So the Great British General Election took place, on the sixth of May. And on the seventh of May the voters woke up in Alice’s Wonderland.
“Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! ‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth.'”
Alice worries about arriving among the ‘Antipathies’ on the other side, but her non-guide, the White Rabbit, keeps on reappearing and, in between nervous glances at his watch, reassures her that he will get there yet and sort things out.
Today the White Rabbit is of course Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal-Democrats, summoned by ‘the Duchess’ (David Cameron of the Conservative Party) for grotesquely unlikely talks about common policy over staging the Mad Tea Party, and dealing with Britain’s gigantic deficit without turning the Pound Sterling into funny-money.
Though uncomfortably resembling an agreement between Gengis Khan and Albert Schweitzer, the deal appears for the time being inevitable. The Conservative Party won most votes, and the Lib-Dems have advanced sufficiently to claim a place at the power-table — at least, as long as the Labour Party languishes in the dead-hand grip of Premier Gordon Brown. The living find themselves compelled to seek an exit from zombiedom, however difficult.
In most countries, another election would be the answer. But this is Wonderland Britain. A second contest risks pushing everything still farther back into the heart of darkness. The ancestor of democracy has succumbed to Alzheimer’s, and is quite capable of a result even worse than May the sixth.
Hence, the most urgent task has become to get rid of a millenarian tradition in a few days. Time to finish with the Mother of Parliaments and ‘first-past-the-post’ voting. Reared to worship timeless icons, Her Majesty’s subjects are now under brisk orders to escape from them into an approximation of boring modernity. Two-partyism has joined the Dodo and the ‘caucus race’ in Dodgson’s famous portrait of Englishness.
As Iain Macwhirter concludes his ‘State of the Nation’ survey in the Glasgow Sunday Herald:
“This election was a kind of punishment for the UK political leadership, for the expenses scandal and the banking crisis. The people wanted a change — well, now they have it. The political system is broken, but we don’t yet know if anyone has the tools to fix it.”
The principal tool remains absent, naturally: an English polity capable of asserting itself democratically, on behalf of its 85% majority. Fortunately, no non-democratic, dictatorial alternative is likely either. Scottish and Welsh opinion will react, but with no real option other than nationalism — founded less on swelling separatist tides than on the hopeless breakdown of Westminster Britishness.
Straightforward political reform, like proportional representation and federalism, was put off too long: and now, no time is left for anything but panic and hasty makeshifts — perfectly expressed in the notion of an overnight deal between Neanderthal Toryism and Liberal Democracy, “in the national interest.”
This is break up, nor are ye out of it, nor will President Obama or the European Union help resolve the basic issue. New Labour, 1997-2010, was the last chance saloon, and six-gun Brown wouldn’t even draw his shooter. Today, all he can do is keep leaning on the old bar, with not so much as a decent wise-crack to amuse the remaining soaks and newspapermen.
Of course Labourism could get rid of him, vote in another less party-bound leader, and set up an alliance with the Liberal-Democrats and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists on all-round constitutional change — in effect, move towards some kind of confederal replacement for the United Kingdom. But this is likely to take years, since the ancient regime is based on the unthinkability of stuff like that.
It will have to emerge in fits and starts, over the wreckage of Gordon Brown’s Britishness and David Cameron’s notion of saving and restoring the old Union structure. Open Democracy and like-minded organs have been arguing in that general direction for years already, preaching to the largely unconverted.
Now, however, a ‘conversion’ has been forced upon nearly everyone by the simple failure and incapacity of the traditional system, and the question has turned from whether or not to be ‘radical’, into just which version of radical shift should be chosen.
Against the grain and most of the odds, a disintegrating evolution has ended by setting the stage for a political revolution.