(The Sheffield Brightside Parliamentary Constituency, that is.)
No real surprises in a thoroughly uninspiring General Election here yesterday: Labour returned to power for a third term, but with a significantly reduced majority; in a safe Labour seat, our MP David Blunkett was returned to Westminster with an 8.4% reduction in support from four years ago - and goes straight back into the Cabinet his private life forced him to resign from not so long ago, this time as Secretary for Work and Pensions; and the Conservatives are set to get yet another new leader...
So, I was wondering, how do Steven Croft's observations (see my previous post) engage with what we saw last night?
Shift from the centre to the edge: it is worth noting that Government is one of those Institutions from the old centre, and Institutions tend to lag behind change...61% of those eligible to vote did so, and 36% of that 61% voted for Labour. Not exactly a strong mandate. The resurgence of (more or less) peaceful mass demonstrations - e.g. to the war in Iraq, the fox-hunting ban, MakePovertyHistory - suggests that for growing numbers simply marking an X in a box once every four or five years, and by doing so signing-up to all of that party's policies, does not add up to the role of the public in democratic politics...The proliferation of fringe and single-issue parties would appear to have been significant too, even if they didn't win (many) seats in Parliament as a result. While the 61% who voted still did so predominantly along traditional geo-political lines, I'd be interested to see a break-down by age of the 39% who didn't vote.
Shift from geography to network: Yes, there is still a strong geo-political divide - northern and urban more likely to vote Labour; southern and rural more likely to vote Conservative - but most of the demonstrations noted above have transcended geo-political divides (fox-hunting being the most obvious exception). But how attractive/relevant is a static, geographic structure to volatile network culture? In summary, a both/and, rather than either/or, situation?
Shift from obligation to choice: well, 39% chose not to vote; but then, many people voiced a sense of obligation that denied them choice - an obligation to vote Labour, despite severe misgivings, out of fear of seeing the Conservatives return to power...Indeed, Labour used the fear card - "if you vote Lib Dem, you'll let in the Conservatives" - very effectively to oblige voters not to exercise choice, precisely because they recognised that culturally choice is replacing obligation.
Shift from religion to spirituality: in the broad sense that ideology and traditional party line has been replaced with pragmatism, both by the parties themselves and by the voters. Perhaps most accutely apparent in the torturous attempts of the Conservatives to re-invent themselves - which seem set to carry on indefinitely...(perhaps because they haven't fully grasped this shift - in 5 attempts they have failed to appoint the spiritual successor to Margaret Thatcher as their leader precisely because Margaret Thatcher's spiritual successor is the leader of the Labour party, Tony Blair).
Where do these contradictory signs point us, then? To Croft's assertion that we find ourselves in a highly complex cultural context, for sure. Croft may well be right that "the simple solution...is always wrong" - I'd suggest we need multiple simple solutions (as opposed to one complex one).