I was watching some election coverage the other day where one woman commented that she might vote for Nick Clegg - I don't think she would because she didn't live in his Constituency - because he seemed nice(!), but couldn't possibly vote for Cameron, because she didn't like his mouth!!!!!
It would be easy to blame the Leaders' Debates for this degeneration into the worst kind of personality politics, but, in fact, however much I think that these debates have encouraged such a mentality, they are not the real culprit. The real culprit is the abysmal level of political culture in Britain. The fact, that the Liberals vote went up so much, and has stayed up, after the first television debate, is an indication that very large numbers of people are not interested in policy issues other than at a very, very superficial level; that if it takes more than a couple of minutes to listen to, if it requires any degree of serious thought to understand, a large number of people simply cannot be bothered. Listening to what people have to say, they simply parrot cliches about, none of the parties speak to me and so on, yet it is clear that they really don't know whether any of the parties DO speak to them, because, by and large, they have no idea what the parties stand for. The LP has complained to the BBC that too much of the news coverage is about analysing the TV debates, and very little about actual policies. They have a point.
In fact, if we are going to move towards a Presidential system, and I repeat, if we are that raises the need to scrap the Monarchy, and if the choice of candidates is to be based on whether we like or dislike certain of their body parts, then we have to question whether the very basis of bourgeois, representative democracy is itself undermined. If that is the route to go down, then it would make more sense to use the old Greek form of democracy, where the elected were simply chosen by lot. We are just as likely to get a decent representative if their name is pulled out of a hat as we are if they are chosen on the basis of their smile.
But, the Tories also undermine the basis of bourgeois democracy. Not only do they support the unelected Monarchy, whilst wanting to turn the Prime Minister into a President, with their proposals that the PM must be elected at a General Election, but they refuse to commit to abolishing hereditary peers. In addition, their opposition to PR, and support for First Past The Post, on the basis of the need for strong government, is ridiculous. On that basis, of rejecting the idea that those elected should reflect those who have voted for them, you could defend ballot rigging! Or why not go the whole hog; why not simply argue for a totalitarian dictatorship. You couldn't get much more of a strong government than that!
But, there are problems with PR too. On the Andrew Marr show Nick Clegg made clear that it would not be credible for a Party that came third in the popular vote to lay claim to forming the Government. He didn't say, what the BBC tried to interpret him as saying, that what he meant was Gordon Brown could not lay claim to being PM, but that another Labour MP might be able to do so, and secure Liberal support. Nor did he commit himself under such conditions to supporting the Tories either.
But, consider the following. In Scotland, there are no Tory MP's. It is precisely that fact, under the last Tory Government, that created the demand for devolution. How could you defend the Tories having a writ over an entire country where hey had no MP's??? The same could be said for Wales. But, the peculiarity of Britain is that a large percentage of the population is concentrated in a relatively small corner of the country in the South-East, which is one of the reasons that there is this strange idea that in a country which is still 75% rural, where only 10% of the land area is built on, we are in some way overpopulated!!! And, this small segment of the country is also the most affluent part of the country, where the Tories have their support concentrated.
If we took simply the share of the popular vote, it is quite possible that the Tories, on that basis, could win a large number of votes, just in this affluent part of the country, with little support in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, The Midlands, and the North-East and North-West. On what basis would this give them any better mandate to be considered to have a writ over the whole area of Britain, than a majority of seats does? At least First Past The Post does give some account of that geographical divide, just as in America, the Presidential Election is not a Popular Vote election, but an Electoral College based on having to win a majority in each state.
The Tories have already shown that they intend to create tens of thousands of job cuts in the North of Ireland, in Scotland, in Wales, in the North-East and North-West - that is all those areas where they have little or no support - if they win the election based on a majority of seats in the South-East, and a smattering of seats in other affluent parts of the country. A PR system that simply enabled them to rack up large numbers of seats solely based on support in the South-East, would lead even more to such an approach. Either it means an incitement to massive social unrest in parts of the country that would feel disenfranchised, or else it means that the demand for regional government would become unstoppable. Ironically, such a development, which is probably likely anyway, because that is the logic of European integration, where "national" powers are concentrated in the hands of a European State, and where that is balanced by decentralisation to more local "regional" governments, would almost certainly see the Tories "ghettoised" into control of just the South-East corner of Britain.
As I said the other day, what this election is demonstrating is the need for a thoroughgoing Constitutional reform, for a completion of the Bourgeois Revolution that began with the 1832 Reform Act. But, for that to happen we need the kind of revolutionary measures that other such bourgeois revolutions have adopted. At the very least it requires the demand for the convening of a Constitutional Convention, through which the whole people can present their views and determine a new Constitutional settlement for Britain.