Friday 7 May 2010

A view from the terraces

Downing Street on Friday

Those of you who follow this blog and my Twitter stream know how exercised I get about politics and elections in particular. And that my great regret is that I cannot vote here in the UK.

A short explanation of how I've got myself into this situation follows:

My native Finland was declared independent in1917, an event that surprised everyone, not least the small deputation that had gone to Moscow to meet up with Lenin with the vague hope that Finland as a Duchy of Russia would get more autonomy with the new leaders. In Finnish popular culture it's believed that Lenin was in good spirits on that particular day on 6th of December, and that he was a friend of Finland because some of his Communist allies had given him refuge in the neighbouring country during the Russian civil war.

As a result from this rather surprising development, Finns decided that they'd protect their fragile independence next to the mighty Mother Russia with all the legislation they could muster. One of these pieces of law was not to allow dual citizenship.

Later, as a concession, children born to one Finnish and one foreign parent abroad could have dual citizenship until they were eighteen, only if the parent retained his/her Finnish passport. So you can see, for me there was no alternative but to keep my Finnish citizenship. I wanted my children to be Finnish as well as British.

When Finland changed the law, it coincided more or less with the 18th birthdays of my children. In any case, by the time we sorted out the children's dual citizenships, the process of applying and gaining UK citizenship had been tightened up and made more expensive.

Not being a UK citizen doesn't normally affect me at all. Not until there is an election. I studied Political Science at the School of Economics, and worked at the BBC as a translator/journalist focusing on politics and economics in particular. Voting is a right (particularly for women) that has been bitterly fought over. Who's in government affects me personally and what happens in the country I live. The importance of exercising your right to vote is also an old hobby horse of mine.

For me watching the run-up to the elections and the results programme is like having your hands tied behind your back and being gagged. Luckily I haven't been, so I can still make my own kind of analysis of this, the most unusual British result.  

Firstly, I want to know why this result is such a surprise. The country is in financial turmoil; the world is in financial turmoil. None of the parties dealt with the real issues honestly during the campaign, something that was for once picked up by the media. No-one told the electorate where the cuts in public spending were really going to come from, apart from cutting down on a few paper clips in Whitehall. Not one of them discussed immigration in real terms, i.e. that the UK actually needs more young people to pay for the pensions deficit in the next 50 years and so. And that having these people come from somewhere like Poland would actually be quite handy. Or that it's pretty difficult to put a limit on immigration from another country in the EU. Or that immigration is a two way street: emigration being the other side of the coin. Talk to the Spaniards living  on the Costa del Sol for example.

I also believe the British electorate had to elect blindly -or on the basis of which one of the leaders looked trustworthy enough during three televised debates, which were so stage managed, nothing interesting transpired. So is it any wonder there wasn't a landslide for one particular party?

As far as the electoral system goes, having been a supporter of proportional representation for years (we have PR in Finland), I think if anything, this election has shown that the UK is not in favour of electoral reform. The LibDem vote did not change significantly. Their policies just did not stack up in the harsh light of day. I was astonished when they published their manifesto: to radically change income tax at a time when the country's economy is on a knife edge is sheer madness and speaks of a party that does not believe it will form a government (on its own at least).

So what's the future? I am of the opinion that Cameron should form a caretaker government and announce a new election in six months' time. But only because by then I also might have got my act together and applied for British citizenship. See, we all just think about ourselves. Sadly, that also seems be true about the politicians.


Rose said...

Helen this is excellent. I think there is a great deal to admire about all the Scandanavian country's politics and wish I was knowledgeable about your systems/ solutions to problems and that we would look north more and west and over the sea less.

I am sad to say that I still think a great deal of the country don't understand about PR, or indeed quite how first past the post works. I think you are very kind but the mass vote is not always as well informed as you might give it credit for.

Perhaps this will change that and people will push for real one person one vote in this country. It would be so wonderful.

Unknown said...

Rose, I think countries get the system they deserve. The UK in my opinion is very conservative, hence the 1st past the post system suits us (you/them). Brits like to have a GP they know and an MP they can vote for as much as they like to own their own houses.

In Finland we vote for the party first, then the candidate. We don't have GP's, we have separate specialists in health centres and you don't often get to choose who treats you. Many Finns rent their homes in apartments with central district heating. So it's a completely different society, one that suits PR.

Don't let me get into the merits of coalition governments....

Helena xx

Style At Every Age said...

Um I have always wanted to live on the Costa Del Sol, I never thought about it like that. I get the right hump about all the Eastern Europeans who seem to have appeared where I live. There are groups of men who buy loads of drink in the co-op then sit down the beach drinking it and shouting at women passers by, which is quite upsetting when you don't know what they are saying and yet another reason I can't enjoy the beach at the end of my road, along with horses and Staffordshire Bull Terriers without leads. It also got my back up when an advert for a job at the local dockyard in the local paper stressed it was looking for someone who could speak Fluent Polish - WTF?

Sharon Longworth said...

I'd hate it if I couldn't vote. This Thursday, I marched myself and my daughter up the road before 7am to be the very first people in our village to place our crosses. My admonishment of 'women died for this' ringing in her ears s she complained bitterly about being dragged out of bed.
As for PR - I hope we get it one day, and I'm anxiously keeping my fingers crossed that Clegg can resist the Cameron overtures and make the most of the current opportunity.

Kittie Howard said...

Helen, I learned a lot from this post and thank you for being so candid. Here in the States -- and especially on the East Coast -- there is great respect for England as our Mother Country. The news tends to be basic without taking political sides. However, one aspect of England's recent election bothers. Toward the end of the Bush Administration, the British Museum requested a return of Churchill's bust, the one that had stood on the President's desk for so many years. The British Museum said the condition of the bust had to be evaluated. Okay. No problem. Prior to the transition to President Obama, articles in the paper lamented the situation but time takes its toll and everyone understood that the Museum had a right to evaluate the bust. So, photos of President Obama's desk didn't show Churchill's bust. When the newspapers reported that the English people thought President Obama had returned the bust, everyone thought PM Brown would say otherwise, that the British Museum had requested the bust's return. But PM Brown said nothing, let the brouhaha grow until the bust turned into somewhat of an anti-American situation. On this side of the Pond, we don't understand why "Mummy" did this.

Bernie said...

I'm a poor one to comment on this discussion. First of all, I haven't seen a newspaper for over three weeks. (I was in Texas for a wedding and we pretty much were only interested in our own reunions and lives) But I know I would never like to not be able to vote or express my own opinions about my country. I think we here in America are very disillusioned by our government and feel very betrayed by the political powers. We all had high hopes for Obama and still do, but he was left with 8 messes to clean up and cannot do it all himself so soon. To change the way things are done in Washington politics was his goal but I believe he has found that is nigh unto impossible. The big amount of money given to Goldman Sachs and AIG and then they turn around and give their CEO's millions in bonuses makes people furious but nothing seems to be able to be done about it. And it is not getting distributed to help the unemployment situation in the right manner.

Politics seem to be more important to our representatives and senators than what is good for the people and the party comes first.

Sorry, I got carried away. I came to your site because I was looking at some old ones of mine and realized I hadn't heard from you for a long time. So I was wondering what you were up to.