Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A dull election campaign comes to an end

With less than 24 hours until polls open there are many people that have been entirely turned off by the UK election campaign. In fact some have dubbed the 2015 general election campaign the dullest in living memory.

Tiresome squabbling

Even before the race begun the campaign had become rather tiresome with squabbling over how the election debates might be run.

Such infighting and school boyish behaviour is a turn off for many voters. And even when a format was agreed, the debates themselves were dull and uninformative.

While there were some engaging moments, there were almost flippant and puerile moments such as a focus on whether David Cameron had ever eaten three Shredded Wheat and Ed Miliband's ability to eat a bacon sandwich properly.

The seven way debate had its moments but given the amount of time available and the number of issues on the table there was really no way that public concerns and questions could be properly addressed.

Domestic vs foreign policies

The main focus by all the parties were domestic issues. Jobs, housing, immigration and the deficit were all continually debated.

These are certainly important but there was almost no mention of Britain's place in the world, foreign policy, international trade, defence and the growing threats of cyberwar and terrorism.

A few manifestos touched on such issues but how many people even bother to buy or download them, let alone read through the often rambling texts.

Foreign trade & cyber risks

The Tories mention China all but five times in their manifesto. "Our trade with emerging economies is up, with exports to China more than doubled since 2009, but overall we are still too dependent on slow-growing European markets. Business investment is rising, but we still underinvest compared to other countries," the manifesto states, adding that the Conservative party would build on this as well as "championing an EU-China trade deal."

For all its importance China is mentioned but once in the Labour manifesto. "Labour will set up an Asia Step-Change Taskforce to ensure a more strategic and effective dialogue with regional partners, including China, both in the commerical [sic] realm, and in other areas, from cultural exchange to human rights." [Yes, that spelling mistake IS in the published document].

As for the LibDems, China is again only worthy of a single mention, tied again to Europe and trade. "Britain's membership of the EU is essential for creating a stronger economy and for projecting influence in the world," the manifesto claims. "Millions of British jobs are linked to our trade with the EU, and being in Europe puts us on a more equal footing when negotiating trade deals with global players like the USA and China and in countering security threats. A modernised EU is crucial to responding to the global challenges Britain faces, whether they are climate change, cross-border crime and terrorism, or conflict."

Nigel Farage has made his views clear concerning Britain's place in Europe and called for a referendum with the hope that the UK might pull out of the EU. But despite all of Farage's experience in the world of business he appears to have little understanding of the global economic situation where countries are interdependent on each other.

Farage: China and Japan "have their own democracies"

In a debate on Europe in April 2014 Farage seemed to be entirely ignorant of world politics as he put forward the argument that an independent country could still have a strong economy. He cited Iceland as an example of an independent state that could still hold its own.

"If it is good enough for Iceland to do it," Nigel Farage remarked in the first of his two televised debates with Nick Clegg, "I'm damned certain the British with 64 million can do even better." The UKIP leader was referring to a free trade agreement that the Icelandic government signed with China in April 2013, despite the tiny Nordic country not being a member of the EU [New Statesman].

But then he went on to show his apparent misunderstanding of the politics beyond Europe's borders. "Canada lives next door to America, Japan lives next door to China, they do massive amounts of business with each other but they have their own democracies and their own rights of self government,"  Farage declared [Video - YouTube]. China a democracy! Hardly. Maybe this was a slip. But beyond that even trade between Japan and China is fraught with problems due to territorial and nationalist issues.

In terms of its manifesto, the claim that strong trade can still be maintained for a non-EU member is repeated. "Six of the top ten countries that export to the EU do not have a trade agreement with the EU at all: China, Russia, the USA, Japan, India and Brazil," the UKIP manifesto states. "Being in the EU is no guarantee of greater financial rewards than being out in terms of trade: non-EU Switzerland, with an economy one-quarter the size of ours, exports four and a half times more to the EU, per capita, than the UK does."

Cyber threats

All the manifestos do raise the issue of cyberattacks and other online threats, but there is little substance other than to say there would be a strengthening of defence in these areas. Certainly there is no finger pointing. Indeed, despite China being repeatedly accused of launching attacks on the West, engaging in industrial espionage - as well as reneging on trade deals and ignoring WTO rules - there is almost no mention how any of the major parties might deal with such issues which have a profound effect on the British economy.

In the final hours before the polls open much of the electorate are probably only focused on the issues the politicians have themselves made centre stage.

Setting agendas

For those who struggle to find work or living on benefits, the issues concerning what each of the major parties might do in the age of austerity is of great importance. But few of the politicians talks of the effect that global economics have on these issues. While immigrants taking British jobs might be a problem, so too can the farming out of the manufacturing industry to the Far East have a knock on effect on the UK economy. Chinese imports might be cheap but it comes at a cost to Britain and Europe when there are fewer manufacturing industries left in the West.

UKIP of course have capitalised on the fears of immigration. There is a problem concerning some migrants. But there is much scaremongering rather than a rational and reasoned debate.

Dull campaign

The 2015 election has seen few of the pantomime moments seen in previous campaigns. There have been no eggs thrown, punches thrown by politicians, and few if any heckling contests.

Talking to people on the streets and there is a general feeling of disillusionment. Indeed, given the nature of the first past the post politics of British democracy, there is a stronger feeling than ever that people's votes matter little. A vote for UKIP, the Greens or the LibDems may send a message to the main two parties but without some form of proportional representation a vote for anyone other than Labour or Conservative is essentially a waste of ink on the ballot paper.

Time for electoral reform?

With some 462 minor parties also vying for votes, few of which will ever hear their voice heard in parliament, the argument for proportional representation is greater than ever.

The British political system is far from perfect, and people may feel less engaged than ever before. But to quote Winston Churchill it might be a lot worse. "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

As for the result of Thursday's poll most pundits are still undecided. Our prediction is for a Conservative win, but with no overall majority and a likely coalition with the LibDems once again. UKIP may take a handful of seats - which Farage will no doubt claim to be a mandate of dissatisfaction expressed by the British electorate - but the party will have only a minor voice in parliament. Thus the status quo will continue for another five years.

Party manifestos

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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