So Now Who Do We Vote For?

Read this over the weekend. Here’s my review for Palimpsest.

So Now Who Do We Vote For? is a 160 odd page ‘book’ from John Harris, erstwhile editor of the excellent but now sadly defunct indie magazine Select and occasional Newsnight Review-er.

It details his discontent with the current Labour government, and asks the question of whether it would be a good idea for disaffected Labourites to take their vote elsewhere, for one election only, to try and force a change in the party’s thinking.

The reasons for Harris’ loathing of New Labour stem largely from Iraq, which is barely touched upon, because, as Harris says, we all know the arguments already anyway. The main thing that raises his ire, though, is PFI, especially in schools and hospitals. Those two subjects get a chapter of their own, in between Harris’ examinations of the potential suitors for Labour protest votes.

Those two chapters make the book worth buying alone. Harris tells the story of the first PFI hospital in qhich during an operation a window blew open(!). Why weren’t the windows clinically sealed? The contractors found it was cheaper to install normal double glazing, glue them shut and, er, take off the handles. Great. It soon becomes clear, as if it wasn’t already, that there is no room for profit in a universal healthcare system.

In many ways, the problems facing schools are even more frightening. Harris focuses on the ‘City Academies’ set up by a Christian Evangelist car-dealer, called Peter Vardy, whose schools teach creationism and ban Harry Potter from the school library. What makes things worse is the way that local authorities and the government collude in getting these academies foisted on communities when they are really not wanted.

Another chapter focuses on the current state of the Labour party, and here Harris interviews an unnamed ex-Minister, who advocates voting for the Lib Dems to shake Labour up and force Blair out. But what, asks Harris, if that means the Tories get in? The response is to question whether that would really be any worse than a third New Labour term. Because, as the ex-Minister points out, a vote for Labour out of loyalty, or out of the lack of an alternative, will still be considered by the leadership as a vindication of the New Labour project. Harris also talks to Hazel Blears, who he used to know as a young party activist. She doesn’t come out of it very well at all, sounding like the sort of Blairite robot we have come to know and love, completely missing the point on various occasions. At one point she genuinely sounds like a bitter old Tory hag, and I will look this up when I get home and quote it in full – it is bewildering that it comes from a Labour MP. Roy Hattersley is next up, and while he is hardly in favour of Blair, his advice is to stay loyal and hope that Gordon takes over soon.

Of the targets for protest votes, the Lib Dems come across as wishy washy as ever, Charles Kennedy’s prevarication and inability to give a straight answer is telling, though Lembit Opik comes across as a sound guy. A ‘rising star’ in the party, Mark Oaten, is more right wing than Michael Howard, and professes not to have had a political philosophy until after he had already been an MP for some years. Wha’???? The Lib Dems don’t seem to be opposed to PFI, and are even a little woolly over their opposition to the war. Harris comes to the conclusion that in trying to capture the votes of disillusioned Tory and Labour voters, the Lib Dems find themsevles covering the same old ground as the other two main parties.

The SNP, Plaid Cyrmu and the Respect Coalition get a brief going over, the latter the most amusing as Harris harbours an all to obvious loathing of ‘trots’, or headbanging socialist militants who had made his life in the party in the ’80s such a nightmare.

In the end, Harris concludes that you have to vote tactically. If your Labour MP voted against Foundation Hospitals, Tuition Fees and Iraq, then vote for them – at least they have some principles. If you have an arch-Blairite evil MP, but the challenge comes from a Tory, then vote Labour – don’t risk it. But if the challenge comes from anyone else, ie the Lib Dems, then give them your vote to shake Blair up a bit. Likewise, where Labour is third to Tories and Liberals, you should vote Liberal as a form of tactical voting.

To aid all of this juggling of votes, opinions and figures, a website has been created here.

Harris closes with a brief discussion of the merits of proportional representation. Like that will ever happen…

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