I like to think I’m politically ‘savvy’: I’ve always been interested, even active, in politics – whether international, national or local. I have never failed to vote in any election for which I was qualified, whether that be for board members of an organisation, a union executive or a national or international political election. I have ‘blogged’ here many times on political issues and, particularly intensively, during elections. In these blog posts I have often tried to predict the outcome of elections and, to date, have a high success rate. In only three weeks the UK goes to the polls again and this time I’m struggling to make a confident prediction.
Against a background of gross social inequality, and on the back of 10 years of relentless swingeing cuts to publicly funded services, you would imagine that the electorate would be champing at the bit to vote for anyone other than the incumbent, Conservative, governing party. Apparently not: if the polls are to be believed (and that’s always a big ‘if’) the UK may be heading for yet another hung parliament or a Conservative government with a slender overall majority. Why?
Well, for one thing, Brexit. The country was narrowly in favour of leaving the EU, but based on an incomplete turnout and, shall we say, incomplete truth about the consequences and the timing. Parliament was also split on the issue, and not along party lines, but for the UK General Election the offering from the main parties is clear (except for Labour). The Conservatives want to “Get Brexit Done”, the Liberal Democrats want to “Stop Brexit” altogether, and Labour want to renegotiate and put the whole thing “back to the people” – in other words another referendum. So if you want to stay in the EU you vote LibDem don’t you? Well, yes and no. Because we have an outdated “first past the post”, “winner takes all”, system and you want to stop the Conservatives from getting a majority you vote, tactically, for the party most likely to unseat them in your constituency.
There are shades of grey in the other parties that may be standing on your patch: The Brexit Party want a hard-line “clean break” Brexit, as do the UK Independence Party (UKIP); neither have a hope of forming a government and have no real policies beyond Brexit. The Green Party want to stay in the EU, as do the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Welsh Nationalists (Plaid Cymru). In England there are few seats where a huge majority, one way or another, is going to be overturned. The outcome is going to be down to who wins the ‘marginal’ seats – particularly where the marginal consituency is (or rather was ) evenly split on the issue of Brexit.
Of course this election should be about far more than Brexit. As I wrote earlier in this piece, on the face of it, after 10 years of stagnation and dismantling of social services that disproportionately affect the ordinary man and woman, it ought to be no contest. But, as I write this on 23 November, even I am no clearer. The leaders of all the parties have issued their manifestos, and have now faced the TV cameras as never before, most recently in a BBC hosted public Q&A session. It was depressing and I felt, if this is the best we can offer to the electorate, and the wider world, God help us.
Boris Johnson, current PM and Leader of the Conservatives, is energetic but a bumbling fool. His grasp of complex political matters or the reality of the lives of ordinary people is woeful. He doesn’t ‘do’ detail and was shooting from the hip, as always, offering nothing more than generalities and exposing himself as a man who, despite knowing Latin, is ignorant. Time and again, whatever the thrust of a question, he tried to bring the focus of the event to Brexit – and to attacking Jeremy Corbyn (Labour). Jeremy Corbyn came across as detached, patrician and listless. After years in the job he is still not comfortable in front of a camera or speaking from notes; he is a presentational liability. He’s allowed himself to be portrayed as an evasive fence-sitter on contentious issues like another referendum. He consistently fails to understand that the electorate, by and large, doesn’t ‘do’ detail either. They need ‘bullet point’ answers to straightforward questions: the ordinary electorate don’t want to hear a carefully constructed, dispationate, and complicated argument – they switch off. Labour should be the only show in town. They have an exciting programme that points to a different vision of our society BUT, without explicitly setting it in the context of a 15 year plan, Labour has left the door open to it being condemned as unrealistic, utopian, and unaffordable. That’s inexcusable. It can’t all be done at once, and it isn’t meant to be all done at once, but it appears as if it is meant to be because nowhere in the 100+ page document does it say so: the only date refers to Carbon Reduction. Not only that, but the apparently eqivocal position on Brexit is a bear trap that Labour has needlessly fallen into. Another Brexit referendum will be between Leave and Remain, with the two camapaigns, as before, drawing support from all parties. It makes sense then that, as PM, Jeremy Corbyn should remain impartial but why didn’t he just say that Labour MPs will be able to vote, as before, as their conscience dictates. His personal vote will be, as before, between him and the ballot box. This is an entirely defensible position, but instead he’s allowed himself to be portrayed as indecisive or, worse, duplicitous.
I blogged here about this in 2017: see http://www.harrygoldjazz.com/2017/05/09/go-compare-politics-and-labours-train-wreck-tv/
Jo Swinson (LibDem) looked like a school governor standing in for someone else – inexperienced and out of her depth – but her main plank is “Stop Brexit” at all costs. She reminded me of the phrase my dear Mum used to say, “If you scratch a Liberal, you’ll find a Tory underneath”. I can’t imagine any of them going toe-to-toe with Putin, Trump, Kim Jong Un, or any heavyweight world leader. Oddly, Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, came across as most assured, but then she’s peripheral (except as a collaborator with Labour or the LibDems in the event of a hung parliament).
All the main parties will maintain, and renew, the UK nuclear deterrent which I personally find disgusting – only the SNP wants it scrapped.
And so to my prediction. With the caveat that there may be a higher than usual number of swing voters and ‘don’t knows’ out there, and a massive number of newly registered (mostly ‘younger’) voters, I believe the LibDems will pick up a few seats in England and Wales, as will the Greens. The SNP will, again, wipe out the Conservatives in Scotland and come close to doing the same to Labour – in Scotland. So, unless Labour can get its act together in the next 3 weeks, or something happens to discredit Johnson personally, he and the Conservatives will win a slender but workable majority.
However if the election does end up in another stalemate, as I increasingly fear it might, then the vacuum left at the heart of our national politics may be filled by another charismatic politician with the power to stoke the burning resentment of the disenfranchised and frustrated. 1933 anyone?