After nearly six hours in an airless sports hall, as the officials struggled with the new automatic counting machines, the results were... well, "as you were". Looking across the country it is hard to avoid feeling a bit flat. Certainly not much really bad news- though losing Islington was a disappointment clearly- on the other hand, holding Kingston and Sutton, taking Richmond and making overall progress is not too bad. Knocking the government into third place in the national share of the vote is also reasonable. Labour, however did not melt down- though they had a pretty horrid night over all, it was just about as bad as expected, but not worse. The Conservatives will be obviously happier, but 40% in the locals still does not look a government forming vote, at a General election, and they missed as many targets as they hit. There must be a slight sense of unease that, aside from London, their performance in the metropolitan boroughs was generally poor.
From a personal perspective, I am concerned. Turnout was still laughably low- generally around 25%. It is clear that people are just not engaging with the political system that is supposed to serve them. On reflection, I think that there probably is something that politicians actually could do to improve this. It is something so old fashioned that many will instantly dismiss it: it is courtesy.
By and large I do not believe that most of my political opponents are personally corrupt. I just think that they are mistaken. Clearly when incompetence is found- and Charles Clarke's upset at the Home Office does apply- then someone must take responsibility, and under the current cabinet system, that should be the minister. Clearly too, sexual harassment of employees, as alleged about John Prescott, is a serious professional failing and, if true, is not acceptable. However, we should be a lot more nuanced in our criticisms. Otherwise all we end up with is the sense that every failing in a minister is a scandal, and should be punished by a resignation that, if resisted, demonstrates a lust for office that is equally unacceptable.
Damned if you quit, damned if you stay.
Generic sleaze is corrosive of politics as a whole. If politicians would like greater respect from the general populace, then perhaps they should start by respecting each other in public, as most of them do in private. The problem is that such a self denying ordinance robs us of what may people see as part of the fun of politics: common abuse and muckraking. It may be fun, but we have got to try to wean ourselves away from this kind of schoolyard stuff- otherwise turnout will remain low. More to the point the quality of politicians will fall. Only professional politicians, accustomed to the personal abuse and either too thick skinned or brazen to care what people say about them, will put themselves forward. Many genuine people on all sides of the political spectrum are being put off by the intensity of the personal invective. Few rich or successful people now wish to put themselves up for election, when even driving a twenty year old Jag is considered a thoughtcrime.
For myself, I have agonized somewhat. I have no corrupt skeletons- save perhaps a couple of late tax returns. My sex life is as embarrassing as anyone else's- in the sense that I would hate much of it to be front page material on The News of the Screws- but to most eyes, it is fairly boringly normal. I am reasonably successful in the City, so there will be those who would dislike that, though I have always imposed a very strict code of personal ethics, way beyond the needs of law, and as a result am dramatically less rich than even perfectly acceptable behaviour would have made me. In the opinion of my friends and my party I am well qualified to stand for Parliament again.
I will put my name forward, but only a fool would be undaunted by the prospect of the examination ahead. Perhaps the only way is to handle oneself is with a measure of defiance, as Alan Clark- that charming rogue- did. However, a "Flashman" Parliament is as repulsive as a "Pollyanna" Parliament.
Mind you, it might be a lot more fun.