The gamechangers

It was a really exciting election night — probably better than watching the FA cup, or even T20. But having stayed up till the early hours of Friday following the fortunes of the three main parties, I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this.

So David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, has got the most number of seats — even though the incumbent Gordon Brown went back to 10 Downing Street stating that he would try to cobble together a government! Power is always very difficult to give up. There is no denying that we have expected a hung Parliament for a while, and no doubt there will be much horse-trading going on behind closed doors.
There will also be a lot of grumbling about the victory of spin over substance. But the daily pre-election polls had already prepared us for an unprecedented result — and what should have been a cakewalk for Cameron became a hard fight. So much so that he campaigned through the night on election eve, collaring whatever voters he could find, fishermen, factory workers, firemen or shop-workers, hopping off and on his campaign bus, a bunch of exhausted media men and women trailing behind. Even schoolchildren, early in the morning were not spared, as he chatted them up with a near-manic zeal. And ultimately perhaps it was this determination and energy which perhaps impressed the electorate the most.
Our night began at  the Al Jazeera TV studio with David Frost, who remains the grand old man of television. As soon as the polls closed and the exit poll results were announced, the squabbling between bemused members of various parties had begun, with everyone denying the exit poll result. As the possibility of a sea of blue swept through the UK — an audible hush swept through the studio. When (and if) Gordon Brown shifts out of 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron moves in, the changeover will be complete, but the country is  absolutely primed for a change. The exhaustion from the 13 years of Labour was so extreme that even the Labour loyalist newspaper, the Guardian had switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats. And though the Labour government has had a good record for social welfare — the weight of the Gordon Brown government had obviously become unbearable.
Now of course, the knives will come out: but few will deny that if Mr Brown had given way to a younger leader such as David Miliband , the foreign secretary , Labour would have had a better chance against the two younger challengers. This is perhaps a lesson the Indian Opposition must learn from the UK. They will sleepwalk into another defeat unless they quickly find a leader from Generation Next. People are looking for young and fresh messages, wrapped in a kinder, compassionate package. Whichever party offers that — is likely to win.
This has been a very closely fought election — with the kind of nail-biting tension that saw tempers fraying and allegations flying all over the place. To edge a well-established party out of power is very difficult. India has faced the same problem. The incumbent has too many tentacles going into too many areas — and it will obviously be difficult to kick a party out.
Because it was predicted to be such a close fight, one of the mistakes Labour has made is to run a negative campaign. The Labour government, instead of playing up on its myriad achievements, decided to bash the Conservatives and scare the electorate. From every platform, the message was reiterated, “Beware the Tories, this is the Nasty Party”. Even I received , at my home , a barrage of leaflets from the Labour Party warning me that the Tories would make my family unsafe. Unsafe? David Cameron may be many things but he doesn’t quite seem to be the kind who will batter down the door and steal the silver. The effort by the Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to somehow persuade the British people to go in for a hung Parliament stitch up was also one of the most annoying parts of the campaign. Does scaring the people work? Isn’t it patronising to tell people what to do?
Of course to some extent it is true that we are very susceptible to half-baked suggestions, which if repeated frequently enough begin to sound like fact. And so — a negative campaign can be very successful, and this time too it has worked to a certain extent. In fact, one of the highlights of the TV debate was when Mr Cameron turned on Mr Brown and accused him of printing falsehoods in the Labour campaign material about the Tories. Mr Brown was forced to say that he was not aware of the alleged fabrications.
Those of us who have experienced a hung Parliament in India know that it is a messy business. We have seen coalition governments that are both expensive, and even corrupt. And often, the most important decisions, such as the Women’s Reservation Bill, are quietly pushed under the carpet so that deals can be struck on other issues.
However, the UK election also saw the highest turnout ever. More than 60 per cent of the country’s 44 million registered voters, turned out to vote. It was a lovely crisp spring day, with warm sunshine teased into cooling swirls by a brisk wind. Walking down to the school, where the polling booth was situated, I remembered going to vote in India, and standing in a long queue, coming back with a blue stained finger. However, there is no such problem here. There were barely three people in the booth, we did not have to carry ID cards — and nor did I have to sacrifice my hand to inky spottiness.
What, of course, amazes me is in this so-called modern country, there are no electronic voting machines. I am a bit puzzled — what could be the reason? It’s not as though India is a technological powerhouse! The physical counting does mean that the results do not appear with the same speed as they do in India.
But, on the other hand, the biggest lesson India can take from the UK elections is to actually introduce TV debates between the party leaders. This is something the Opposition in India has been asking for a while, and it may not be a bad idea. Even though I do object to the fact that the debates led to a redoubling of emphasis on spin and style, rather than on real issues or ideology — their huge impact was to engage people in the elections. The game show format meant that ordinary voters, in the comfort of their sitting rooms, were able to connect, and vote for the “winner”. It definitely engaged them, and for a while even gave a boost to the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who was immediately crowned a “kingmaker”. At a time when the country has become cynical about politics and many voters were unable to decide between the three main parties, the debates injected — amongst the jaded middle classes — a new sense of power over their political masters. And they certainly proved it, by turning out in huge numbers.

The writer can be contacted at

Kishwar Desai

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.