When I was growing up ‘elitism’ was a word sneered from the lips of the Left, now it is sneered from the lips of the Right. The sneering was ugly then and it is ugly now. Knowledge, science, understanding, literacy and curiosity are absolute goods and to hell with anyone who tries to follow that American habit here and attempts to construct a discourse in which only a despised liberal elite are interested in science, the arts, history and ideas. Such wickedness reminds one of those who opposed Education For All at the end of the nineteenth century. All knowledge should be free and available and all people should be encouraged to acquire it. It will not necessarily lead to liberalism, but it will lead to understanding and a desire for openness and decent, non-tribalist exchanges of the kind that can only enrich our democracy.
This is, of course, the possibility of voting Liberal Democrat in the almost certain knowledge that the vote will in reality be cast for a hung parliament and the creation of some sort of coalition, almost certainly with the Conservatives taking the lion’s share of the Great Offices of State. Many people in Britain might think that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are more impressive than most of the candidates and senior members of any party and that our country can only be enriched, in its moment of economic crisis, by their presence in government at some level. The arguments, if arguments they be, that hung parliaments mean hobbled, lame parliaments are surely nonsense. The Scandinavian and German examples show that where there is political will and determination anything is possible, including stability, continuity and relatively swift economic recovery. For every example of a bad coalition system there is an example of a good one. We cannot assume the worst, however British a trait that may be. Our society is open enough, with its media and social networking, to force the politicians to come to a workable arrangement. If the terms of a Lib Dem win are Proportional Representation for all future General Elections and a determined effort to move to a genuinely open and well constructed parliamentary democracy then I for one am excited. It might all go wrong, but then it is so wrong already that this is a risk I would not be too unhappy to run. I do not think it means that Peter Firth, Rupert Penry-Jones and the cast of Spooks would be forced to take over in a bloodless coup d’état, nor do I think it would cause rioting in the streets and mutiny in the ranks. It may turn out to be a rather British damp squib, or it may be (which I think more likely) result in a jerky, jolting, juddering evolutionary move towards something a little better. I do know that my Labour friends would all be rather horrified by my entertaining such a vote, for they are convinced that a vote for the Lib Dems is tantamount to a vote for Cameron. That is something you will have to decide.
On one front alone I would absolutely urge you to vote LibDem and that is if you live in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency. Your incumbent member, now under threat because of boundary changes, is Evan Harris MP, far and away the most persuasive and impressive parliamentarian in the cause of good and open science and enquiry that we have had in the past decade. He has been central to mould-breaking and inspirational multiparty cooperation in issues of scientific concern since 1997. It seems to me (almost!) that he should be elected unopposed like the Speaker. If you have any interest in the promotion of science and evidence based policy-making and a voice to oppose superstition, religious vested interest and new age nonsense, then do check him out and get those Oxonian Abingdonians working for his re-election.
My intentions and yours
Well, I’m sorry that I have ignored the other parties, but this blog is long enough and I am trying to be realistic about the tri-partisan options most of us will consider. I will be honest inasmuch as I can confess, and it will probably not come as much of a surprise, that Vote Two is not one I envisage making. I find it unappealing for a number of reasons and I will confess that sheer gut instinct is one of them – a dislike of the party and its loudest advocates, not of any individual members and certainly not of Tory voters and supporters as individuals: as I have already said and cannot repeat enough, some of the people I love most dearly in the world are natural and proud Conservatives and I love them none the less for it, just as they (I hope!) love me none the less for my politics. I also find (and I know how much some of you will groan at this) that I worry how much crucial strides in my lifetime towards gay rights would be threatened under the Tories. This article interested and alarmed me greatly. Plenty of you will think that is just bloody typical of faggoty Fry and that I should put my sexual nature behind me when voting. I would happily do so if I didn’t believe that too many Tories are not prepared to offer me the same courtesy but will toil sedulously to make life more difficult for gay people. Work I’ve done for Stonewall and others has shown me that the bullying, suicide and homophobia that still exists in the world today is not something to be taken lightly. Picture your son or daughter, brother or sister being victimised, taunted and threatened in the playground and street and tell me that it’s all just ‘political correctness’.