Everyone else is coming up with their ”endorsements”, so a few thoughts on what’s guided my voting decision.
First, we vote for an individual, not a party and more specifically not a party leader. I’m not sure what kind of hell I’d have to be in for my ballot paper to contain Brown, Cameron and Clegg. So part of what guides me is whether I want the individual candidate to represent me in parliament. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a guide. The focus on the three party leaders has been unhealthy, although the performance from Clegg on the leaders debate has been good for increasing engagement and hopefully turnout.
The individual represents his, or her, party to us but we know that some conform to party doctrine and some don’t. Beyond that, I need to think about what they stand for. What direction do they want to take us in?
So the main policy issues:
Defence – None of the three parties are great on this. Labour have 13 years of underfunding, lack of direction and lack of credible support to the Armed Forces, so that’s not happening. Tories and Lib Dems both talk about a wide ranging defence and security review to guide things after the election. But tories are ringfencing the deterrent and giving pretty strong indicators that it will be a land, probably landlocked, target architecture. There is a pretty strong indicator that the Aircraft Carriers are off the cards, so the Tories would preside over our retreat from global power projection except under the protection of the US. I’m also not convinced by Liam Fox, and the first stretch of my military career was under a Tory government; I know the damage done under Thatcher and Major yet we still have that legacy 13 years later in some areas, particularly defence procurement. The Lib Dem focus is on personnel, but the policy direction doesn’t reflect how salaries are set, and the idea of culling large numbers of civilians is unrealistic. However Trident is in the frame for review, it’s a system I don’t see as useful in the future, but equally the thought that a tactical nuclear capability is acceptable leaves me uncomfortable. No clear winner but the willingness to address the Trident question probably swings it.
Economy – The choice appears to be ”cutting public sector spending”, cutting public sector spending in the near term” and ”not cutting public sector spending”. The latter is unacceptable to me so the debate becomes now or next year. In practical terms cuts to public sector spending means chopping out headcount, and affecting output. The Tories have not been honest about the need to reduce outputs and don’t appear to be accounting for the cost of reducing headcount. Lib Dems are at least open about the scale of cuts, although aren’t being specific about where that’ll happen. The rhetoric about Tobin taxes are populist nonsense, but it doesn’t differentiate either Tory or Lib Dem.
Personal taxation – I like the idea of raising the lower threshold for personal taxation, I also quite like the idea of not penalising inheritance tax but don’t really see that affecting me all that much. I’m less comfortable about potential increases in Capital Gains Tax and penalties on bonuses strike me as punitive, rather than positive. On balance I prefer the Tory approach to the economy.
Personal liberties – Both Tories and Lib Dems talk about rolling back the levels of state intrusion on the individual. To me this is an issue of principle, and I get a stronger message from the Lib Dems around that. The Tory position strikes me as opportunistic. Moving on to the related issue of penal reform there is still a fairly large authoritarian segment in the Tories that leaves me uncomfortable.
Electoral reform – Tricky one this, I’m no expert on electoral issues but it strikes me as profoundly wrong that power in government can be so readily divorced from share of vote. What I pick up as a reasonably common justification for not voting is that it doesn’t make any difference, too many safe seats are unhealthy for government. The opportunity to really address this is important.
Europe – We need to engage, influence and shape direction, we don’t want to isolate ourselves and become influenced by Europe as a market without the opportunity to remain involved. Europe needs a lot of reform, but we need to drive that, not run away.
What shape of society do we want – This is also pretty tricky, it’s getting a feel for the direction of the party. Realistically Lib Dems aren’t going to get enough seats to form a government or the official opposition, so this aspect is where I feel comfortable with my support going. Both Tories and Lib Dems have internal factions, so it’s a question of assessing which faction is making the running as we move forward. In principle I could live with either; LD direction is more economic liberal at the moment and the direction of Camerons Tories is reasonable. Despite that I’m conscious that I grew up in a Thatcherite economy, and that leaves me with some misgivings, particularly given the vocal nationalist authoritarian wing of the party who see themselves as opposing Cameron in the future.
Not as eloquent as so many others, but on balance I made a decision to support the Liberal Democrats. I made the decision a couple of months ago, and decided to actively support my local candidate during the campaign. During the campaign most of my thinking has been reinforced, in particular whether I’m comfortable having our candidate represent me in Parliament.