We’re two and a half weeks into the Campaign That Never Ends and we’ve finally got the manifestos from the five main parties all published. As I’ve said before, given that the election date was known a long time ago, there’s no real reason why they couldn’t have been released before now, but I’m not a well-paid political consultant who’ll have explained to the party leaderships exactly why it was a good idea to wait this long before releasing their plans for the next five years to the public.

The combined manifestos come to nearly 500 pages in total but the biggest of them by far is the Liberal Democrat one. While the others are all somewhere around 80 pages in different font sizes and designs, this drops in at a quite massive 158 pages, and it’s not using a large font size to achieve that feat. Unfortunately, while it has got lots of good ideas in there, it only gets a Lightfoot Test score of 1 from me, because the policies on the cover annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of extra spending on schools and mental health, as well as the idea of paying less tax – after all, who doesn’t like a government that promises to spend more and tax less? – but when those are coupled with balancing the budget, you’re straying towards the La La Land section of Flip Chart Rick‘s Venn diagram of public spending. Saying ‘cut less than the Conservatives’ shouldn’t be a boast, it’s the minimum commitment for a party that doesn’t want to dismember the state, and these front cover priorities would see other areas cut well beyond the bone to deliver them.

Despite the size, I find myself in the same camp as David Boyle and Ian Dunt in finding it a disappointment. It’s a manifesto of centrist managerialism rather than a liberalism with vision and purpose. The sheer number of policies is impressive – it feels like someone’s trawled through every policy Conference has ever passed – but there’s no vision to link them all together. As David says:

It is a document written to be used in coalition negotiations, and as such it works very well. But it is so hard-headed a document that people may not feel like spending too long in the company of the party which drafted it, for fear that they will start spouting statistics at them.

One wouldn’t want to spend much time in the company of today’s other manifesto, mainly because you’d get very weary of every conversation being steered towards the European Union, regardless of where it started. Yes, it’s the UKIP manifesto, and you’ll not be surprised to find it too scores 1 on the Lightfoot Test, regardless of where you choose to define it as starting to talk about policy. Every page of it is littered with something either stupid or offensive – Paul Nuttall’s photoshopped library on page 28 is a particular favourite in the silly stakes – but I think the most interesting part of UKIP will be watching their reaction after the election. A large number of supporters will be spinning conspiracy theories about how the election was fixed to keep them from winning, while the party’s various factions will finally have the space to coalesce and turn on each other. It’s particularly interesting to note that neither Douglas Carswell nor Mark Reckless were at the manifesto launch today.

Still, there are elements in the manifesto for political theorists to get excited about. The slogan ‘Believe in Britain’ prompts discussion of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and asks if the country goes away if we stop believing it. Meanwhile, their proposed question for a Brexit referendum – Do you wish Britain to be a free, independent, sovereign democracy? – could spawn thousands and thousands of words attempting to define the concepts of freedom, independence, sovereignty and democracy in Britain, the world and the 21st century.

Today’s amusing candidate found on Election Leaflets is South Dorset’s Andy Kirkwood, standing for the Movement for Active Democracy. He’s keen to overthrow the modern system of corporate feudalism, and the large number of pyramid images on his leaflet suggests he’s an Illuminati conspiracy theorist. Or maybe he’s actually an Illuminati agent using his slightly odd leaflet with it’s not-quite Comic Sans typeface to discredit those standing against Illuminati control of the world.

As ever, I’ve had a good idea far too late, but maybe for 2020 (or a second election this year) we can form a Discordian Party who won’t actually stand candidates, but merely declare themselves to be MPs in the style of Emperor Norton. ‘We’ve Already Voted For You’ might make a decent slogan, or distributing leaflets with just the word ‘fnord‘ on them and nothing else.

This time tomorrow General Election Leadershout 2 will be coming to an end, and I might have found an answer to the most pressing question: we all know why Cameron’s avoided it, but what does Clegg gain from not being there?

, , , , ,

Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton

“Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton.”
(Principia Discordia)

A conversation last weekend reminded me that not many people know the story of Emperor Norton, even though many of you will have seen him regularly as I use a picture of him (larger version to the right) as my avatar on Twitter and some other forums.

Joshua Norton was the first – and to my knowledge, only – Emperor of the United States of America (and Protector of Mexico). Now, you might quibble over that description, given that the Constitution of the USA doesn’t mention an Emperor amongst all its clauses and amendements and you’d be right. Unromantic, but definitely correct. You see, while other Emperors waited around for Popes and assemblies to crown them, Norton took a much more can-do attitude to life and simply declared himself Emperor one day. You would expect nothing less from an American Emperor, simply embodying the declarative pioneering spirit of his nation by going ahead and just doing it, then waiting for everyone to catch up.

The punchline, of course, is that eventually people did catch up. Norton’s reign lasted for over twenty years from his proclamation in 1859 to his death in 1880 and he received the sort of attention you’d expect a ‘genuine’ Emperor to get – free meals in San Francisco’s finest restaurants, his decrees and declarations published in all the city’s newspapers, police officers saluting when he passed them on the street and the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens/subjects. A tale is told of him preventing a mob from lynching Chinese workers by standing between the two groups and praying, with no one daring to cross the space he’d created.

As I argued in a post I wrote for The Sharpener a few years ago, Norton was a man who saw a gap in the market for a monarch and filled it. His is a story that reminds us that however often we might fantasise about power and the ways to achieve it, in the end it all comes down to consent – a man can only be your Emperor if you want him to, and if you do feel like having an Emperor, then there are many worse options than one who “shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country”.

, , , , ,