Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Waiting for the Earthquake

In recent weeks a serious of Earth tremors in California have reminded people there that the state is still waiting for "the Big One"- a move on a major fault line, like the famed San Andreas fault, that would cause a once-in-a-century massive Earthquake. It was 1906 when the last major 'quake took place, causing the near-destruction of the City of San Francisco, and such 'quakes have historically taken place roughly once every 90 years: after 104 years we are still waiting, and the underground pressures are building up to ever higher levels. When the fault ruptures, the size of the earthquake could indeed be a real monster.

Nor is California alone. In Japan, the roughly 60 year cycle of major quakes in the Tokyo bay area has also been broken: the last 'quake was the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which also caused massive destruction to the Japanese capital. Istanbul is also waiting for an overdue earthquake. The point is that these events could take place tomorrow, of they may yet slumber for some decades. However, the longer the delay, the more the tectonic pressures will create an even larger movement of the Earth's crust. When- not if- the 'quakes occur, they will be dramatic and devastating events. They will dominate the news cycle.

Meanwhile in Britain we too await our own earthquake- albeit a political one. This election has seen a tired Labour government look lacklustre. The Conservatives had hoped to seize the moment to take power themselves simply because the voters desired "change". That hope may prove vain. The Tories are getting little more support than they did when Michael Howard was leader. Though Conservative Central Office still hopes that the distortions of the voting system may still deliver more than 50% of the seats and 100% of the power, even on not much more than 34% of those who vote (and less than 20% of those eligible), the fact is that the Conservatives too have looked pretty pedestrian in this campaign.

For a long time, Liberals and Liberal Democrats have believed that the root of many of the problems of the UK lies in the distorted electoral system that frustrates transparency and smothers accountability. In some ways the evasion of responsibility that is routine amongst British politicians is justified- they rarely know, still less understand, the details of the brief for which they are nominally responsible. We have created a political system based on secrecy and dotted lines, where political leaders are far more in the power of unelected civil servants than the other way round. Meanwhile the scandal of "safe seats" has created a class of MP who is happy to help themselves- knowing that the ability of the voters to punish them is severely hampered by the voting system. For years, even decades, the contradictions and anomalies of the British political system have grown. Yet the tectonic pressure for reform has grown too.

The Liberal Democrat analysis of the problems in the political system is now being echoed far more widely than ever. As the economic crisis has grown, so the incestuous links between the lobbyists for vested interests and the political class have been revealed. The attacks on the Liberal Democrats by the Murdoch Press have been revealed as little more than a campaign to protect the power of these vested interest by media figures who are paid to support their proprietor's line. This election has seen a further step in the decline of the idea of the press as an independent check on the political system: the media is so completely compromised by its direct involvement.

Yet the Lib Dems have also been in the vanguard of an insurrection against the entrenched interests of newspaper proprietors: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube all have more users by far than the old fashioned press. It is here that the Lib Dems have made dramatic progress indeed. Millions of voters have now seen directly what the principles, ideas and policies can offer them, and despite the unrelenting media hostility- including flat lies being published- many are liking what they see.

Over long years the Liberals and Liberal Democrats have hoped to see the political earthquake in Britain that can allow greater transparency and accountability to come to our politics. For years we have thought that such change would come soon- and each election we have been disappointed, and even though we have often made progress it has not been enough.

Now I see the pre-tremors that seem to herald "the Big One": the failure of Labour to govern, the failure of the Conservatives to inspire, is more than matched by the enthusiasm we have seen at every meeting where Nick Clegg has spoken. The determination and positive vision of Liberal Democrats is now being recognised by the voters. As we enter the last days of this campaign, even though the media are trying to reduce each party to a one line cliche, I see things that I never thought to see even in my wildest hopes. It is clear that the Liberal Democrats have won the campaign in fine style: despite being the poorest party, despite the twisted agenda of self-interested media barons, and despite the determination of the establishment that the broken two-party system should remain unchanged.

As the rumble grows louder, I feel the fault lines of British politics stirring into life after being long dormant. The British people are preparing to make a radical change- not the mere cosmetic changes proposed by Lab/Con. As I think of the many Liberals I have known over the decades who would have loved to have seen these days but who did not live long enough, I reflect that the battle is still far from over. In many ways the Earthquake is only half the story: next will come the slow construction of a new, more open political system based on more solid economics and on much fairer political and social foundations.

The Earthquake we are seeing is that the Liberal Democrat voice is being heard, and respected, and voted for, in numbers not seen in a century.

Now: back to the doorsteps... we have only two days left to make the earthquake a reality.

1 comment:

Newmania said...

Cannot say the earth moved for me