This is an extended version of my Bury Free Press column, published on The Indiependent.
Greetings dear reader, if you stumbled into the kitchen this morning not from bed, but from the television, with the voice of David Dimbleby ringing in your ears like political tinnitus. Greetings, if you watched last night’s seats be counted through the gate of government like multi-coloured sheep, herded by the familiar pomposity of the returning officer. Greetings if, like me, you cannot abide that lazy critique of our party leaders: “but aren’t they all just the same?”
No, they’re not. But after this term’s campaigning, if you’ve not been listening intently, you might be forgiven for thinking so. The Germans have a word, Klangfarbenmelodie, which they use to describe a tune passed between the instruments of an orchestra – uninterrupted, but with the resonance of different voices. In this year’s election campaign, you’ll have heard the same old phrases bandied between the party leaders: things like “working families”, “hard working people”, “a better Britain” and the now-weary adage “long-term economic plan”.
But you can see why speechwriters and spin doctors stick to such tropes. They’re useful in convincing the voter’s subconscious that their party is the one to vote for. No one hears “hard-working people” and turns to the other guy, sure of their own laziness. No one casts aside their own family and votes solely for themself. No one votes for the party of the scroungers, the party of the feckless, the party of the selfish.
And now, galvanised by their rhetoric of empty pandering, the Tories have taken Westminster. It is the first Conservative government of my life, and it is one that I am sure will confirm my prejudices and perceptions of the social injustices the party perpetuates. Because when Labour talk of “hard-working people”, they mean the people at the bottom – working hard but receiving little. On benefits, perhaps, because their meagre wage or zero-hours contract offers little security to a family of four. Living in social housing, and paying a bedroom tax for a spare room they cannot help but have attached to their state-owned property.
The Conservatives, when they talk about the hard work of the electorate, are talking about money. They’re talking about the people who nominally work hard, and receive huge pay packets. This, to a right-wing observer, is true hard work. Those people will not be taxed: they will not pay tax on their mansions, they will pay a lower top rate of income tax, they will not fund the ‘scroungers’ whose wage cannot support their families. Here, it is clear that the use of the same political language by either party can construct entirely different narrative on the nature of society.
Last night, Blue Labour was destroyed. Miliband’s career is likely to be over, along with his hopes of being PM. Ed Balls, the last true Keynesian of Westminster, has lost his seat. Even the more fiscally moderate Vince Cable and Danny Alexander no longer can sit in the House. The electorate has voted on economic policy, and it is the policy of austerity and of banking culture which will pervade for the next five years. We had an opportunity to usurp the austerity of the “long-term economic plan”, but we blew it.
It is this sort of standardisation of political speech – the Klangfarbenmelodic campaign – that turns voters off. The days of the punchy, hard-hitting rhetoric is gone, and it has been replaced with a sort of Meccano politics: all the phrases are there, they just need to be reassembled in a different order. The order they are now in, the order of the class structure which will continue to exist under our new government, is a sham. But, dear reader, it is dressed up well by the Bullingdon boys and their chums. We have been duped by language, by phoney economics and by the Conservative party. This is a grave day for Westminster.