First I bitched about the Conservatives and their hung parliament scare-mongering bullshit.
Then, surprisingly, I ended up defending Gordon Brown, for the most part.
Now, as I entirely fail to make this sound like the thrilling climax of an epic Hollywood blockbuster trilogy, it’s the Lib Dems’ turn.
Yes, the Liberal Democrats’ latest volley into the final stretch of vote-grabbing is a video titled “I Believe In Fairness”. If you’ve seen any of the leaders’ debates on TV recently, you’ll have heard Nick Clegg regularly bringing up the fact that making things “fair” for people is one of his and his party’s top priorities.
I’m still mulling over why I keep cringeing so much at this. It’s not like I’m against the very concept of fairness, after all – though maybe part of my aversion is that it’s something which is impossible to be against, and therefore doesn’t really mean much when you claim to be in favour of it. It can only be meaningful if you provide some specifics, and lay out what “building a fairer Britain” actually means to you, in practical terms.
And Clegg has done this, to an extent – I watched some of the debate last night, and he was bringing up specific points to do with tax credits and national insurance and so forth. But my compulsive libertarian sensibilities get twitchy about using “fairness” to describe taking away 40% of what some people earn to provide free services and money to the less able, the less qualified, the less hard-working, the less talented, and the otherwise less well-off.
Now, I generally know when to tell my libertarian sensibilities to shut the fuck up and grow some compassion. I’m not against higher tax rates for the rich, or social programs that provide for the poor, and obviously a good deal of it is about providing something that hopefully approximates “fairness” to the many people in the country who aren’t rewarded as much as others for the hard work they do due to circumstances beyond their control.
But it’s rarely as simple to stamp “UNFAIR” over any particular situation as the tabloids would have it. A lot of people are struggling, for many different reasons, and finding a way to address this which makes the most economic and social sense is a lot more complex than just fixating on some imaginary gold standard of “fairness”.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about this video. Which bugs me for a whole different reason.
I don’t object to twee cutesy loveliness in itself. There’s absolutely a place for things to be a bit naff in their heartfelt cliché-ness. That’s fine.
But if something’s meant to persuade me to vote for somebody, and that one political party is better than the others in what they think and what they plan to do, I’d prefer a bit of actual substance. And a lot of this video is vague to the point of meaninglessness.
The enigmatic narrator believes, for instance, in “safer communities”. Safer than what? Safer than they are now? All of them? Aren’t some of them probably safe enough? There’s a picture of a policeman in some sort of weird yellow body-stocking on the screen at this point – what exactly will you be doing with the police that will make communities safer? (You want to watch that kid in the hoodie, for a start. No way that’s a friendly smile. What’s he doing with his hands in his pockets like that? He’s got a knife!)
Next is “improving our transport system”. Again, it’s nice to know that that’s somewhere on your list of priorities, but are any party leaders seriously saying “Nah, we’re fine for buses, trains, roads, and all that transport stuff”? Everyone wants the transport system to be better, but what are you actually going to do? And how much is it going to cost?
I’m not sure what a “Zero-Carbon Britain” is, but I’m not sure I can join you in believing in something so made-up. Yay for reducing emissions, but how are you going to do this in a way that leads to “fairer energy prices” (by which I presume you mean “lower energy prices”)? Aside from a drawing of some giant fans blowing away some smoke, you’re not giving much away here.
“I believe in abolishing tuition fees” is nicely specific, finally, but then it’s quickly back to platitudes like “helping business and our economy grow”. With an image of people in suits sitting round a table and someone pointing at a line graph on the wall, the international symbol for “business”.
Even their stance against Trident, our nuclear program, seems oddly half-hearted and compromised. I thought the basic idea was to get rid of them, but here they believe in “saying no to the like-for-like replacement of Trident missiles”. Does that mean you’ll be getting some different ones in instead, or moving them around a bit to help with the feng shui?
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe detailed plans for all these things do exist, but this kind of message is intended to convey a different tone. This is no doubt one of many angles the Lib Dems are taking in their campaign, and perhaps they mean for this video to focus on warm feelings at the expense of cold data, in the same way that Nike commercials just show you how cool professional athletes look wearing the shoes, and don’t go into detail about how well they fit or how owning a pair would actually benefit you. That information’s out there, and they have a good product, but this is just to grab your attention with the shiny so that they can sell it to you.
(There’s a better metaphor than that rattling around in my brain somewhere, but I can’t get at it.)
Anyway. Just an account of my immediate thoughts. I’m still looking for some more good reasons to justify my inclination to vote Lib Dem on Thursday, but this video isn’t really helping.