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.

 

As the Brexit dust settles …

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There’s a sense that some dust is settling in the UK political scene after what one commentator described as ten years of political events in a week.  Here are a few thoughts.

  1. There’s a relief in having a prime minister who isn’t a lame duck. I want someone firmly at the wheel after the seismic result of the referendum vote and I wasn’t relishing a summer of jostling for position by the Conservative party leadership candidates.
  1. Theresa May is an unknown quantity as Prime Minister, but she didn’t hang around appointing a new Cabinet. She’s made interesting choices.  The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary has attracted most attention, but establishment of new cabinet positions (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union; Secretary of State for International Trade) and accompanying government departments show thinking outside the box and a pragmatic approach to events.
  1. The new Cabinet has some old names. It’s a while since David Davis and Liam Fox have been Cabinet members and it’s many years since I felt that the country is being run by people older – and, I hope, wiser – than me.
  1. None of this makes delivering Brexit any easier or, for those of us who voted Remain, any more palatable.
  1. Pretty much every conversation I have with people still turns to the referendum. Why was it held?  Why did so many people vote to leave?  What package will be negotiated?  Increasingly, talk is turning to practicalities – how will the UK find enough people to negotiate trade deals and work through the changes in law that will be needed?
  1. And there’s still a sense of bewilderment. As someone said to me last week, are people in London so out of touch with views around the country?  The answer has to be Yes – and, as I’ve said before, that’s one of the most important lessons of the referendum vote and one of the most important points for the new government to address.
  1. We need to rake over the coals, but we also need to move forward. In that time-honoured phrase, we are where we are.  The time for shock is over and we need to roll up our sleeves and make the best of some badly-spilt milk.
  1. It would help to have a viable opposition party. (For readers outside the UK, that’s an example of the very British art of understatement.)  Politics in the UK is designed for there to be an opposition to the government.  Please would the Parliamentary Labour Party get its act together and start behaving as the opposition?  Vacuums have a nasty habit of being filled with things we don’t expect and I’m not at all comfortable with there being a vacuum in opposition in the current political climate.

We live in interesting times …