The Barnsley Parliamentary By Election humiliation for the Coalition parties does not come as a surprise. There is worse to come. A North-South divide with Labour dominating the vote in Scotland, Wales and Northern England and the Tories, and to a certain extent the Lib Dems, in the South, South East and South West of England has been evident for decades. New Labour and the growth of Lib Dem support in the South has muddied this picture but the rift remains.
Even if an optimistic view is taken on economic recovery, the scale of Government cuts in expenditure and a lowering of household disposable incomes for years ahead is bound to alienate whole communities across Britain but especially in Labour areas of the country. The Lib Dems, in particular, will pay a heavy electoral price: Council and Assembly votes in May are likely to result in the virtual elimination of the Lib Dems in working class communities in huge swathes of the country. Both Coalition parties are likely to huddle together in what until recently has been the Tory south. Paradoxically, the Lib Dem vote in Council By Elections in the South has held up and the party has gained some Tory seats. This is an historic pattern of Colaitions of the right and centre over more than 100 years of their temporary emergence and is likely to make more probable the eventual merger of them. While I do not wish to exagerate the similarities between the platforms of the Coalition partners, I do believe it to be true that there a few real differences between the radical economic liberals on right of the Lib Dems and the social liberals of the Tories: they are cut from the same cloth.
Absurd comparisons between the political and social revolutions underway in the Middle East and Africa and the future we face together in Britain are best avoided. However, there is a relevant question for we Britons. Are British people going to accept, will ordinary people up and down the country stomach, the destruction of the welfare state, a dramatic lowering of household disposable income and the loss of many jobs, Will the public go quietly when the NHS fails to hold on to many advances, in particular shorter waiting lists for hospital appointments, and the middle classes joining the dole queues? Of course, of course, I hear you mutter. There will always be a stolid majority for social pain – so long as it doesn’t affect us and others like us. But will this be true this time?
Well, the Coalition has been busy fixing the Constitutional rules so that it is more difficult to get rid of them. Five years of it and not a drop less has been their resolution. Political memories are short is their belief. But is there not a valid political question? What do people do when it becomes more difficult to throw out one Parliament and elect another. Do people up and down our orderly and responsible society take to the streets? If denied the one sure constitutional method will many people choose another? Surely not. But hold on. After all we have seen the television pictures of peoples demanding change. This is the tele/internet age. If it works for them why not us? Don’t shoot we’re British is our shout. Of course, our needs are obvious. Oblivion is what we need now, the bottle and the pills that is what happens in the TV soaps. Oh and throwing something as well. Come off it!