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.

 

A Victory for Passion

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I caught part of yesterday’s coverage of the Labour leadership election result and there was one thing that struck me very strongly listening to his acceptance speech.

I don’t recall hearing the words “passion” and “passionate” so frequently or so prominently in a political speech. The leadership election was said to show that the Labour party and movement were “passionate” about a quest for a better society. Harriet Harman was described as showing “passion” for decency, equality and the rights of women in society. Tom Watson, the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was described as “passionate” about communication and “passionate” about holding people to account. Ed Miliband’s “passion” for defending the world’s environment was referenced, as was Andy Burnham’s “passion” for a national health service and comprehensive education. Party members were described as wanting, “passionately”, to engage in debate. And Mr Corbyn wasn’t halfway through his speech at this point. You get the idea?

And there were also references to the “tragedy” – not loss – of the general election result in May of this year, “abuse” by the media and Yvette Cooper’s “sympathy and humanity” to refugees and the way they are treated.

This is emotional stuff. It speaks to the heart, not the head. And it appeals to the way voters themselves – and particularly people turned off by UK politics of the last decade and more – think and speak. It’s reminiscent of President Obama’s 2008 campaign, the SNP’s campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the rhetoric of far-left parties in Greece and Spain.

I heard some commentary yesterday around whether Mr Corbyn will set his own agenda for the Labour Party, whether he’ll need to fall into line with the Party or whether he’ll be influenced by the wave of public opinion that he’s tapped into. I’m not sure that there is a distinction between what Mr Corbyn thinks and what many of those who voted for him think. From what I’ve seen, he believes and articulates what they believe and he’s given a voice to those views in a language that people can identify with. That he also appears to be his own person – outside the current mainstream of political careers – gives his views an authenticity that few are able to match.

And it seems that it’s this authenticity, in speaking to the heart, is what people have really responded to. Although people are looking at the Labour Party now and considering whether it can avoid implosion, perhaps the spotlight should be on the Conservative Party too. Although it’s nearly five years to the next election, remember that nobody gave Mr Corbyn, the outsider, a chance of winning the Labour lLeadership election and he nailed that pretty conclusively.