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 very British protest

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It has all the ingredients of a very British protest.  A vote in favour of the underdog.  A visceral dislike of being told what to do.  A belief that the country can go it alone and its people will be plucky heroes, whatever the price to be paid.  And the trigger would be a vote about what is often referred to as “Europe”, as though the UK isn’t part pf that.  Which some would say it no longer is.

The UK referendum was about protest, more than it was about EU membership.  It was an opportunity for those feeling excluded from the political debate and economic and social opportunities to proclaim a plague on the houses of all political parties as we know them, the political process, a capital that’s seen to bear no resemblance to the rest of the country and an Establishment that looks out for itself and doesn’t care about them.

The referendum result represents a further dismantling of the old order that began with the financial crisis.  I don’t know what the end-product will be, but I have a strong suspicion that the country – and society – will be significantly different at the end of the process from the way it looked ten years ago.  I hope there will be a fairer society.  I’m pretty sure that it will be one where people expect to have their say – and be heard – to a greater extent than has happened in the past.

I expect we’ll see the end of politics dominated by two parties that are perceived as traditional and out of touch.  Both the Conservative party and the Labour party are going through convulsions at present and both appear to have lost touch with the electorate.  New political alignments seem inevitable.

And we need a new vision and new values, not clinging to nationalism as a smaller identity, but looking out, providing kindness to all, offering shelter to those who need it (regardless of nationality and place of origin) and sharing what we have.

On the evening of voting day, I was at a summer party – linked to work; not a social event.  I left early.  Inside, there was an air of the last days of the ancien regime.  Outside, it was pouring with rain and thunderstorms had been raging during the afternoon.  One of the worst storms I can remember in London had clattered and banged throughout Wednesday night.  We’d upset the gods and they were telling us to sort ourselves out.

And now we have to do that.  We have to pull together and look beyond the rhetoric, the international debate, the legal issues, the economic indicators and the personal positioning.  We need politicians – and the Establishment as a whole – to pull together and heal the wounds of a damaged country that triggered the backlash we saw last week.

 

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.

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.