s abundance; in which the various cultures of mankind can develop freely without being warped by nationalist, racial or religious antagonism; and in which the free movement of ideas, of people and of goods is guaranteed to the benefit of all. To these ends it sees this country as committed to supporting and strengthening the United Nations, to working steadfastly for the eventual abolition of national armies and armaments, to co-operating with other countries to build a United Europe, and to making a special effort together with other richer nations towards assisting that part of mankind whose essential freedoms are denied by poverty and hunger. It welcomes the establishment of links with other countries insofar as such groupings advance these Liberal aims.
3. At home its goal is a country in which the powers of the State will be used to establish social justice, to wage war against poverty, to spread wealth and power, to ensure that the country’s resources are wisely and fully developed for the benefit of the whole community, and to create the positive conditions which will make a full and free life possible for all regardless of colour, creed, race or sex; a country in which, under the protection of law, all citizens shall have the right to think freely, to speak freely, to write freely, and to vote freely; power through a just electoral system to shape the laws which they are called upon to obey; autonomous institutions ensuring genuine self-government; an effective voice in deciding conditions in which they live and work; liberty to buy, sell, and produce in circumstances which secure for the consumer real freedom of choice; guarantees against the abuse of monopoly, whether private or public; opportunity to work at a fair wage; decent homes in a varied and attractive environment; good education and facilities for the full cultivation of the human personality; an assurance that the community shall enjoy the full benefits of publicly created land values; and, as a safeguard of independence, the personal ownership of property by all citizens. These are the conditions of liberty, which it is the function of the State to protect and enlarge.
4. The Liberal Party consists of men and women working together for the achievement of these aims.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The cold light of morning and the triumph of fear

The terms of debate of the 2015 General Election were not defined publicly or comprehensively articulated.  This strategy has paid off for the Conservatives, whose evil genius and funding carried all before them.  Snap analysis, in an era of media overload, has the tendency to either oversimplify or miss the point spectacularly, although the sight of Paddy Ashdown eating his hat would not go any way towards mitigating the impact for Liberalism of a flawed strategy and a co-habitation with the Tories that, even at the time of its conception, was clearly designed to squeeze the life out of the Liberal Democrats.  The Faustian pact has claimed many blameless victims.

What is apparent from the results is that the British electoral system has again thrown up an exaggerated outcome.  The Tory surge in England has been impressive, but they cannot really claim a GB-wide mandate on the basis of the results.  The SNP's sweeping triumph in Scotland is again impressive by its scale, and the extent to which a clear proposition after the 2014 independence referendum could finally destroy the weakening bonds of tribalism.  That is probably the most hopeful sign from the night.

The meltdown of Labour and the Liberal Democrats is the real cause for concern.  Taking the Liberal Democrats first, it should be noted that the steady gains of local support built up over the past forty years have been wiped out.  From being a national party in the last twenty years, there remain a few redoubts where personal support (or Tory manipulation in the case of Sheffield) will preserve a vestigial party - but as a coherent electoral force it is difficult to discern any potential for recovery in the near term.

Labour has lost an election that should have been its for the taking.  The question is whether the reflection and blood-letting that will ensue will address why this has been allowed to happen.  The austerity-lite, majoring-on-the-NHS campaign appealed to a core vote, but did not persuade waverers that the alternative vision was either coherent or desirable.  A Blairite package, with its apostle now decapitated, cannot capture the imagination or the anger that the SNP was able to channel, and the apologists will spend their time pretending that it didn't happen.

Looking back at my recent posts, the politics of fear and short-termism have triumphed.  This does not make for a comfortable future - especially as the next stage of the Tory project is to attempt to take Britain out of Europe.  At this stage, it should be clear that the Tories, unlike the Coalition, will not be ruling with a majority mandate, which is both the challenge and the opportunity.

Labour has not convinced, and it desperately needs to articulate a post-Blair agenda.  There are good people there, in the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the genuinely centre-left nationalists and beyond party politics, disillusioned with its shallowness and inadequacy.  The Liberal tradition of radical anti-authority politics needs to be married with an environmental and social challenge that does not shy away from unpopularity.  In the absence of a system that is more representative of diverse popular opinion, the 2020 election could be a re-run, and this is not acceptable.  Pluralism cannot flourish with fear, and tolerance with the kind of disgusting bigotry deployed by the Tory strategists.  It's a one-off flush, and one which may well come back to bite them, but only if there is genuine pluralism and an end to tribalism and triumphalism elsewhere.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Soft-core fantasies and the post-electoral hangover

The dispiriting wait is over, the post-event disappointment is coming around the corner.  An election campaign should be the opportunity for useful illumination of the darkened corners that are ignored for the remainder of the political cycle, and for this to be supported by analysis and challenge that goes beyond speculation over the potential dealings after the event.  Mature democracies, of which the United Kingdom is not one, should be capable of rising beyond the gutter and the inadequacies of the commentators and scrutinisers whose egomania feeds the media self-delusion.

The latter part of the campaign has been spent in xenophobia and diversionary tactics.  An electoral system that has been paraded in its ability to deliver strong outcomes even when the country does not desire them has now clearly broken down.  The Tories have raised the bar high with their denunciation of anyone who does a deal with the SNP - conveniently forgetting that in many of their fiefdoms, when analysed, there is similar exclusion of that majority of the electorate that did not endorse them.  The SNP should ask, on 5th May, whether Tory mandates in Surrey and Hertfordshire are equally reflective of the will of the people, and, if not, whether Tory MPs should have any influence over wider policy.  The logical fallacy of this argument is so pathetic as to be beneath contempt, were it not the knee-jerk response of the parasitic cheer-leaders.

Reducing politics to calculation of how governments are constructed is in the interest of all politicians who have been caught with their vacuity exposed.  The 2010 election ducked the issues around how society and institutions should be reconstructed following the failure of the neoconservative experiment and the clear demonstration that unfettered capitalism, cheered on by Blair, Thatcher and the current Conservative hierarchy, does not result in either stability or cohesion.  We have had five years of pandering to established interest groups, be they current pensioners or the financial services sector, without any attempt to determine and remedy the fundamental issues that beset society.

The corruption of political discourse has meant that virtually all political leaders have been peddling the delusion that there is something for nothing, and that it will always be the "other" groups in society that suffer for it.  Constantly cutting taxes implies that public spending will need to be reduced, even if there is general consensus that there is necessary expenditure - especially given the addiction to prestige defence spending.  Where is the honesty?  Why are people so scared as to admit that the consequences of social, economic and demographic change will require different responses and solutions that are not solely centred on atomised selfishness?

Despite Osborne's sleights of hand, the economy is not performing well.  Manufacturing growth is slowing, and the rebalancing towards productive rather than parasitic activity has not proceeded apace.  The pursuit of asset bubbles in the form of housing, coupled with the manic desire to attract dubious plutocrats to own vast swathes of property and the media, creates a short-term wealth illusion - and many of the political class are too young to remember the early 1990s.  Distracting from this by raising the European bogeyman is the theme that the right is pursuing given that they will be found out over the next two years.

Come Saturday, when the results are in and the commentators, exhausted from their own brilliance, withdrawn, politicians will need to face up to reality.  A broken system will have delivered a confused result more by accident than design.  Any party or group that articulates the need for the citizenry to take and use its power may have the best opportunity for decades to do this - a 21st century progressivism is needed to defeat the retrospective fear and inertia that we appear to be about to continue.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Getting the politicians we don't deserve

In casting one's mind back eighteen years, you reach 1997.  A further eighteen takes you back to 1979.  Both were seismic elections that delivered upsets to a period of hegemony, and that redefined a period of political discourse.  Blair and Thatcher were flawed, dictatorial and hypocritical and have ultimately done favours for neither their reputations nor their parties.  Yet on both occasions there was a palpable feeling of change and a shift in direction.

The current General Election campaign is lurching to its close; the results will be more interesting than the process leading to them.  Looking at the political class, it is feeling resentful that the voters will not be convinced and will not flock to the traditional standards.  This is seen by the party apparatchiks as a failing, not on their part, but by the forelock-tugging masses, who have become in turns apathetic, cynical and hostile.  Comprehension of why politics is a distrusted and disconnected activity seems to be lacking from much of the London political elite.

It is not necessary to be starry-eyed to reject this explanation.  The "professionalisation" of politics does not in itself require its practitioners to follow the hallowed route through student activism, internships and party-fodder on local councils before being unleashed on the Commons electorate, or for the only acceptable external vocations to be journalism and marketing - the refuges of the glib and shallow.  Yet the "one of us" mentality attaches itself to all the parties.

The media has also become lazier and more consolidated.  Local newspapers are dying on their feet, and their ability to scrutinise and challenge is restricted by meagre resources and proprietorial interests.  The influence of national newspapers and radio and television is attenuated, both as a result of unappealing product and the secular shift to online media.  This also reflects a desire not to promote discourse and challenge to an orthodoxy that requires fealty to be paid to Murdoch and other media barons.

To watch the right-wing press ridicule Miliband is instructive.  Given that no politician should be expected to a complete paragon requiring immediate canonisation, the constant negativity and mocking for not speaking and coming across like a clone of Cameron and Clegg is both symptomatic and disgusting.  He has been complicit in this, although trying to break out of the straitjacket of the inane and the mainstream might have played better if he had not left it until such a late stage of the campaign.  However, he has threatened the cosy relationship that both Tories and Labour have built up with the neo-conservative narrative, and its apologists and beneficiaries.

Instead of a definition of the choices and challenges ahead, all the parties are trying to appeal to their core support without having a clear vision or the courage to articulate the impact that policy changes might have.  This is partly a function of fear that anybody losing out might be hostile and antipathetic to them, which is hardly surprising, and also a deliberate misdirection.  After five years of preaching austerity to groups outside their core support, the Tories, particularly Osborne, look particularly risible given the bribes and unfunded promises that have been thrown around during the campaign, less than a month after a Budget that implied cutting the state back to levels last seen when workhouses were a principal means of providing welfare.

This is in part a reflection of the lack of reality and connection between the politically engaged and those who have long since given up on any change.  Parties that stand up and suggest that in order to achieve a political aim may require changes to the distribution of wealth and the obligations of the citizen are mocked and marginalised.  The illusion that the status quo has to be protected at all costs has impoverished and narrowed debate into sterile managerialism and minor interventions at the margins.  The 2015 election feels like the culmination of this.

Yet there are stirrings.  The SNP has not bought into the conventional narrative, and is likely to reap great rewards from both its own positioning and the ineptitude and arrogance of the GB-wide parties. In connecting with an agenda that is as much emotional as about presenting fully-costed policy options, they have started the process of redefining the relationship between voters and people.  The SNP will succeed despite the vitriol of the press and politicians - the response to Nicola Sturgeon borders on the hysterical and is risible when compared to the conservative and relatively unimaginative policies that the SNP presides over in Scotland.

As the failure of any of the campaigns to break out of the core support base becomes apparent, there is now focus on the machinations of building a Commons majority.  Clegg is at least trying to produce "red-lining" issues which might articulate what the next Parliament can deliver, although as a discredited messenger he will be not be given appropriate shrift.  Honesty and humility on the part of Labour and Tories over the next few days would make it clear what they would be prepared to trade in return for parliamentary support, and create a framework where a stable arrangement of MPs could be envisaged.  

Yet there is no sense of humility, though, coming through - which will, as in 2010, result in post-electoral disillusion.  A failure to command either a majority of votes or seats is not necessarily a reflection on individual policies, but on the perverse combination of an antiquated electoral system and the diversity of views in the general population.  Accepting that the verdict of the country will be geographically- and economically-divided, and demonstrating willingness to look to a future of pluralism, compromise and nuanced debate, is something that will require a different psychology.  The tragedy is that we go into another cycle with triumphalism, arrogance and delusion being the main qualifications for the narcissistic peacocks who pretend to be political leaders.