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.

 

Keeping Them Honest

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An English friend was at a party in Edinburgh at the weekend and was surprised when a Scottish woman she hadn’t met before said she wanted to explain that voting for the Scottish National Party in the recent UK general election wasn’t a vote for independence.

The Scottish woman explained that voting for the SNP had been a vote against the policies of the Conservative party, but the vote should be seen in a UK-wide context, not in a purely Scottish context. It should be framed, she said, as a vote to keep David Cameron and the Conservative party in check – to keep them honest – not as a pro-independence vote.

She added that 55% of the Scottish electorate had voted to stay within the United Kingdom. It was wrong to see the SNP’s landslide victory in Scotland at the general election as being a landslide independence vote; the Scottish independence referendum and the UK general election were, she said, very different.

What prompted her to raise the subject with an identifiably English woman was a desire to correct and recalibrate messages in the UK (for which, I suspect, read London-based) media. Her perception was that the wrong conclusion is being drawn from the election results and she felt that the Scottish people are being misrepresented and, in some quarters, demonised.

I haven’t read enough – or widely enough – to know whether her perception is correct, but it hadn’t fully registered that someone who voted for remaining in the UK – and would still do so – would vote for the SNP at a general election, prompted by a desire to check the Conservative party and the Prime Minister and to keep them “honest” (as the saying goes). After the Conservative party was returned with a majority that allows it to govern without a coalition, it’s a useful reminder that UK politics still isn’t black or white (or blue and red) and that there are various shades of grey bubbling beneath the surface.

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.