Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Decision Time Britain

Britain has to decide tomorrow which way it wants to go.

It isn't going to be an easy choice. Democratic politics usually pushes all contenders towards the middle, the area of majority, which rules out dangerous ideas but also the possibility of innovative thinking. So we have today three parties slightly different from each other, raging a debate over pounds and pence and indulging in accountant-talk: three equally bad, good or indifferent choices.

The truth is - Britain is standing at an inflection point in its history and nothing but fresh thinking will be needed to save it. But none of the plausible alternatives offer any fresh thinking. Let me try an example: Let's talk about Change.

Gordon Brown says Britain needs a change, and he is the only one who can deliver change. He says he is change himself. That's a surprising statement from the incumbent - especially from a Prime Minister whose back most Britons want to see. But Brown's change is about many forgettable details, a few pound more handout for not working or for dental treatment for those who smile, and the like, trumpeted with millions of pounds of ad-spend. In summary, Brown's change has a single meaningful point - HE inside No. 10 - which would really demand a significant change of heart from the voters at this late hour.

David Cameron says Britain needs a change and he is only one who can deliver change. He says he is the change himself. That's a surprising statement from the leader of the CONSERVATIVE party, a party which is about keeping things as they were. But this gets personal, Cameron's change is about HE inside No. 10. Other parts of his change programme consist of various forgettable details, like a £3 allowance a week for those who marry, and left to decide whether to split a bottle over two weeks to toast his generosity.

Nick Clegg says Britain needs a change and he is only one who can deliver change. He says he is the change himself. That's a surprising statement from the leader of the a party which is so little known, usually that will be seen as frightening. But this is also personal, Clegg's change is about HE inside No. 10. Other parts of his change programme consist of various forgettable details, like a higher personal allowance for Income Tax, but the rest of the programme looks as if it was written by an energy company executive - low at the beginning, but gets tough as you climb the ladder.

Yes, I admit - I did a cut-and-paste there.

But then, this is a dangerous time. The news today is bad - three people died in Greece in riots that followed the austerity package. The welfare state, which kept Europe going, has started crumbling. The European solidarity took a hit with Germany First stand of Angela Merkel, which may prove to be a disastrous policy in the coming days. Greece may be suffering today, but a contagion remains plausible, and this may pull the PIIGS [Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain] into a deeper, longer lasting crisis.

This is a life-and-death time for the modern British state. The public services have to be cut, the approach to governance has to change. And, it is not going to be easy. In fact, it is so difficult that none of the candidates want to admit that there is a difficult job to be done. They are all doing sunny side up politics which means nothing at this time. Of course, we know little else can be done in democratic politics. But, it is equally true, at times like this, that the only quality that may see things through is courage, which no one seems to be very fond of.

So, tomorrow morning, the difficulty of choice will be left to the British voters. This is also a time for apathy and institutional collapse, so many may choose not to vote. For those who turn up, it will be those few extra seconds of indecision that will matter, a last minute surge of pity may save Brown, or a bout of anger may doom him. An act of hope may float Clegg's boat, but a surrender to fear may help Cameron. If there is a time when democracy come up short, it would be tomorrow: it will be a morning when all Politicians will bare themselves on Page 3 and all newspapers will become tabloids.

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