So here I am with less than 24 hours to go before I get sliced open 🙂 On the train back from honeymoon yesterday, I had a real stab of fear about tomorrow, but it passed quickly. And I had an excellent night’s sleep – no kidney pain and no sweats – as if the bugger realises that there’s little point now in continuing to plague me, because it will soon be in the post-histology human waste-bin. I’m going to spend part of today catching you up with events of the last three days (not least to prevent my mind drifting too much onto unwelcome subjects); but first a few reflections on last week’s Tory triumph.
I am gutted that my pre-election-results post of last Thursday afternoon got mangled up and lost in the WordPress entrails. It was an (ahem!) trenchant critique of the failures of Labour’s election strategy and the reasons why the party was facing failure (though, like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate the scale of the humiliation.) As I said in that ‘lost post’, despite my vow to back off politics until I’m better, just as I can deviate occasionally from my alkali diet, so I think I’m allowed to break my politics fast from time to time, especially on such a momentous occasion.
I start this commentary on the election result in the mood of apparent despair and disgust at the British political scene which Shelley articulated in his great political poem / song, ‘Men of England.’ (If you don’t know it, check it out at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/183987)
Tempting though it might be for those of us who are left of centre to accept the apparent logic of Shelley’s argument, we can’t, however, give up. But we have to start by being realistic. None of us should under-estimate the scale of Thursday’s disaster. Indeed, I think that, other things being equal, the Labour project is definitively finished. In 1981, the labour historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote his prescient The Forward March of Labour Halted?, and his thesis was immediately vindicated by the crushing defeat of Michael Foot’s Labour in the 1983 election (with which Miliband’s has many parallels), leading to the eventual emergence of ‘New Labour’ (or Tory-lite.) Why do I think this?
- Scotland will be SNP for at least a generation, if it stays in the Union that long. The easy harvest of Scottish MPs is over for Labour (deservedly so – it’s served Scotland very poorly over the decades)
- Even if it does remain, the only way that Labour can regain ground in Scotland is by becoming more like the SNP (anti-austerity etc) This is precisely the strategy which will make it impossible to regain ground in England. You can’t have the same party pursuing different strategies in different parts of the same country.
- If Scotland leaves, the already huge ‘natural’ Tory majority in England will be enhanced by the proposed boundary changes shelved while the Lib Dems were in the Coalition. This will give the Tories an extra 20 seats, and their opponents 20 fewer, making the chasm between Tory and Labour even greater than it already is
- There is no longer any thing remotely resembling an industrial working-class (the catalyst and necessary precondition of the Labour movement) in the UK. What now exists is a 90% demographic which considers itself, rightly or wrongly, as middle-class (especially in aspiration) and an under-class (the main UKIP constituency) which has no real political traction under the present system (see below) and is in any case more right-wing in many respects than the Tories
- Labour has seriously alienated formerly loyal left-of-centrists like myself by remodeling itself as Tory-lite, a process which began under Tony BLIAR. The grandees of the thoroughly discredited ‘New Labour’ project (Iraq War, widening inequality, less social mobility, the cripplingly expensive PFI strategy, kow-towing to Big Business and Big Lobbies) apparently believe that success will return once Miliband-era Labour returns to its ‘roots’ in ‘New Labour’ (a proposition which seems to me thoroughly deluded, as the 2010 election surely demonstrated). If they go down that track, they certainly won’t be taking me along with them. Miliband has been accused of being too Left, hence the failure of last week. Too Left? Really? He endorsed the £30 billion Tory ‘war on the poor’ cuts which are about to be unleashed, he wanted to keep Trident, etc etc.
However, there is no reason for those of us who are left of centre to despair. Other things are not equal (and will certainly be less so under the Tories). Indeed, I strongly believe that the Tories will seriously fu** up – and very quickly – because
- If austerity continues, Scotland will break away. Who wants to be remembered as the Tory Prime Minister who broke up the United Kingdom? But Cameron is caught between the rock of his swivel-eyed back-benchers who are little England nationalists and the hard place of an SNP which clearly has an overwhelming mandate not to submit to Tory ideology. His back-benchers will never forgive DC if he makes too many concessions to the SNP, particularly if England seems to lose out by comparison; and if he doesn’t offer enough, bye-bye Scotland!
- Europe. This is where we can really rub our hands in gleeful anticipation, particularly those of us who remember how the Major government tore itself apart over the issue, leading to 13 years of non-Tory – or Tory-lite –rule. Cameron has got himself stuck in an even harder place than Major by promising a referendum. His swivel-eyed anti-Europe back-benchers (80-100 strong) will only support DC if he campaigns openly for Brexit. They may be counting on the fact that Europe will probably make only limited concessions to keep Britain in (otherwise every other country in the EU will start demanding similar concessions.) Britain may be terribly important to Europe (ahem), but there are 27 other members who will have to agree to said concessions, and one veto from one country (Latvia? Cyprus?) will be enough to stymie them.
- However, DC will also find himself caught between the hugely influential pro-Europe business lobbies (who fund his party) and the anti-Europe lobbies (who also fund his party) – and will have to choose between them – which will cause immense bitterness and a desire for revenge on the part of the jilted party. An equally agonising choice will have to be made between the varied non-UK-based media barons who swept DC to power, with a similarly painful outcome likely. On the one hand you have the rabidly anti-Europe Murdoch press which will never forgive DC if he doesn’t do all he can to create a situation (Brexit) which allows Murdoch to extend his already far too extensive control of UK media outlets (which European anti-monopoly law has thus far prevented him from doing) and turn the UK into the politically eunuch-like and forelock-tugging entity which once-rebellious and radical Australia has become.
- On the other hand, he will have to battle with the tax-haven-domiciled Barclay brothers who run the Telegraph stable, which is pro-business first and foremost (remember how they wouldn’t report the most recent HSBC scandal, leading to the resignation of their star journalist, Peter Oborne) and will therefore be desperate, whatever they say now, for the UK not to leave Europe.
So, I can’t wait for autumn 2017, which is when the Brexit referendum will be due (according to present plans, but don’t count on it not being brought forward to try to limit the political fall-out) and the Tories will be in the trough of mid-cycle unpopularity, not least because of their on-going austerity measures which everyone will be totally fed up with by then. Catastrophe beckons for the Tories, which ever way the referendum goes – not to mention what happens with Scotland…
We who oppose the Tories must learn from their brilliant election strategist Lynton Crosbie (give the devil its due) and adopt his key tactic right away: this is to drive a wedge between the different factions of which your opponents are composed and set them at each others’ throats. Just as LC got the SNP and Labour quarrelling viciously in the run-up to this election (shame on Miliband for falling into the trap), let’s all get the pro- and anti-European Tories at each others’ throats, by constantly asking the most ‘innocently’ awkward questions, whenever we can…
That said, there’s no disguising what an appallingly dysfunctional ‘democracy’ Britain is. How can it be possible that 4 million people vote for UKIP (whatever you think of them) and they get only 1 seat, whereas, 1.5 million people vote SNP and they get 56?? It’s plain ludicrous. I voted Lib Dem (there, you see how honest I am) in 2005 and 2010 because they were the only party which promised electoral reform (and that was the only reason I voted for them, hence my reluctant return to Labour last week). Once in coalition the LDs did, indeed, attempt to push through the most diluted form of Proportional Representation in the form of AV (at least it was a step in the right direction) but were stitched up and defeated by both the Tories and Labour combining together.
As this stitch-up suggests, any party which gets into power through the ‘first past the post’ system by definition has a vested interest in keeping it. The only way to get a proper democracy in which everyone can really feel their participation might count for something, and which will therefore properly engage them, is to have PR. How to achieve that seems to me a far harder problem to resolve than helping to engineer a Tory self-destruct by 2017. Don’t mistake me: I think Tory-lite will almost always a better alternative than Tory-heavy. But we need a new dawn, in which you don’t ever have to feel you have to vote for a party you don’t like simply because you like another one even less…
I began with Shelley. Despite the apparent despair of his poem, it is, of course, an attempt to shame and galvanise his public into action. Think of what has been achieved since his time by radical thinking such as his – the elements of democracy, religious emancipation, education for all, rights for children, votes for women, the welfare state and hundreds of other progressive measures – all opposed by the Tories, the party of the rich, the powerful and vested interests first and foremost, whose media allies fool most of the people most of the time that it’s otherwise. In our millions, our individually tiny efforts can combine to bring about the next stage of the revolution which is needed in British political life. Let’s respond to the challenge not with despair but in the spirit of Shelleys’ incomparable call to arms in ‘The Masque of Anarchy.’ (see http://www.artofeurope.com/shelley/she5.htm)
Now to blog about more agreeable things… xx