Today, after a campaign many of us had begun to feel would never end, British voters elect the MPs who will rule or misrule them for the next five years. Polls going back two years or more indicate that Labour and the Conservatives are within a couple of percentage points of each other, the Liberal Democrats will crash and burn (if such soggy material can ignite), and several smaller parties could find themselves central to politics for the first time. This has meant that the election has been even more closely contested than usual, and possible post-election permutations have long obsessed the psephological pointyheads.
But it has been in other ways a traditional sort of campaign, with Conservatives bragging about their supposed economic proficiency and Labour about their supposed emotional literacy. Labour has, as always, called in racial favors, by offering to tighten up yet more on “Islamophobia”, and sending a high-powered, nominally anti-sexist delegation to attend a sexually segregated Muslim rally in Birmingham. There have also been the usual funny moments, such as when the reality TV star Joey Essex asked Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg why his party had such a “weird” and “long” name, and contained the word “cats” – or when a hastily-produced Conservative leaflet reminded readers of the looming Erection Day.
All parties also went through the usual rigmarole of publicly deploring negative campaigning, while engaging in it assiduously. A Labour minority government relying on Scottish National Party support would be a “coalition of chaos”, claimed Tories. David Cameron bears some of the blame for migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, briefed Labour. The Tories have a modest proposal to murder all the first-born, said the Liberal Democrats (or, at least, something along those lines – even though the document containing this “eugenic“ proposal was commissioned by the same Liberal Democrat minister who leaked it to the media.
Thieves fell out pleasingly. Scottish Labour had a meeting disrupted by a foam-flecked group called Scottish Resistance, whose garden gnome-visaged activists very nearly made the Labour-backing, cross-dressing comedian/enne Eddie Izzard look dignified. But on one thing at least, Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru and the Greens can all agree – UKIP is A Bad Thing.
The Conservatives know that UKIP is made up largely of people who are a bit like them – in many cases, people who used to be them. They coolly see UKIP as essentially a tactical problem, one that threatens to derail their successful election-winning, power-wasting machine. The two parties may need to come to some arrangement, and everyone knows it – so when senior Tories denounce Nigel Farage, and he denounces them, everyone knows it is just an act in an especially tiresome pantomime.
But for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and the Greens, UKIP is a moral problem. To them, the party is not just Bad, but Beelzebubian, and negative campaigning against them is therefore really positive campaigning – Humanity against Exclusion, Progress against Reaction, Light against Dark.
And beyond these five sects” semi-rational ranks are serried sadsacks in love with slogans, naturally enthusiastic persons who expend on “radical” politics righteous energies that in a simpler age would have been focused on smashing medieval works of art or murdering women with uneven eyes.
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