Sat, 09 May 2015 Feature Article

British Voters Said One Thing, Then Did Something Else

British Voters Said One Thing, Then Did Something Else

I am writing from Dagenham, East London, where the political topography seems to be “pretty damn good” after a shocking election result that saw David Cameron’s Conservatives win an outright majority. How did the pollsters fail to see this coming? They had predicted a tight contest between Labour and the Conservatives, often putting them neck and neck at 34% each, sending tongues wagging about how business at Westminster would pan out when it was so unclear who would lead Britain. My favourite BBC political commentators had been unanimous when asked who was likely to win: “We haven’t got a clue”. Well, it’s obvious they didn’t.

My host family, the Manfuls, didn’t seem to have a clue either. Surrounded by their lively kids Oslo, Oswald and Charlene, we all sat in their living room with our jaws in our hands as the shocking results started filtering in. With the quintessential British accent, Mrs Ann Manful repeatedly asked: “Do you want a cuppa?” Well, I needed a cupa (cup of tea) to ease the tension and anxiety that had gripped the whole of Britain since the electioneering campaigns reached an uncomfortable crescendo. The parties had tried to make persuasive and promising arguments to win votes. In the end, it was a political decapitation for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, particularly for Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, Vince Cable, Nigel Farage, George Galloway and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander. Nick Clegg called it “cruel and punishing”.

Thank God electoral predictions and polls do not count much in the determination of who wins political power in Ghana. Uncle Ben Ephson of the Dispatch newspaper may have made a few intelligent predictions over the years, and most of his analyses gave plausible indications of what the bigger picture should look like, even if it didn’t quite look like that in the end. In the absence of scientific polls from usually credible organsiations such as YouGov and Ipsos MORI, we in Ghana make do with incantations and curses from religious leaders and prophets who look deep into the womb of the spirits and predict who would win elections in Ghana.

But then, how did the British pollsters get it so wrong this time? Chairman of YouGov, Peter Kellner, explains that “What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and they did something else in the ballot box.” He, however, criticized the political parties for relying too much on the polls, instead of running strong campaigns to sell their messages to win deserving votes. Ben Page, head of Ipsos MORI has also added that “nevertheless the political map doesn’t look like the map of Britain people were expecting”. Suddenly, British politics is surprising, interesting and so unpredictable. Well, it also remains sincere and fair. After losing his seat, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, calls the defeat “pretty damn good”. He has also resigned most honourably. This is the kind of atmosphere Ghana needs in our elections. No bitterness. No fights. No rancour. No litigation. Just politics.

The British people have a sufficient reason to call their recent elections historic. Well, I am a part of that history, isn’t it? I was here when it all happened. The birth of Britain’s newest royal, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, coincided with my visit. I was going through checkout formalities at Heathrow Airport when the Princess was born at 8.40am last week. I was reminded of how the British love their monarchy and their royals when television screens repeatedly rolled out ‘sleeping’ images of the Princess as Britain’s most gracious darling. It may not make sense to many that ‘royal watchers’ had camped for weeks in front of the palace waiting for the announcement of the royal birth. Alas the town crier announced ‘It’s a girl’, ‘it’s a girl’. It is not just a British culture; it is Britishness, actually.

The British are a proud people. They are not only known for Shakespeare, Westminster and Oxford; they are also known to do things rights. My host family and I were particularly impressed with how the different political parties displayed so much comradeship and respect towards one another in the contest for votes in keenly contested elections. Labour and Conservatives are ideologically opposed, just as NDC and NPP have opposing views, yet the two British traditions have conducted their politics as one people working for the supreme national interest. Their supporters do not fight or kill or even argue. When two Britons meet to talk in an election week, the discussion is not about how the other party has messed up the economy and why they need the boot; they might not talk about elections at all.

Why do we have so much tension and feeling of insecurity during our elections? We need to fast and pray for peace and curse the devil for any disturbances. We need a lot more prayer for God to touch the heart of the loser to accept the results and concede defeat, even in the face of obvious rejection. Supporters would also need to coaxed and literally begged to keep calm. The clergy would be ‘deployed’ to the battlefield to intercede and pray for our nation. Well, the last time we had to sort it out at the Supreme Court. It seems there is so much we need to do before we can call ours a democracy. Presently, Gambians vote with stones. Well, it is democracy.

Another impressive thing I have observed is the graciousness with which the leaders of three political parties resigned after losing so many seats in the elections. Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farrell stepped down after what has been described as the bloodbath. It was sad to see such intelligent gentlemen leave Westminster but it was also dignifying watching them exit as people who, in the words of PM David Cameron, “were in public service for all the right reasons”. Over here, politics is not a game as we usually say; it is service to the people and for the people.

I leave London in two weeks and I am taking away some lessons. One is that Boris Johnson is going back to the House of Commons after winning a seat on his wedding anniversary. Isn’t that remarkable? The second lesson is that Mrs Manful’s cooking is pretty damn good. The English breakfast was very English. Thank you!

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
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