How far ‘the country’ has moved to the right is sampled only in glimpses. Yesterday the Independent, home to Mark Steel, and today Frankie Boyle and long thought of as bastion of Liberal England, published an extraordinary editorial confirming that it’s not just the shrill voices of Kelvin Mackenzie and the tabloid right that consider the SNP illegitimate, beyond the pale and untouchable.
The paper, which was born out of a sense of frustration at corporate ownership of the media and the need for impartiality, was reduced to whispering threateningly for you to vote Conservative.
In a piece mis-titled ‘In defence of liberal democracy’ they write: “At stake is the very idea of majority government, the union with Scotland, and membership of the EU. In other words, British democracy itself” before adding:
Britain has entered a long period of relative decline, as emerging powers such as China and India acquire greater influence. To splinter our country, either through Scottish independence or withdrawal from the EU, would be fatally stupid. Moreover, the reputation of politics, following the Iraq War, the expenses crisis, and the financial crash, has sunk to a rotten low; and whoever forms a government in the coming days must at all costs be legitimate. That is not a question merely of numbers and seats. Rather it is a question of authority, and the ability to reflect the temper of the people.
The Independent gives the lie to the idea that a paranoid cultural revulsion is confined to the tabloids. They argue: “This title casts no vote. But we prize strong, effective government, consider nationalism guilty until proven innocent” – wonderfully, beautifully unaware of their own nationalism and semi-detached from the unfolding realities.
We’d expect the Financial Times to support the Conservatives but you have to admire the chutzpah of their writer today talking of Labour being “preoccupied with inequality”. Who’s that you say? It’s Jonathan Ford, Chief Leader writer for the FT.
He’s seated in the middle, front row in the picture above. It’s the Bullingdon Club 1987. He doesn’t look overly preoccupied with inequality.
These are the people pontificating about ‘legitimacy’.
Credibility or Legitimacy?
The narrative being peddled by the Conservatives and their allies (or classmates) is that any government formed even with the tactic or tactical support of the SNP is illegitimate, and that Cameron would therefore be compelled to stay in office to ‘save the Union’.
It’s an odd logic that votes cast in Barra are less legitimate than those cast in Bermondsey. Elected MPs, and their parties, gain legitimacy not by virtue of what they stand for – but by the fact that they were elected by their constituents. That’s how democracy works. At least that’s how it worked the last time I checked.
Cameron and Clegg are drifting into some very dangerous waters if they are arguing that Scottish votes are worth less than English ones. There’s extraordinary hypocrisy going on if ‘legitimacy’ can only be reached by electing pre-approved candidates and parties. I detest the fact that David Coburn was elected as a UKIP MEP. But he was. I have to suck it up (and argue against his repellent politics).
It’s odd too that a Labour government supported by the SNP would lack legitimacy but a govt without a single MP in Scotland somehow has credibility?
We are close to a right-wing coup, in which a Conservative government clings onto power without a majority in Britain or a mandate in Scotland (or Wales) citing the Independent’s desire for ‘stability’ and ‘effective government’.
A Way Out for Ed Miliband
A different perspective springs from Iain Macwhirter in the Herald who lays down a compelling argument for an entirely different scenario (‘Would Ed Miliband really turn down the chance to be prime minister?’). He outlines how Miliband will be compelled to No 10, even if he doesn’t want to be.
Here’s the scenario. Taking the New Statesman’s latest poll, here’s the numbers: Tories 273; Labour 269; Lib Dems 27; SNP 56.
On these numbers any Queens Speech would be rejected. The only circumstances would be if Miliband urged his party to abstain. He’d then be in a situation where he’d been offered a chance to hold office and rejected it and let Cameron back in. If that were to happen and he’d ushered in a further £12 billion austerity cuts, it would mean not just the end of Scottish Labour but the end of Labour. Has Labour moved so far to the right that it would do this?
I believe that some key senior individuals within the party have, but most of the party hasn’t. If they do this on the basis of tribal hatred of the SNP they could destroy the party, and the Union, in one fell swoop.
Bring it on, as someone once said.
But there’s a get-out-of-jail for Ed Miliband as he worries about ‘legitimacy’. Here’s how he can re-spin it.
Another dose of Tory-style austerity will crash the Union with certainty. The £12 billion glint in Gideon’s eye is a recruitment officer for a Yes vote across Caledonia.
The only way to ‘save the union’ is to respect the voters and embrace the SNP’s surge as the expression of the legitimate (and unprecedented) democratic will of the people.