Sunday 2 March 2008

The Nader Effect

The Nader Effect - Who to Blame If Boris Johnstone Becomes London Mayor?

Returning to the subject of the London Mayoral Elections, I'd like to call my next witness: Ralph Nader.

Nader, you may recall, stood as a Green Party candidate against Al Gore and George W Bush in the US presidential election campaign in 2000. A couple of weeks ago he announced his intention to run again in 2008, this time as an independent. Following his candidacy in 2000, Democrats were ferocious in accusing Nader of 'stealing' votes from them in key states, costing Gore the presidency. Barack Obama made the same accusation back in February, saying "He [Nader] thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush and, eight years later, I think people realise that Ralph did not know what he was talking about."

Obama's analysis is, of course, quite wrong and somehow I'm guessing this won't be for the last time. In 2000, Nader received just 2.74 percent of the popular vote and the only state where his supporters seemed at first to hold the balance of power was Florida. As we later discovered, Nader voters in no way outweighed the 111,000 illegally excluded votes, chiefly from black Floridians, but by the time of the election count in Miami, Al Gore had already managed to lose the election for himself. Somehow, his lacklustre campaign had failed to even convince voters in his home state, Tennessee, or in a number of formerly Democrat states won by Clinton in 2006, such as Ohio or of all places, liberal New Hampshire. Had he won in Tennessee, where both he and his father had been Senators, Florida would not have been the issue it subsequently became. But even though we now know that the election in Florida was stolen for Bush by the Supreme Court, the Democrats just keep on complaining about Nader.

Why do they still moan, eight years on? It's because they feel they are entitled to all the votes from non-Republicans, as if this is some kind of birthright. It wasn't really that Nader was a threat to Gore's campaign, but that the Green Party had the nerve to field a credible candidate that made their man look like an empty suit. And when their opponents manage to persuade large numbers of Republicans to vote, and when 48% of the population didn't vote at all for the choices on offer, they had someone to blame. Perish the thought that they might focus some attention and blame on themselves.

A similar situation seems to be brewing for May's London Mayoral elections. No-one is asking why the Conservative candidate Boris Johnstone is doing so well in the polls. No-one is asking whether Ken Livingstone's style of government might have something to do with this, or whether the betrayals of the political party he belongs to might influence voter intentions. Instead, the message seems to be, "never mind our candidate, damn it, look at the other guy!" That's why we've seen the tribal appeal to 'progressive forces' to unite behind the current Mayor, in the ludicrous statement by the soft-Left Compass group that has the chutzpah to claim Livingstone as "the standard bearer for real progressive politics." That's why we are seeing ever wilder claims about the terrible things that a Johnstone will do if elected (my personal favourite comes from one comrade who raise the idea of Johnstone hosting "Rule Britannia" festivals in Trafalgar Square and anti-immigration rallies where he's the star speaker - I'm assuming this was either a joke, or the result of an over-active imagination). And that's why we have the assumption that everyone who doesn't support Livingstone supports Johnstone by default, as if Livingstone has some sort of entitlement - let's call it a socialist birthright - to every progressive vote, regardless of what he says or does.

So why are the Labour Left so interested in grossly exaggerating the positive message about their man and in descending into outright lies about about an opponent who appears quite capable of screwing up for himself? It could be because it's easier than admitting that the Left, sadly, has no alternative on offer. And just as the Democrats found it so much easier to blame someone else for their own failings, I predict that if Livingstone loses, someone will be selected to carry the can. It could be a third party, especially if it's a close election and Brian Paddick or the Green Party's Sian Berry do well. But my guess is that it might well be all those on the Left who refused to get behind the Livingstone campaign, especially those who have no plans to vote at all.

Now don't get me wrong, Johnstone is a loathsome human being, but if Livingstone can't beat a buffoonish Etonian with borderline satyriasis, a man who terrifies his own media handlers, then he really doesn't deserve to win. And I'm simply unwilling to give my precious vote, so hard-fought for by my ancestors as I am constantly reminded, to either Livingstone or the Labour Party.

So I'll hold my hands up now. If Livingstone loses, what can I say? It's all my fault and the fault of the rest of us non-voters. Believe that if it helps. But afterwards, could we perhaps get on with asking what sort of genuinely progressive alternative we want to see for London in the future?

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