The Generation With No Name

People Stand On The Berlin Wall

This hostorical perspective of a member of Generation X in Australia was offered to a number of publications with a certain confidence, but those who were offered the essay declined to run it, and so here it is.

Politics was in a shambolic state when some of us were born. The Dismissal had just happened, events of such moment they would be marked every year by debates, opinion pieces and re-enactments featuring versions of Sir John Kerr’s eighteenth century composer hairdo. Now that most of the dramatis personae have left us this anniversary doesn’t seem so urgent, but it is still discussed. Respect for the position of Governor General suffered. Politics became a hard game, played to win by a new breed of ruthless younger men intent upon replacing gentlemen legislators of a previous era.

In the 1970s terrorism was cool. Celebrity terrorists had appealing nicknames like Carlos The Jackal and their dreadful work was international. There were the PLO and the IRA and you couldn’t be considered a proper paramilitary organisation without an acronym. Although religion was sometimes a justification for atrocities, the operatives were secular in character. They wore headbands and open necked shirts with far too many buttons undone. They wore aviator shades and they drank and smoked and had girlfriends.

Things changed a bit in the early 1980s, when some of us started school. Labor won power, replacing a government which never really got over its role in the Dismissal. The task of modernising the economy continued under the stewardship of competent salesmen who taught us to understand economic graphs and use the terms they used in our own conversation. The dollar was floated, which modernised the economy a bit more.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher led the US and the UK. To a little boy both seemed to be there forever in their quest to lead the free world in the struggle against the Evil Empire. There was excitement when the President revealed his Star Wars nuclear missile defence program, promising some kind of video game on a grand scale to defeat the Soviets,  at a fantastic cost, which somehow made it all the more exciting and likely, for America was huge and powerful and they could do whatever they wanted. We knew that the third and final Star Wars film was on its way, and wondered if there was any connection between the two. But the numbers were absurd and the plan had more showbiz than sense about it.

Meanwhile in both countries the poor were further disempowered as economies were forcibly modernised. Economists called these ideas “neo liberal” and they would soon be emulated by politicians in other parts of the world. Traditional factory jobs in traditional industries disappeared when it was realised that people in less-developed parts of the world could do them for even less money. This process was given the satisfyingly sophisticated name of globalisation, and presented as exciting, new and creative.

Free trade was a good thing, said all the countries which counted. There was no future in artificially propping up traditional industries with tariffs and duties. The market should be free and it should be independent and uninfluenced by governments. The alternative was Communism, which was no alternative at all. At the same time there were nightly reports on the news about what our entrepreneurs were doing. These men were heroes and we followed their hostile takeovers and mergers. Banks propped them up as their deals became riskier. Within fifteen years most of them were in gaol or bankrupt or had fled the country. Without them we would not have won the America’s Cup and Queensland would not have so many resorts.

Soviet news rarely reached us, but when we heard about the reactor malfunction in the town of Chernobyl it emphasised that the world was a dangerous place. Those of us who were about ten already knew that our lives would probably end in a nuclear war. Now we were reminded that it didn’t need to be a war: nuclear things could kill you. Sympathy for the victims was genuine – they didn’t seem like enemies at all.

But the adults didn’t let this worry them too much. They were busy being confident. In this era we focussed on the world, and thought we were good enough to be compared with anyone. This seemed right when the film Crocodile Dundee was a global hit for Paul Hogan. The stock market crashed in 1987, and this should have warned against the over-confident assumption of bottomless prosperity, but doubt was put to the back of our minds in the next year’s Bicentennial celebrations, where tall ships with advertising on their sales re-enacted the arrival of the First Fleet, and a deluge of government money poured into projects, some of which actually warranted it.

Some of us started high school at about this time and at this age thoughts naturally turn to adult things. But it was no longer easy to do the most natural thing in the world. No, AIDS would kill you if you had sex with anybody. The award-winning Grim Reaper advertising campaign emphasised that the disease would strike at random, that nobody was safe. Such were the new anxieties of our generation.

Soon the Berlin Wall came down and this happy occasion liberated the oppressed peoples of Europe, ending the Cold War. Except that now economic conditions were precarious: millions of Eastern workers desired their piece of the Western capitalist dream. China might be more economically open, but it was still an authoritarian regime with nuclear weapons, and many Soviet era warheads were still around.

The overall anxiety level had eased, but now we were anxious about the environment as well, particularly after the discovery of a hole in the Ozone layer and what the experts were calling the Greenhouse Effect. This hadn’t become a debate yet. It was a theory with a lot of evidence and we wrote essays about it in Geography exams.

In the early nineties there was a hot war. Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US led a coalition to stop their evil dictator, who was left in power because his regime was deemed stable enough to look after all the precious oil which the country produced. It was a brief war and some of us spent the last week or so of our Christmas holidays one year watching it like a TV show, which was entertaining enough if there was no cricket on. Australia was involved, as usual.

An economic recession resulted in many job losses and the failure of many businesses. It didn’t sneak up. We focussed on ourselves, laughed at nihilistic comedy, and were introspective as we regrouped and started again.

Interest rates were so high that you could make money just from having something in the bank. This meant that repayments on any kind of debt were crippling. Remedies adopted by politicians aimed to further modernise the economy. Economic rationalism was a phrase so overused as to be almost meaningless. It was the reason for everything. Government assets were sold and functions privatised, public service jobs were slashed and those who formulated these policies told us to trust them and said that if we took our medicine it would be good for us in the long run. An uncertain future called for advice, and the best advice said we should finish school, go to university, and get a good job. So we studied fearfully hard, hoping that things would improve.

At this time they started calling us Generation X, the cohort following the Baby Boomers, a mysterious group without a proper name who were said to be cynical. We had more than enough reason to be cynical in the ‘90s. Most of the certainties of the previous generation had been removed or were threatened. The social safety net had contracted, suicide was a growing problem, and traditional community values rejected kids who weren’t straight.

Within a few years the recession was a memory. Some of us had finished school and started university and saw protest everywhere. Everyone needed to work by this time, so marching had to be fitted in around holding down a regular job. But there were a lot of things to protest about and the number of things grew when the Coalition returned to office after many years in opposition. Government programs were cut and it was said that the user should pay.

At this time we turned on each other and pointed fingers at those who didn’t measure up to our Australian values. Comfortable members of the community begrudged assistance given those without their advantages. Once again, the economy needed to be modernised, this time with all stick and no carrot. And all in the name of achieving a budget surplus, the concept which enjoyed exalted significance as the only measure of financial responsibility everybody could understand.

Economic rationalism was pervasive. Efficiency dictated major restructuring in our winter sports, and after talks and mergers a few clubs disappeared altogether when experts tried to understand the world of culture and tribal allegiance in financial terms.

It was at about this time that some of us started losing touch with the fragmenting popular culture. Hollywood was dominated by special effects films with no plot and it became impossible to maintain contact with new music untainted by commercialism, so some of us decided not to bother any more.

We felt safer when strict gun laws were introduced, although it required the massacre of several tourists at Port Arthur by a mentally ill man with a semi-automatic rifle in order to bring about this reform.

As the 1990s drew to a close many parents bought big screen TVs, the newest status symbol, using government money designed to assist with new-baby expenses. It wasn’t the first appeal to parents. When government-owned bank and telecommunications companies were privatised “mum and dad investors” were encouraged to buy shares. The share market would keep going up forever, said braces-wearing experts on TV, sitting at their desks with Times Square in the background. Everyone was too eager to invest to consider that this wasn’t logical.

Aspiration was good and people were encouraged to improve their position by buying and selling. When this idea was applied to housing homes became regarded as a commodity rather than a place to shelter. We were told the value of real estate would never fall, and that this could only be a good thing.

Certain words took on a new importance: words like mateship and un-Australian and political correctness. When these words were used the message was about excluding people and disapproving of behaviour. Only a few years before the words had been Asia and reconciliation and republic, but some people grew tired of hearing those words and those people feared a multicultural future.

Words and symbols were important enough to be contested, and a disagreement of this type resulted in a failed constitutional referendum, which meant that Great Britain’s monarch remained our head-of-state.

It was a self-absorbed way to end the 1990s, but before long the Olympic Games were here and we revelled in being at the centre of the world. A lot of money was spent in anticipation of the festival and we congratulated ourselves that if we could do this well we could do anything. But the euphoria didn’t last. In the years following, economic confidence flagged in the Olympic city, as it does in all host cities after the games have ended.

We were a small demographic group, outnumbered by our seniors and soon to be overwhelmed by those reaching adulthood in the twenty-first century.  Some of us were working full-time by now, and had our heads down. Experience had taught us to take nothing at face value, especially if the story seemed too good to be true, and this meant we trusted politicians less.

Within a year a boatload of refugees bound for Australia had been picked up by a Norwegian vessel and promptly refused asylum when the rescuing captain attempted to have them accepted here. This event encouraged those who didn’t like the idea that anyone might be given special treatment, especially if they were from countries which did not share our values. The concept of queue jumping was used to buffer prejudiced views, but within a few weeks terrorist attacks on famous buildings in New York and Washington meant that you didn’t need to hide racist assumptions any more. Most arguments could now be reduced to us versus them.

Until this point the US president, the son of another US president, had been a figure of fun. Afterwards he was still considered a buffoon by everyone except the sizeable number of Americans who believed that domestic security could be strengthened by reducing civil rights and interfering militarily in Iraq. These people voted for him again four years later. World leaders who should have known better were complicit in his rather naive plan to bring peace to the Persian Gulf and gain control of its oilfields, and they joined in. Australia helped, as we always do.

The War on Terror was underway and we were told it would be a more successful enterprise than the War on Drugs, which had been attempting to destroy the international narcotics trade for decades.

At about this time, some of us decided that we needed to carry all of the music we had ever owned with us at all times, and luckily Apple made a sophisticated device for that. Personal entertainment had come a long way since Space Invaders and PacMan in the ‘80s, but strangely it was just that type of crude arcade game that we played on even more sophisticated devices – when we weren’t looking at pictures of cats or food or our friends’ over-achieving offspring – and you could make phone calls with them too.

Politics changed when the long-serving government was defeated and there was bold talk about the environment for the first time in a while. It didn’t last though. An apology to indigenous people was derided as both potentially dangerous and a hollow symbolic gesture, while the notion that a government might attempt to address the connection between pollution and climate change was ridiculed. Some of us had a serious girlfriend at this time, and our focus was on other things, but it was clear that politicians were less constructive than ever.

Citizens had lost faith in the system to the extent that elected representatives were no longer allowed time to learn their jobs. Just as voters turned on their politicians so politicians turned on each other, replacing elected leaders in the hope of improving opinion polling numbers, and this whole process did nothing to improve the quality of governing. Somehow in this period of instability Australia was affected only slightly by the Global Financial Crisis. The reasons for this are disputed, but may have had something to do with massive amounts of wasted money or prudent management of the economy.

Terrorism proliferated. The names of the organisations changed but the grievances and methods of dealing with them were the same. Religious zealots with a hatred of our society proved a formidable foe, yet we still refused to understand them.

We were living in bigger houses and talking less to our neighbours and had never been as incurious. We doubted medical advice about having our children vaccinated and gave them bizarre first names. And whenever asylum seekers arrived by boat they were treated as if they had done something illegal.

The future we had hoped for seemed unlikely to eventuate and the political present had turned very strange. Amid plots and feuding the Queen’s husband was given a knighthood. Some of us still rented the house we lived in, with no prospect of buying our own, and our more successful friends were doing obscure jobs in finance which were really about making rich older clients richer. Some of us got married to our sweethearts as an argument broke out between Baby Boomers, our predecessors, and Millenials, the cohort after us – a misunderstood group, as we had been, said to be disengaged, but at least with their own name. The two groups traded insults while we looked on.

And the kids who didn’t study hard and go to university but instead left school early and ignored the knowledge economy found themselves as tradesmen and women with golden economic prospects. Their response to the modernising economy was shown to be the right one. It made a few of the rest of us who had followed the sensible path wonder if we had wasted our time.

Those of us who were about forty might have had very little to believe in, but at least we had our heroes – until a huge number of them were swept away in the cultural holocaust of 2016. Then the Brexit and Trump election results showed us what a future shaped by traditional values might look like.

Sorting human beings into groups is necessary in order to understand our society, and our society has changed a good deal since some of us were born in the mid-1970s. The Millenial influence grows as they mature but ageing Boomers continue to shape our culture while they hold on to their positions of power.

Younger people, more than the rest of us, are deeply offended by prejudice and feel strongly about same sex marriage. We can only hope that their view prevails on this and many other issues1, for their commitment to social justice is genuine and this country would benefit from a little more generosity now.

For them to change the world they must not follow their elders, as we did, but assert themselves and create new Australian values for a more decent Australia.


1 In the postal survey on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry Yes prevailed with 61.6% of the vote.

Baby Sniffing, I Mean Licking, I Mean … You Know, What Politicians Do

Where to begin? The beginning? OK. Logical. I like it.

It started when I was class captain in Year 6. This was a position of some responsibility, almost a politician’s role, but different, for the cynicism people feel about politicians – adult people, that is – is absent, or was then, at any rate, in twelve year-olds, and so the position then seemed as a position of authority perhaps should to all of those who hold office of any kind: like there was much more obligation than there could ever be renown. Like there was no glory, only the opportunity to do something for others. Like caring wasn’t just the natural reaction of an interested individual, but a duty – and a duty to care in a constructive way, to make lives easier, for families and individuals.

In a position of this kind, where people are involved – people and their needs and interests; the competing values of stakeholders, in short – the people are the most important consideration in the elected official’s suite of considerations. And considerations, too, are subject to prioritisation in the continual process of liaising between management and staff, through the official as a conduit in order to facilitate broadly defined, and specifically outlined, outcomes which aim to satisfy the demands of all while refusing to yield completely to any, achieving a tailored outcome comprising synergies of expectation and fulfilment to all layers of participant in the ongoing dialogue – meta and micro – going forward.

And that’s how I chose one comprehension test rather than the other when the teacher showed them both to me and told me to make a choice for an activity to do for the afternoon when he was to be away that time. I picked the easier one, as I thought the class (my members) would approve. The fact that we would be working on something made him (management) happy. It was my first experience of politics.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  


When the glass is empty you keep going. You don’t need the glass. The glass is just a glass. It represents nothing more than glass in a certain shape and of a certain weight. It has mass and dimensions. That’s all. Otherwise, what you choose it to mean, you have chosen it to mean. Emptiness means nothing, in a glass way – but it can mean I’d better get another; I’m parched, if you choose it to mean that.

In fact I’m parched. There … that’s better.


But no, these things will not appear on the ledger, to be read by other people: the kind of other people who may choose to use them against you. They will not appear at all. There is merit in not broadcasting some things – in fact there is merit in not broadcasting many things.

Some people don’t appear to know that a lack of caution is likely to mean that certain details will always be available, certain incriminating details, for all time on the internet … or until certain servers in certain places stop working, or their power bills don’t get paid, or there’s some kind of apocalypse. Yep, the pics of you with a traffic witches hat on your head, wearing a tutu, at a Happy Birthday Adolf April 20 party, simulating an adult act with an exhaust pipe from a 1988 Holden Camira, might stay online and available until the robots take over and prepare this planet for a thousand years of dominion by their new masters, the Slug People.

But you can’t advise some people. Even with realistic scenarios like this one.

Their loss.

They have been warned.

And they probably aren’t listening anyway.

I wonder if redneck dickheads who leave racist comments on Facebook are having more fun than me.


Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wikipedia & Google Can Overcome Despair

Recently I was reading about North Korea and I read something about a siren being sounded at 7am, Midday, and 8pm (or something) – alerts for wake, eat, and sleep. Makes sense when you consider that they have what could be euphemistically described as ‘power shortages’, and it is necessary to ration the use of electricity, and in fact satellite images of the Earth show most of North Korea as black at night, when South Korea is brightly illuminated. But it is also an indication of how pervasive the influence of the ruling regime is on the conduct of the lives of the citizens of this poor, benighted country.

Of course life for me and mine is not as bad as all that, but it sometimes seems like all there is in life is the barest of routine and those diurnal signposts are the significant features each day. Each day is the same, like those mining towns where the a sort of community alarm goes off to get people out of bed and to announce to everyone that a shift has started and so on. I suppose the whole of North Korea is a kind of huge one-employer mining town, in a way.

And yes, it is just whinging to say that every workday is indistinguishable from the last one. It’s just that the differences are outweighed by the similarities. The common elements are like a series of granite monuments, while the differences: moments of emotion or achievement or unexpected happiness or totally unfair and unforseen reversals or moments when you really do, literally, smell the roses and realise that life ain’t so bad are made of plywood in comparison. They last as memories. But only some of those memories of moments when you were moved, for example will shape your personality and outlook. Whereas being treated like crap by your boss every day for three years, as an example, will definitely affect your character in some way. Not that I’m treated like crap, not really – it was just a creative example.

I have some odd interests and these lead me into doing what I am pleased to call ‘research’ whenever I get time enough for it at work, and this is possibly the reason for me thinking about North Korea at the moment. I was following the story of the North Korea leadership succession, and imminent (unless it has already happened by now – not sure) announcement of Kim Jong-Il’s son Kim Jong-un as the next head honcho.[1] This got me reading and re-reading stories about the Pyongyang Metro[2] where tourists are allowed to only get on and off at two stations, presumably so they can’t see ‘real’ North Koreans who are, again presumably, mostly undernourished and neglected, although apparently happy as they have been so thoroughly brainwashed into thinking that things are OK. And they have had nothing to compare their lifestyle with as the state controls all media and criticism is banned in all forms. Apparently many North Koreans die each year when they attempt to rescue portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader from burning buildings, and some sailors were honoured for similar unconscious fanaticism.[3] And I found myself wanting to know more about personality cults, and inevitably wound up reading about Saparmurat Niyazov, the former ruler of Turkmesnistan,[4] and the most brilliant thing ever: a huge golden statue of himself which rotated through 360 degrees during the day, so the sun was always shining on it, sitting atop the Neutrality Arch in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (here’s a pic[5]). The statue is gone now, thus removing any reason to actually travel to Turkmensitan, which is a shame.

We’ve been on a little journey from feeling a bit like life is the same as living in a dictatorial and oppressive place to having a little giggle at just those places. Isn’t the internet wonderful?






Published in: on September 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

While Australia Voted

In the shaded front yard – in front of the verandah with plants on the small pink table and chairs and plants hanging from the beam attached to the roof, where Mr. Mu recently climbed, on one of his escapades up a tree that he does when I am watering and he comes out and we have Man Time together, which means he runs around and climbs things and hides and in his mind we are playing out blokey strategy games but in reality I am just watering plants, and I didn’t really understand that we were sharing a masculine moment at first but now really enjoy Man Time when it happens – there is a little concreted area which we converted into a flower garden. Sun (or lack of sun) is a factor, but this area gets decent light for about half of the day during the cooler months. Only just, but it does. On the weekend a confluence of circumstances found Laetitia and I in the front yard, having returned from a nearby plant nursery, and doing planty things, and the idea of extending our little rockery occurred to her and I said that I thought it was a good idea.

We had rocks of various shapes, all interestingand worth being on display, sitting in the driveway from when a load of building materials were bought months ago. And the idea, and this is genius in a way, was to extend the circular flower spot by extending a roughly concentric ring around it. And of course we filled the new perimeter with soil (or should that be we ‘dressed’ the space between the old perimeter and the new one?). We now have poppies in the ground, some with flowers open and some not, and there is more space for the ground cover to explore and the cheap little flower things in small pots, sold simply as “potted colour”, as they presumably don’t have a name that anyone knows or don’t deserve one, but instead are simply pretty and cute and catch the eye, and that’s all, have more space and are now in better soil. And this bigger rockery idea also means that less space is now devoted to the parts of the front lawn upon which grass refuses to grow.

And now Maidenhair ferns are in classy terracotta pots and are out of the wind, where I hope they will be happier and thrive, and there’s a bit more order to what is going on out the front. The cyclamen seems happy and the aloe vera has more room, but I hope I can still coax it into curling around on itself, as it has gone off on a strange angle, having grown beyond the boundary of its pot and taken a weird twisting angle downwards.

And these garden changes were made while Australia was voting and then while votes were being counted, as they still are. The shape or style of government we will have is still unknown at this time, but the front garden is looking more presentable and its inhabitants seem healthier than they did this time last week.

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Picking Teams

A recent phone call jogged a number of memories about school life and its aftermath and it got me thinking about the structures of our lives and which people are close to us and which people aren’t, and why. I think of school fondly as a time when I was happy, challenged, keen, committed, ready, and willing to laugh off failure (well, some failures) with the knowledge that it: a) doesn’t matter and at least you had a go; or b) it does matter, but there’s time to make another attempt and the second attempt will always be a smarter effort than the first, as experience will go into planning it. Of course I was learning about a third option: c) it matters, you had a go, you performed poorly, there are many better than you at the task, and that will always be the case. The last option could be said to represent a crucial realisation in mature thinking and seeing the world as an adult. I don’t know. It sounds just half-smart enough to be true.

But it would be enough, at this point, to say that I was popular. Not popular in the US teen film way from the 1980s – no panty raids from the girls’ dorm or showers, no keg parties, and no jocks enjoying themselves at nerds’ expense. (The concept of nerd has changed quite radically in fifteen years – please believe me, those of you under 30 when I say that to be a nerd was almost like having a serious illness, frequently thought to be contagious, and it didn’t just mean “he like to play his PS3”). Popular in this case meant having friends from a number of the school’s subcultures. It was an environment which didn’t admit – or tried very hard not to admit – absolute dickheads, so the moron ratio was exceedingly low. However there were still sporty types, smart but popular types, may of whom were sporty too, the just plain popular, and others: thinkers, triers, strugglers, misfits, artists/musicians who didn’t emerge into the light very often, rebels, and a very few other sub-subcultures. These categories often overlapped and I knew and was friendly with individuals from the cross-section available. Others, perhaps those who felt popularity was a game they chose not to play (often because they moved in small circles and wondered at the privileges they may have been missing, which they actually weren’t) may have thought negative things about me. (It was a shock when I learned that people genuinely disliked me; sure, I never expected to be everyone’s best mate, but that’s a long way from a species of hatred.) I was never purely a “popular” school kid. Never. It was more that I drew contacts from a variety of sources. I knew some teachers well as I was quite bright and I had been pretty decent at playing footy and running fast and had played cricket in a not disgracefully bad manner and I liked to read or at least was interested in lessons which had nothing to do with maths or science. Yes, I enjoyed the school – the blackboard/whiteboard part of school. Sorry, but I did.

The group I mostly mixed with had all sort of grown up together from the Junior (primary) School and it had been a violent, relentlessly aggressive humidicrib to find oneself in. Not so much like Lord of the Flies in it’s edgy outdoorsy aspect – although let loose in gyms and playing fields, I saw some mistreatment that was out of proportion to circumstance on a number of occasions. But no, it was almost like growing up at the court of Versailles, with the virulent bitchiness (“wit” as it might have been called then – making a “good call” as we called it) being the highest marker of rank distinction. It was important to be able to cut someone down to size, to be wantonly cruel verbally, as well as physically, and of course emotionally. This process seemed to start behind the back of an individual who thought himself a member of the gang. And it was a thing to enjoy. To take pleasure in an individual being pilloried with no hope of defending himself (it was a boys’ school) and to laugh, and perhaps to wonder whether or when it might be you. Yes, it was the mob – albeit a select mob – enjoying itself at the expense of weak individuals. Sometimes it didn’t follow the pattern of a few nasty things said when the chap wasn’t there, followed by nasty things said and done when he was; sometimes that phase would be dispensed with and the group would just simply drop someone who thought himself a member, explicitly telling him that his membership acceptance was not in the mail, and his papers would never be stamped. And it is also true that people outside the ambit of this organisation’s reach were occasionally targeted, just for fun, because it would be a laugh. It wasn’t funny, looking back, but I did laugh. I was there.

I came to realise in the few months after school ended, at about the same time as seeing these guys was becoming less fun for other reasons, that perhaps I was on the outer. It was just a feeling. Then came the comments and negativity and general cruelty, like poking a bear with a stick, just wherever you can reach, and laughing and clapping when it appears to “fight back” inside its steel cage. And it seemed that the process I had dimly identified as happening to others was happening to me. So I walked.

And it seems, from this remove, many years later, that what I did was simply to walk out of training in the team I was playing for, the team with the huge egos who didn’t really care about each other when backs were against the wall, and I walked down the street and knocked on the door of the next team I found, a team whose players I knew and who played for fun and were interested in each other and were more than happy for me to join them if I promised not to be a dickhead. I promised. I knew these men. They were some of the many individuals I’d known from school. They were friends already, but I was on their team now.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thoughts On The 2010 British Election

It seems to me that the recent political experience in Britain, full of uncertainty concerning the future and questions about the very system British voters had participated in, has been ready for some sort of upheaval for a little while. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, is now Prime Minister, but everything seems new. Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is the Deputy Prime Minister, and thus we have a colation – five or so members of the Lib Dems will be in the cabinet – and this sort of thin doesn’t happen very often. The last time Liberals were involved in government was the War Cabinet, between 1940 and 1945 (clearly special circumstances), and before that the last time was 1922.

But it feels like there is too much shock, horror about all this. The political system of First Past the Post, otherwise known as a simple plurality, is quite an archaic way to elect member of parliament. It requires voters to put a tick or cross beside one candidate’s name on each ballot paper in a constituency, and then the candidate with most votes wins. Sounds simple. But what it means is that a seat can be secured and retained with only 35% of the vote, provided no other party’s candidate can secure a higher percentage. It is inherent within this system that the total number of votes in the polity, the entire country’s votes, when counted may reflect a will of the people starkly at odds with the number of seats won by the respective political groupings. If party A wins 51/100 seats all with results way under half the votes in each electorate and party B gets 49/100 seats, but absolutely slaughtered their opponents in most of their electorates, then B probably has a lot more total votes than A does. This cartoonish example would still mean that A is the party in power, with a majority of 2.

A system like this encourages minor parties and independents to win seats, as an absolute majority (50% + 1) is not required, just the largest total. Preferences are not required. Just the most votes. It is a wonder, given the economic circumstances, following the Global Financial Crisis, were always likely to fragment the system to a degree, and to see voters expressing their discontent and disappointment with all main parties, that the results were even more favourable for the Lib Dems and smaller parties.

Perhaps David Cameron and his Tories were too arrogant too far out from the election, as they seem to have assumed that an unpopular Labour government would be ousted and that could only mean a seamless transition to the Treasury benches for themselves. But they reckoned without the full potential of their old-fashioned system to serve up a result quite impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Indeed, it was not impossible that a Labour-Lib Dem coalition could have been formed, although Gordon Brown could never have remained PM. That was a sticking point. And there were many others.

And so there will likely be fixed terms and other electoral reform, but probably no proportional representation, and Gordon has been shown the door. That’s the one perplexing thing in this whole maze of issues that continues to perplex me: Mr. Brown was unpopular, that’s obvious, but how could he be that unpopular? The economic problems aren’t his fault, he wasn’t responsible for politicians from all parties getting caught with their snouts in the trough, making bogus expenses claims, and he didn’t send troops to war with Iraq (although he was part of the Cabinet which made this decision). Don’t the people who say they hate him really – deep down, if only they could admit it – want to give Tony Blair a bloody hard kick in the gonads? For lying to them … and for pretending that he wasn’t like all the other politicians, when in fact his totality of his act marked him out as someone far worse, as he was a better actor and could make you believe he really felt what he was saying, when perhaps he felt nothing.