It’s the day before the election – all the indications are that there will be no clear winner. We may well witness an unseemly period of negotiation on Friday and beyond.
This could be perplexing for students. They may turn off politics even more… or alternatively – it could be a moment of high engagement. You may hold the key.
Please don’t let turmoil make government seem less powerful or more pointless. That’s too simplistic.
A good, up-to-the-minute report on how the figures panned out might help: Democratic Dashboard. It has a simple map to illustrate the colours of the country’s constituencies.
The colours are likely to be highly revealing.
The country may split three ways: Mostly blue in the rural south. Mostly red in the north and denser parts of London. Mostly yellow in Scotland.
It may be worth asking what that is saying about the changes in the UK? Why do three sections of the population perceive the best political solutions so differently?
You could ask the question ‘Do we now have three Britains?’
For instance – the Scots who discovered something about themselves last year when they were given the choice of independence… By being characterised as a distinct populace, they realised that they were, politically. If Scotland turns ‘yellow’ it will reinforce that perception. The SNP exemplifies a desire to be taken seriously as a country with a greater sense of solidarity than the ‘in it for themselves’ country they think has developed south of the border (would the same happen if Wales had a referendum?).
Then the areas that have turned out ‘red’. What characterises them? More ethnically diverse communities? Poorer, former manufacturing areas, those who have felt the recession the most? What have they to gain from Labour’s policies?
And the blue areas? Why do they want more of the same government? How will it benefit them? Have they felt the recession any differently or do they have a different approach to living together?
However you choose to characterise that – the method is a simplified way of asking underlying questions.
It illustrates that politics has got more complex because the country has got more complex, not necessarily because the politicians are ‘all the same’.
What politicians now need to resolve is more diversity in the electorate: changes in British identity relating to many factors including the experiences of different age ranges who now vote very differently; in perceptions of the values of the European community and of our position in the globalised economy (and many more…).
You could ask your students what they might recommend to address these dilemmas? How can the three Britains remain as one?
You may also want to give them some procedural details relating to who runs the country in the meantime, and how decisions on a majority get finalised. The BBC have a good little video for students. Here’s a good guide from the FT. It even has an interactive tool to put together your own coalition as does the BBC here.
Whatever happens – can I implore you to not let your students off the hook. My prediction is this: for the rest of their lives politics will be more complex than you and I have ever known it. In that respect Punch and Judy are dead, promises will be relative, and the state is no longer our clear cut master. We are nuanced, the world is complex, democracy is as good as it gets, and politics is us.