Yet Another Election

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The weeks of posturing, polls, predictions and promises that mark the run-up to an election have passed me by.  I’ve been very busy with work and I didn’t know about the UK general election until a friend in New York asked me what I thought of it.  A quick trip to the BBC News app explained which election he was referring to.

Over the last few days, I’ve surfaced enough to take the pulse of the campaigning and rhetoric and I’ve been underwhelmed with what I’ve heard, seen and read.  More specifically, here are my thoughts.

1          I sense that Theresa May has lost her way.  She doesn’t seem as capable as she did before the election was called.  I’ve heard snippets of the flip-flop on social care costs, which has the hallmarks of a last-minute idea that shouldn’t have made it anywhere near a manifesto.

2          Apart from the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appearing in a televised debate last week, Tory cabinet members seem to have been conspicuous by absence.  I don’t know whether that’s because they’ve absented themselves or they’ve been told to stay on the bench, but I’m confident that we’ll hear a lot from them if the Tories don’t hit a landslide at the polls.

3          I sense that old allegiances on party lines have been muddied by Brexit.  For many people, Brexit is the defining issue and they see neither Theresa May/the Conservative party nor Jeremy Corbyn/the Labour party offering anything that appeals to them on that crucial topic.  I wonder whether we’re heading for a political realignment that takes greater account of Brexit and who has a say in the form and terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.  Just a thought.

4          Labour’s campaign message – For the Many Not the Few – struck me as being more likely to resonate with voters and hats off to whoever came up with it.  Not so convinced by what seems to be Theresa May’s slogan, rather than the Tory party’s campaign message:  Strong and Stable.  From where I’m sitting, it only seems credible if the alternative is having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

5          That said, with the television on mute, Jeremy Corbyn appeared more Prime Ministerial than Theresa May last week.  He looked purposeful and confident.  His head was held high.  He exuded authority.  But the television was on mute.

6          Personally, I’d like to see a hung Parliament and a coalition government.  I don’t have confidence in either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservative party or the Labour party, to run the country or negotiate our exit from the EU.  It would be ironic if a coalition required a deal with the Scottish National Party, which would no doubt want a further referendum on Scottish independence and might also seek to re-visit Brexit before forming a coalition government.

7          What I really wouldn’t want is another general election in short order, as happened in 1974.  We had a general election in 2015 and we have another one this year.  Last year, we had the EU referendum and we had vicarious participation in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the US presidential election throughout the whole of 2016.  Even though I’m a staunch advocate of democracy and I’ve missed most of the campaigning this time round, I have a severe case of election fatigue.

 

The UK General Election

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I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m already fed up with hearing about the General Election and, as I write this, we have two more months before polling day. It’s worse than the sight of Christmas decorations in September. On the basis that the ennui can only increase, I’ve decided to post this one entry about the election and then there’ll be radio silence until after the big day.

My guess, at this stage, is that there are a few red herrings (step forward, UKIP) and that the Liberal Democrats might well hold the key to the result. The thinking goes like this.

I can’t see the Conservatives winning a majority of the seats and so the question is whether they will have sufficient seats to govern as a minority government. Although Labour and others have the potential to pick up Tory seats, I still think the performance (or failure to perform) by the Lib Dems has significant potential to impact the number of seats the Conservatives have to their name when the count is over.

I can’t see Labour winning an outright majority either or sufficient seats, by itself, to put together a workable minority government. A coalition with the Lib Dems could be on the cards and I’d have thought that’s more first-choice than this week’s speculation about a coalition with the Scottish National Party. And that brings us back to that conundrum of how the Lib Dems perform. Will Labour + Liberal Democrats = a viable government?

And if that particular combination can’t deliver a viable government, that’s when the SNP could slide into the frame. The potential points of tension have been well-aired, but, Scottish independence (and Trident) aside, Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond aren’t too far apart on the scale of political ideology. Scottish independence is, though, a very large topic to put to one side.

But what strikes me most is that, twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have been considering the outcome of a general election in terms of potential viability of minority government or different combinations to make up a coalition government. As I’ve said in a previous entry, the current reality of UK politics is that voters have moved away from the traditional two (plus one) party system and won’t give a clear mandate to any one party. I can’t yet see when this might change.

UK POLITICAL PARTIES: RIP?

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There’s been a lot of analysis, soul-searching and heartache this week – and celebration, in certain quarters – in the wake of the UK Independence Party’s win in the Rochester and Stroud by-election. Much of the debate has been around whether this and the perceived rise of UKIP signal the end of the three-party – and, let’s face it, mostly two-party – political system that’s dominated for at least the last century.

I don’t think it does signal the end of that tradition; I think the beginning of the end pre-dated UKIP. The signs were in the results of the 2010 general election.

We don’t have much experience of coalitions in this country, but the outcome of the 2010 election was to oblige one of the main parties – the Conservatives, as it turned out – to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Voters almost certainly didn’t vote for a coalition, but they did vote for something between a plague-on-all-your-houses and the political equivalent of Whatever and a coalition was the outcome. The mould of traditional politics was broken and I suspect that any number of king’s horses and king’s men can’t put that together again.

And I see UKIP’s rise – and, perhaps more importantly, the decline of voting on the lines of traditional political parties – as part of a chain of events that first came to prominence with the need to establish a coalition.

Politicians can no longer assume that people will vote on party lines, although some will. But when everyone considers that their view is valid (and see the 26 Oct blog entry on Everyone), political parties feel horribly irrelevant.

The shift has happened and events will take some time to play out, but politicians shouldn’t be distracted by the red herring of UKIP. There’s something far more fundamental afoot in UK politics.