Friday, May 06, 2005

More on the British elections: move along, move along, nothing to see here

Blair again acknowledges the depth of unpopularity of his Iraq policy, but adds “I also know — and believe — that after this election people want to move on.” This is a simulacrum of contriteness, lacking any actual contrition. Since he’s not planning to withdraw British troops, what does he mean by “moving on”? He means that he will stop responding to criticisms, so opponents of the war might as well stop making them; the “move on” formula benefits only Tony Blair. It lacks the smug triumphalism of Bush’s “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections,” but its practical meaning amounts to the same thing.

During the election campaign, Blair committed several crimes against democracy — misdemeanors rather than felonies, but not insignificant ones. American politicians pay lip service to the idea that “every vote counts.” They don’t mean it, but it is important that they say it. Blair, on the other hand, told voters who might want to send him a message that a vote for the Liberal Democrats was a “wasted vote.” And, worried about a projected low turnout — and in fact Labour’s 36% tally was less than the 39% of the electorate who didn’t vote at all, which is a first in British electoral history — he insisted that the election might come down to a few thousand votes in a handful of seats, which while accurate is not something a leader in a democratic, one person one vote, country should say. And finally, by the end of the campaign he was refusing to engage with disaffected voters. In the BBC’s “Question Time” and elsewhere, I saw him shrug when confronted by people angry about Iraq, saying that he’d already made his case and they were either convinced or they weren’t. Which might be reasonable to argue, and indeed the people I saw didn’t look convinceable, but a candidate in a democracy doesn’t get to give up on trying to convince every single voter. It shows a lack of faith in democracy to do so.

The British voters accomplished exactly what Michael Howard told them to do, and what they wanted to do: they wiped the smirk off Tony Blair’s face. So the system works.

Indeed, the expression on Blair’s face last night, in the finest traditions of representative government, precisely mirrored the mood of the voters: upset, uncertain, dour, queasy and sullen. I’m telling you, the system works!

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