Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 10th 2015 Contents A22
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt May 10, 2015
Shock. That's the reaction to the
election result in the UK which
left the Conservative Leader, David
Cameron, put in Downing Street for
another five years. My friends are
crying into whiskey with their bacon
and eggs as I write this, the day after
the UK general election.
The polls that showed Labour neck
and neck with the Conservatives
(hinting at a Labour victory) were
horribly wrong. I believed this
because my Facebook feed surged
with hope before the election and
plunged with disappointment after
it.As a Trini/bagonian it was inter-
esting watching an election in a first
Firstly, all the papers took a polit-
ical stand in the election campaign.
For instance, 95 per cent of the
columns in the Rupert Murdoch-
owned tabloid, the Sun, have been
anti-Labour. The Daily Telegraph, a
respected conservative broadsheet,
sent out a mass email to its readers
urging them to vote Conservative
and included a link to the Telegraph's
editorial backing the Tories. The
Guardian endorsed the Labour party.
The disappointment at the outcome
was so great that one of its colum-
nists, Stuart Heritage wrote this
histrionic column following the
David Cameron victory.
"Glancing around this morning,
the overwhelming instinct is to suc-
cumb to despair. The country is
screwed. The electorate is evil. The
UK has become a flat, ugly, smoul-
dering disaster zone, and by the year
2020 we'll all be dressed in rags and
feasting on abandoned placentas for
In Trinidad, if we wrote something
like this journalists would be pillo-
ried, pummelled and ousted for
"biased" reporting. The fact is that
newspapers and journalists have a
right to take a stand.
The other thing that I found inter-
esting about this election is that
everybody voted on issues. It had
almost nothing to do with person-
ality. Even the most tabloid of
tabloids, The Sun devoted two full
pages in the run-up to the election
stating the issues and what each
Just as a template for us, the issues
were seen to be the following.
The economy. Immigration and
Europe. National Health Service.
Security and defence. Education.
Energy and environment. Crime and
Housing. Foreign aid. Britishness.
Freedom of the press. The BBC.
No matter how disappointed peo-
ple are, no matter how devastated
or elated they are, depending on
which side of the fence they stand,
they voted on how they thought
their government would work for
them. It's understood. The Govern-
ment works for the people.
The other thing that separates us
from proper leaders of proper coun-
tries is that the leaders of the losing
parties---Liberal Democrats, ( Nick
Clegg) Ukip ( Nigel Farage) and
Labour( Ed Miliband) have resigned.
The Brits are not pugnacious in
defeat. They do the right thing. They
resign without being forced out by
some scandal which bleeds so heavily
that no band aid can contain the
It is true that I am personally
disappointed at the outcome as I
have always leaned towards
Labour but like the electrician
who came to fix my stove today,
I think Tony Blair watered down
Labour so much that it became
barely indistinguishable from the
Conservatives. He said that under
Labour he bought two homes.
Under the Conservatives his
prospects haven't changed much
although he works much harder
due to the tax regimes that
penalise people who earn above a
No matter how much they protest,
it is no denying that under the con-
servatives the rich and powerful will
stay that way. Under a Tory Gov-
ernment visitors, students and immi-
grants to the UK will suffer.
The Conservative government has
promised an EU referendum. They
have promised to cut net immigra-
tion to below 100,000 people a year.
Under Labour foreign students had
two years to work after they grad-
The Conservatives cut that out.
It will remain that way. I suspect
the far right, the fascists will gain
momentum and there will be a
greater emphasis on being white and
British. Whatever that means.
As a journalist who has literally
grown up with the BBC, I am par-
ticularly saddened that the Conser-
vatives intend to "review the BBC
Royal charter to ensure it is delivering
value for money," which means they
will cut staff and possibility the world
service which will be devastating to
millions around the world. Under
this government the Scots will
almost certainly go their own way.
A spark of hope is that the
Conservatives are committed to
working toward peace in Syria
and Iraq and the defeat of IS
(The terrorist Islamic State).
The end result is democracy is
alive in the UK. I can't be so sure
of that at home. We are so fractured
that the Leader of the Opposition,
Dr Keith Rowley, who was suspended
from the Parliament will not be
allowed to return to the House for
the remainder of the session over
false' emails. The vote was taken in
the absence of the opposition mem-
bers, who walked out hours before
Leader of Government Business Dr
Roodal Moonilal moved a motion of
censure against Rowley. It stated that
Rowley produced false information
to the House when he brought some
31 emails to Parliament two years
So who is running the country?
Who is the watchdog? Where are
the checks and balances?
This is far more ominous than
the Labour defeat in the UK. The
UK is shocked but we are disap-
pointed. Democracy is on its
knees in T&T.
Lesson one: you can't predict
elections. In the run-up to
Britain's election last Thursday,
everyone expected a messed-up
That's everyone: all the polls, all
the experts, all the journalists, all
the party leaders
No party expected a majority.
They hoped at best for a two-or-
three-party coalition, or a shaky
A slew of polls were published on
election eve. Every single one point-
ed to a hung Parliament.
Even the 22,000-strong exit
poll published right after the
booths closed predicted a minor-
Instead, David Cameron's
Conservatives have an overall
majority--albeit wafer-thin, with
just 331 of the 650 seats.
That's after trailing the Opposition
Labour Party in the opinion polls
over almost the entire five-year life
of the last Parliament.
Lesson two: You can be
unpopular and still win. David
Cameron's Conservatives won
their overall majority with just
37 per cent of the popular vote,
and less than one-quarter of the
One-third did not bother to
vote---and of those who did turn
out, almost two-thirds voted for
Lesson three: Minority coali-
tion parties get hammered. The
middle-ground Liberal Democ-
rats won 57 seats last time
round, in May 2010. This time,
it looks like just eight. They can
all fit into one taxi.
And that's a party with a
proud 150 years of history.
Lesson four: Voting systems
matter. Like T&T, Britain has
The candidate with most votes
wins the seat. In Britain's five or
six-horse races, the winner may
have less than one-third of the
Nationally, smaller parties get
squeezed to nothing. Last Thurs-
day, the xenophobic United
Kingdom Independence Party
(UKIP) got 13 per cent of the
votes--but just one seat.
That's like what happened to the
COP in 2007. They got 23 per cent
of T&T's national vote, but not one
In Britain, plenty voters dislike
both main parties. With first-past-
the-post, they have a choice of stay-
ing home, casting a "wasted" vote
for a minor party--or X-ing a "hold-
your-nose" ballot for the lesser of
two big evils.
That leaves a big slice of the
population alienated. Belief in
democracy is undermined, the
worst result of all.
By contrast, small parties with
a strong local base can do well.
The Scottish National Party took
just five per cent of the overall
vote--but nine per cent of the
seats, and 56 of the 59 in Scot-
land. The ultra-protestant Dem-
ocratic Unionist Party in North-
ern Ireland took eight seats, with
just 0.6 per cent of the overall
In T&T, a small party can do well
only if it has a strong local base---
whether that's in Tobago, or in
Lesson five: The real fun
comes after the election.
Britain's 1992 election looked a
bit like this one. Labour expect-
ed a narrow win--but on the big
night, John Major's Conservatives
pulled ahead with 336 seats.
Major won 42 per cent of the
popular vote--a good bit more
than David Cameron's 37 per
Then the trouble started. Arrogant
ministers landed themselves in a
bunch of tawdry scandals. Mean-
while, party factions tore each other
apart over Europe.
Five years later, came the pay-
off---there was Tony Blair's landslide
for Labour, and for the Conserva-
tives, 13 years on the opposition
This time round, David Cameron
is pledged to renegotiate the terms
of Britain's membership of the Euro-
pean Union and then hold an "In
or Out" referendum in 2017.
He won't win too many con-
cessions from Angela Merkel.
He says he will campaign for a
"Yes" to Europe, with strong busi-
ness backing. But most of his back-
benchers are anti-European, and so
is much of his Cabinet.
Meanwhile, Cameron wants
more cuts in public services,
which won't be popular. The
much-loved National Health
Service is looking creaky. He
wants to scrap the Human
Rights Act. The firmly anti-
European party, UKIP, may ride
high as the Government hits its
At best, the referendum will create
two years of investor uncertainty
and distract from real policy tasks.
At worst, it pulls Britain out of
Europe. A close result will settle
Then there's Scotland. The three
old-time Westminster parties have
just one seat each north of the bor-
der. The SNP has 56.
SNP leader Angela Sturgeon has
an engaging and energetic person-
She also wants independence.
After narrowly losing last year's ref-
erendum, she has not said so--but
she clearly wants a re-match.
Next year, she wants to cement
her party's majority in the Scottish
Parliament, in Edinburgh, which
runs most public services in Scot-
In Westminster meanwhile, David
Cameron wants to block the 59
Scottish members from voting on
public services for England.
That would be a bit like preventing
T&T's two Tobago members from
voting on matters which are
devolved to the Tobago Assembly.
The Scots won't like it.
How is all this going to play out?
There are a good few scenarios.
Many of them end up with
England outside the EU and an
independent Scotland. But as we
saw on Thursday, all crystal balls
DEMOCRACY ON ITS KNEES IN T&T
FIVE LESSONS FROM BRITAIN'S ELECTION
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