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Britain Goes to the Polls

The air is electric with election fever, the expectant masses throng newsagents to buy and passionately discuss the various party manifestos. Every voter carefully sets aside all other commitments for polling day on June 7th and neighbours and friends are earnestly proselytised in the hope of gaining their vote for ones party.

Well, not quite.

According to some polls, there will be an even lower turnout for voting than previous election years with possibly one third staying away from the booths. This is a general downtrend amongst disaffected voters and who can blame them?

A scan of the election manifestos of the three major parties betrays the reason for this apathy – you could hardly slide a card between the differences in their Statist policies. They are all firmly entrenched in the ditch of centrist politics and the voter knows that none of them is going to change anything of significance, so why bother voting?

Admittedly, the parties have done their work by analysing various opinion polls and feedback from so-called focus groups. These results show that people are most concerned about health, education and the economy with the implicit message that they expect the State to sort it all out. The public’s love affair with public health services and schools continues and they love to have it so. Oh, that there was an alternative message to shake them from their lethargy!

Thus, with each major party committed to continuing public services, there is only tinkering around the edges of a massive 400 billion fiscal budget as the Tory party promises to reduce it by a paltry 8 billion and the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats commit to marginally increasing it by a few billion.

This is as far as they will go. A rumour did the rounds last week that the Tories were actually committed to cuts of 20 billion (a mere 5% of budget) which gave their opponents a field day before it was totally denied. The panic and delight on both sides showed how important a big budget is in the world of the Statist.

So, this is hardly blood-stirring stuff. Unashamedly, the parties know this and resort to the basest of marketing techniques in persuading the more primeval of voter instincts through shock tactics and polemic sarcasm.

We have to endure the sight of politicians employing unwarranted hyperbole in describing their opponents' policies as “ludicrous”, “disastrous” and “ridiculous” when there is next to nothing between them in the grand scheme of things. They know the political attention span of the average voter tends towards a few sound bites and they subliminally plant the derogatives in the hope that they will lodge in the limbic mind more than a reasoned argument would.

Such hollow tactics migrate to the advertising billboards as the Labour party displays its poster version of “Towering Inferno” called “Towering Interest Rates” with a skyscraper-shaped “15%” above a smoky looking William Hague and Michael Portillo (I couldn’t figure out who was meant to be Steve McQueen).

The subliminal message is clear; vote Tory and interest rates will triple to 15%! Has the engagement in informed debate really descended into such intellectually, vacuous fear mongering? Anyone who remembered “Black Wednesday” in 1992 will know that interest rates only topped 15% for a day or two to combat intense speculation against Sterling as Britain pulled out of the pre-Euro Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good poster! But let it also be sadly said that these tactics, though perpetrated due to the small differences in party policies, actually do appeal to the baser instincts. The typical person is not given to long reasoned arguments on minutiae and the temptation of a libertarian party may be to shout the slogan “Vote for us and get a 4000 tax rebate for life!” Tempting, but easier said than done when the electorate then speedily expect it.

There is nothing else really to say from the point of view of the major parties as they try and look more electable than the others. The only other major talking point is monetary and political union with the European Union. In the next few years, Britain will have to decide whether to give up Sterling for the Euro and with it all major economic decision-making. The Tories are for the Pound, Labour sits on the fence and the Liberals are for the Euro. But the main point with politics driven by opinion polls is that Euro monetarism will not be the major vote catcher in this election and so it can be safely ignored by the party with a big lead in the opinion polls. In other words, Labour will surely win by a huge margin with or without the Euro.

Looking for comic relief in this campaign, I turn again to the ultra-left wing Scottish Socialist Party and its leader, Tommy “tax the rich” Sheridan. Their manifesto threatens to impose an 84% income tax rate on the richest citizens in Scotland. The only trouble is that there won’t be many rich people around because they will also impose a maximum wage of 144,000 per annum on any entrepreneur who has not by then had the good sense to flee from Scotland.

One of Sheridan’s recent interviews was particularly fraught with socialist utopianism when asked what he would have done about the mobile phone assembly plant which is to be closed down by Motorola with the loss of 3,000 jobs in Scotland.

His less than erudite reply informed us that the workers would confiscate it and maintain productivity even though Motorola could not make a profit out if it. One can readily translate these socialist euphemisms into massive losses being subsidised by taxpayers’ money. No thanks, Tommy; we had enough of that when nationalised car production in Britain took a beating from imported Japanese and German cars. The Tory government under Margaret Thatcher had the good sense to privatise the British car industry before it soaked up even more tax money in spiralling losses.

Their election broadcast on television also resorted to fear mongering with the pitiable story of a family threatened with their phone line being cut off and a general lack of cash topped off by the main character’s bike being enigmatically stolen.

Tommy informed us in this broadcast that the hundreds of billions of pounds sloshing around the various Scottish financial institutions was “our” money. The last time I looked at my pension statements, they definitely had my name on them. The socialist cat was let out of the bag; private ownership is anathema in their eyes. Predictably, one can expect the Scottish Socialist Party to grab the votes of those who are low in wages but also high in envy.

Unfortunately, I see no libertarian party on the horizon. That is unfortunate and is surely a niche market for many disaffected voters. A recent poll of Scots showed that over 60% felt they paid too much taxes whilst only 2% felt they did not pay enough taxes. Paradoxically, 16% only rated tax cuts as an election issue. Nevertheless, there is a ripeness there which could be harvested if only the megaphone propaganda of the Statists could be turned down.

Forming a libertarian political party is not difficult, that is what democracy is all about. The hard work begins in promoting it and making the whisper of privatisation and small government be heard above the socialist din. Electioneering is particularly expensive to small parties as a comparison is made with the Scottish Socialist Party.

They need about 100,000 to produce and distribute their propaganda plus a 500 deposit has to be placed with every constituency candidate. If the candidate fails to get 4% of the vote then the deposit is forfeited. Now, with 72 seats in Scotland, this amounts to a potential loss of 36000 for any small party with big hopes.

This draconian measure is meant to deter lunatics such as Lord Buckethead running for parliament but it also deters fledgling parties from bringing fresh ideas and innovations into the democratic marketplace. The dice are loaded in favour of the big parties before even a single vote is cast. With such a shackle in place, a libertarian party would have to target seats which are more affluent and seek sponsorship from companies and people sympathetic to the free market cause.

Add to this, the necessary commitment to stand for 15 seats to ensure one late night election TV broadcast and the problems of the small party are summed up.

The way ahead may be in pressure groups and influencing the major parties from within. Thankfully, there is a trend in Britain towards more and more privatisation and cooperation with private companies in public services. We can only hope the increasingly apparent benefits of these activities finally emboldens one party to make a decisive change of direction towards economic liberty.

May 25, 2001