I would like it if all elections were about the delivery of hope based on a belief that politicians have the capacity to deliver a better life for the electorate to which they appeal for support. That is, I think, a realistic hope in that I think it could be achieved. My emphasis is, however, on the word could. The reality is that British politics is not in that place right now.
British politicians, and most especially those from the largest two parties, are in a state of denial about what they can deliver for the UK. That is partly because they insist they can deliver majority government when it seems both are likely to about 50 seats short of that possibility, which at this stage of the campaign seems a pretty insurmountable hurdle given how little change in forecast outcomes there has been over the last few weeks.
Second this is because neither party seems intent on coming close to telling the truth about its intentions, or the issues that its own internal politics will present to the UK if it tries to form a government after May 7. The minority parties also face their own issues for not dissimilar reasons, but I think it worth reflecting on the major parties first, and then the minority parties before reflecting on what all this might mean for those, like me, who wish to see change with a marked bias towards those least well off in the next parliament. The object is to anticipate the campaigns to come.
First, it's worth noting the current forecast polling outcomes. The Guardian summary, which appears reasonable to everyone but the spread betting market (which is much more Tory biased) is as follows at present:
Let's ignore the maths of potential combinations at present. The two major parties are equally placed. Assuming this gives the Conservatives first chance to form a government, since they are the incumbents and are not required to resign, and assuming that they could make the maths of coalition building work (stick with me on this one) what are the issues of concern with a Conservative government?
The first is its bias. The direction in which the bias will be exercised is apparent. A range of policies make it very clear that the Conservatives have a bias to those with wealth that appears to prejudice those least well off. Selling shares in Lloyds Bank to those why by definition already have wealth; increasing inheritance tax allowances; increasing income tax personal allowances which benefits those on higher incomes much more than it does those who might be taken out of tax; cutting higher rates of tax and so much more makes it quite clear where Tory sympathy lies. So too do £12 billion of benefits cuts.
All of this deeply worries me. The divisions that could be created within the country as a result of such policies could be very deep, and very real. You cannot run a policy of austerity at expense to those already with least in society without making them deeply hostile to authority. That risk of fragmentation speaks of contempt by politicians, a lack of belief in the equality of all, and a willingness to abuse some. That is a direction of travel for politics in this country that is going to cause social and economic harm. Unsurprisingly I have problems with that.
The second issue of importance is economic competence. In 2010 George Osborne did, as a matter of fact, inherit an economy in recovery. He, however, believed that the UK was akin to Greece when there were very obvious reasons why that was an utterly implausible comparison (starting with debt ratios, tax gaps and the fact that we had our own currency and a willing market for our debt). As a result he tried to impose austerity on the UK and did so until the disastrous (for him) budget of March 2012. The result was the slowest recovery from any recession in the history of the UK, a failure to cut the deficit, and living standards that have still not recovered, for most, to pre-recession levels. This is a record of economic mismanagement. Even the high spots, such as rising employment, are weak. These are low paid, low productivity jobs that offer little prospect of helping relieve poverty or of helping restore government funding. And since he is now offering more of the same the prospect of a Conservative government is deeply worrying for our economic well-being. The claim that we should trust the Conservative economic record is absurd: to be kind, it is very poor
Third there is the impact of unnecessary cuts. Those at HMRC will reduce vital tax yield. Those for the NHS (and the £8 billion offer of funding is about as reliable as the promise of no top-down reorganisation last time) will harm all our futures. On education there is again bias at play, in favour of free schools. And for the judicial system cuts threaten law and order and the sustainability of society. Elsewhere, they have the same dire impact, not least for those who have to rely on benefits.
Last, (and I restricting myself to four big themes), there is the state of the UK debate. The Conservative attitude towards Scotland shows that this is no unionist party, or democratic one either. How it can be argued that the Scots must stay in the union but be disenfranchised is beyond me. I am unsurprised by the Scots current stance as a result.
But, as worrying is the approach to the EU. A referendum will divide this country just as surely as the Scottish question. And whatever happens I think it will split the Conservative Party. There are already many within its ranks who hate David Cameron and that can only get worse with the opening of a referendum campaign. Much as I have disquiet about the EU I would not leave it. I believe it is open to reform, but not of the sort David Cameron wants. The harm to the British economy of leaving would be considerable. I fear the poorest would pay most, again. I am bemused that more businesses are not saying so. And bluntly I cannot see a united Conservative Party after this fight: whatever the outcome if there were to be such a poll I think the party would split.
In that case, and because of the impact of such a referendum on Scotland I cannot see the Conservative Party or the United Kingdom surviving a Conservative government.
But it we were to have such a thing the task tax justice campaigners would face would be significant. We would have to:
a) Argue to keep HMRC intact;
b) Argue against cuts, which are the flip side of reduced taxation;
c) Argue for progressive taxation;
d) Argue for measures to reduce rather than increase inequality;
e) Argue for the role the EU might play in reducing tax competition that threatens us all and is a challenge to democracy.
That list does, of course, hide a great deal of detail.
The point is that the challenges would be significant, and the outlook depressing as turmoil, whether economic, social or political, would embrace the country.
I think I am right to be worried. And to prepare for the possibility of disruption to society, because nothing is fixed in this election as yet.
NB: A post on my fears about Labour and other parties will follow