Sunday, 2 May 2010

I hate this election so much

There's less than a week to go before the general election now, and I'm tired of it. None of the candidates I could vote for are ones that I really support, and another pile of election publicity has just come through the door. In common with most election publicity, it actually makes me less likely to support the party it's from.

This has been an election by and for the default, as usual, and it's getting less and less hopeful by the day.

In my constituency, ignoring the far-right BNP, the almost as problematic UKIP and the independent candidate (nothing against independent candidates in general, I just don't agree with either of this particular candidates's major policies), that leaves the three main parties. The Conservatives of course are the party of the default, and their claims otherwise are not believable. Unfortunately it's looking more and more likely that they'll win nationally.

That leaves two candidates - Labour and Lib Dem. They're better than the rest, but that's such a low bar.


Labour have come up with some excellent policies over the years that weren't for the benefit of the default. They undid most of the homophobic legislation that had built up over the years, introduced SENDA (which provides some legal protections for students with disabilities) and the Equality Act, introduced hate speech protections for LGB people, and many other good things. They're also the party with by far the greatest proportion of non-default candidates and former MPs - though still much less than the population in general - and have taken significant steps to fight entrenched privilege internally to get that far.

They've also done a lot of things wrong. The Equality Act was good in many ways, but went backwards on trans* rights and in some areas of anti-racism. The laws protecting LGB people from hate speech were modelled on the religious hate speech rather than the stronger racial hate speech laws, and missed out protection for asexual people entirely (and that was before the Lords diluted them further).

The areas where they've spent the most time following the demands of the right-wing press and ignoring the needs of people, though, as far as I can tell, have been on immigration, terrorism and disabilities.

On disabilities, they have introduced incredibly tough checks to try to catch "benefit cheats" (despite disability-related benefits having the lowest fraud rate of all benefits), designed without any consideration of whether it's reasonable to put disabled people through those checks.

These are especially bad for people with disabilities with intermittent symptoms, who might well be able on one particular day to carry out the demands of a job designed by people with abled privilege, but who won't be able to consistently do the same every day, every week, every month. So they're "well enough to work" and don't get the benefits from the point of view of the government, but not "well enough to work" from the point of view of anyone offering employment (and, of course, this was introduced mid-recession, so there are even fewer jobs around than usual). There is an anti-discrimination law in place, but it doesn't go far enough as regards making employers make the necessary adjustments.

In the name of fighting terrorism, they've brought in more and more powers for the police - which they've then used in non-terrorism cases, disproportionately against black African-Carribean people. They've brought in compulsory strip-search scanners, with all the horrible implications for everyone with a non-default body of any sort. They've contributed to the demonisation of Muslims, and it's looking very likely that at the very best they've not done enough to stop our allies using torture on our behalf. And that's at best. That would all be bad enough, but then there was the assistance with the invasion of two countries, causing the avoidable deaths of thousands of people, and then failing to deal with the aftermath of invasion at all well.

On immigration, they've bought entirely into the racist rhetoric and framing of the subject (and then act surprised and shocked when their own supporters repeat it back to them). They've passed 5 separate acts related to immigration in the last 13 years - all designed to increase restrictiveness of non-EU immigration (EU immigration cannot be restricted under the terms of EU membership, but then, most of the people migrating around the EU are white, so maybe they don't want to)

The Yarls Wood detention centre is infamous for its abuse of detainees. Oakington is perhaps less well known, but a man died there not long ago. There are probably many others where I haven't seen the news, or no-one's reported it. Rejection and deportation of LGBT asylum seekers seems to be almost automatic, no matter how likely they are to be killed when we force them back. The Labour government has not only continued previous immigration policies, but extended them to make them more restrictive, more harmful, more racist, and more violent.

In the recent Labour publicity today, there are these lines:

There are three important facts you should bear in mind before giving [the Lib Dems] your vote:

1. They want an amnesty for illegal immigrants even though this could encourage more illegal immigration to the country.

...and in a separate letter, personally signed by the local ex-MP...

And [the Lib Dems] policy on immigration could encourage more people to try and come here illegally.

This is unsolicited publicity. I haven't written to them and said "I'm a bigot and worried about black people coming over here - can you do something about it?". This is what they think will appeal to me. This is what they think I want. This is one of their reasons I shouldn't vote for the other party. This is in the same leaflet where they criticise the Conservatives saying

The Tories haven't changed. David Cameron and the Tory policies deliver for the privileged few not the many.

Hah. The Conservatives certainly would do that, but Labour don't have the moral high ground here.

This is not what I want. I want an immigration policy that treats people as people. I want one that doesn't bend to the dehumanising wishes of racists.

Enough of this.

The Liberal Democrats

So, with my anger at Labour out of the way for now, let's look at the only plausible alternative on my ballot paper, the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems have, as a point in their favour, not been in power for decades, and so have not as a result of their policies yet killed anyone.

Their party constitution is the only one to include an explicit non-discrimination statement. Their voting record on LGBT rights is extremely strong (and they put forward many good amendments to the Equality Act, many of which didn't even make it to a vote). Their manifesto includes a range of good policies, many of which explicitly for non-default people.

They support electoral reform and proportional representation, which I believe would make it easier for views outside the default to be represented in government.

And yet...

For all these fine words and talk, I'm very uneasy. They have this big policy on non-discrimination in their Constitution - but they also have the lowest proportion of the three major parties of female candidates (lower even than the Conservatives) without anywhere near as much use of the partial excuse that the other two parties have that in most cases incumbents should be allowed to continue (the same was true a few years back in local elections here). They refuse to use all-female shortlists which even the Conservatives are trying, and which Labour's use of is the only reason we're on ~20% women in Parliament rather than about 6%.

Of their BAME candidates, of which they only have 43, none are in a seat they could plausibly win. Regardless of the election result, the Lib Dem parliamentary party is likely to remain extremely white (and it shows in their policies)

On abortion and pro-choice legislation, the party is split roughly 50:50, compared with Labour whose MPs mostly vote in favour. (On the other hand, they do have the strongly pro-choice Evan Harris, who did a lot - without success - to try to get actual pro-choice amendments passed).

And then there was Charles Kennedy. He was elected as leader of the party, replacing Paddy Ashdown, in 1999. Over the following years, he led the Lib Dems to their highest number of seats since the collapse of the old Liberal party in the early 20th century. In 2006, he announced that he had been seeking treatment for alcoholism to pre-empt this being announced in the press. Within a day, most of the senior Lib Dem MPs had said that they could not accept him as leader. He'd had this condition for a while and at the same time he'd run the party well and led it to its best election results. Once he announced that he was seeking treatment for it, with some success, though, no, he had to go.

The Lib Dems remind me very much of my days as a Students' Union officer, where we had a massive equal opportunities policy, listing about 20 separate grounds on which discrimination would not be tolerated (and still omitted gender identity, because we were cisnormative like that), and officers for each of the types of discrimination that Students' Unions considered major (sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia and homophobia) - and did very little useful about any of them (a good LGBT association excepted) because there was so much privilege in the people who could do something that we were no less discriminatory than we would have been without the policy. We also liked STV.

So, it's not like they're particularly trustworthy on these matters either. They'd make different mistakes to Labour, but that's not necessarily a reason to vote for them.

Spoilt Ballot

I can't help feeling that after thinking about this for so long I should be able to make some decision between the two least worst options available.

I'm furious with both parties for their failures, which are not exhaustively listed above (but neither are their successes, so that seems fair). I do know that both would be better than any of the alternatives. A spoilt vote gives equal weight to all six parties on the ballot paper. That's definitely not what I mean. I can't give them half each, so giving one of them 1 whole vote is better than giving the BNP or UKIP even a sixth of a vote.


If anyone knows anything about the two parties that I'm missing - good or bad - along the same lines as above, that you think might be useful for making my decision, please let me know in comments. (But bear in mind, I am really not in the mood for partisan apologists right now)

ETA: I've already read Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy, and Penny Red on this subject, both of which were helpful and on similar lines. Neither is particularly convincing about why the Lib Dems are better, though they are right about why Labour is not good enough.