Election called to bring stability has brought chaos

5 months ago Ricardo Hylton 0

The week prior, she declined to show up for a debate, leaving the Labour leader to accost her deputy, Amber Rudd. “I would just say this to Amber: If you think this is a country at ease with itself, have you been to a food bank?” Corbyn said. “Have you seen people sleeping around our stations? Have you seen the levels of poverty that exist because of your government’s conscious decisions on benefits?” The image lingered: not the external menace of the immigrant, but the internal decrepitude of the food bank, the homeless huddling around the depot.

Corbyn-mania

This was Jeremy Corbyn in full campaign flow. Menacing, authentic, conscientious. They (media experts and the like) say that Corbyn performed better than expected (more accurately, better than they expected). They point to May’s disastrous and mean-spirited campaign (no argument there). They note that the young were mobilized, the elderly scared, and the manifesto was bright, sensible and attractive.

All true, to some degree. But there’s more to it than this, and actually it’s no mystery. Any one of the tens of thousands of selfless activists who went out in rain and shine to knock on doors for Labour could tell you: the reason Corbyn-led Labour did so well is because poverty and inequality are now at levels that would embarrass even the most brazen kleptocracy of the most corrupt banana republic. And they trust Corbyn’s Labour to do something about it.

 

The Most Dramatic Political Collapse in Living Memory

The hapless Theresa May strutted to the microphone and wore a smile as facile, vacuous and counterfeit as the campaign she presided over for the last seven weeks. An election called to “strengthen her hands” in the Brexit negotiations has promptly grabbed said hands, and broken them at the joints. A hung parliament has left the United Kingdom in a state of chaos.

Theresa May has joined a long line of politicians who have gambled that they understood the populist wave overtaking Western politics and lost.

The Prime Minister’s career has been defined by caution and an aversion to risk. Her harshest critics may point to her careful balancing act before the European Union referendum and sneer cowardice. So it is particularly brutal for Theresa May, and delightful for her detractors that this career may be ended by one, big disastrous gamble.

Eight weeks ago when she called the snap election, the Conservatives were 20 points ahead. It looked like a safe bet to a landslide and a renewed 5-year term for her party. She looked at the Labour Party’s infighting and decided to risk her government for the chance to bank a bigger majority against an apparently shambolic Labour opposition. But there followed one of the most dramatic collapses in British political history.

She ran on competence and on being a safe pair of hands. Theresa May claimed to be the last grown up left standing after Brexit annihilated her Tory challengers and a huge chunk of Labour MPs placed Jeremy Corbyn’s head on the chopping block. The talk back then was of a Conservative majority of over 100 MPs. The public rejected her and now she is left cobbling together a not “strong and stable” coalition of chaos with the 10 MPs of Northern Ireland’s DUP.

Mrs. May called the snap election three years early — and her decision backfired. So did the decision by her predecessor, David Cameron, who called the referendum on European Union membership in the first place.

“I thought surrealism was a Belgian invention,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium who is the European Parliament’s chief coordinator on Britain’s exit from the bloc. “Yet another own goal: after Cameron, now May.”

Without question now, Britain is not ready for the negotiations, having spent the past year largely avoiding a real debate on the topic, other than a vague argument over the merits of a “hard Brexit” (as a clean break from the European Union is known), versus a “soft Brexit,” which would require more compromise.

 

When Things Fall Apart

Now it’s clear that Britain is wading uncertain, choppy waters. Firstly, there is now a chronic instability to British politics brought on by Mrs May. The parties are in flux. This instability will be hard to put back in the bottle. The election has revealed a divided country – between outward and inward looking voters, young and old, the cosmopolitan cities and the rest, nationalists and unionists. Labour under Tony Blair found an accommodation with the market, has morphed back into a hard left socialist party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Mrs May is balancing on a statist and market tight rope. The Conservative Party, like the country at large, is fractured. A bleeding swimmer in shark infested waters, with the sails off.

Secondly, there are serious questions as to what type of Brexit will she be able to negotiate now. Beginning in about 10 days, is the most important negotiation Britain has attempted in peacetime. Brexit involves dismantling an economic and political arrangement that has been put together over half a century, linking Britain to the bloc to whom it sends half its goods exports, from which come half its migrants, and which has helped to keep the peace in Europe and beyond. Brexit’s complexity is on a scale that Britain’s political class has wilfully ignored. Quite apart from failing to spell out the trickiest of divorces, no politician has seriously answered the question of how the economic pain of Brexit will be shared. Less trade, lower growth (according to some economic forecasts) and fewer migrants will mean higher taxes and lower public spending.

Mrs May said the reason for calling the election was to get a mandate to negotiate Brexit along the lines she set out in January: to leave the single market and to press ahead with cuts to immigration that no one considers feasible. During the campaign she added nothing to her thin Brexit strategy beyond resurrecting the fatuous slogan that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” The country loses because Mrs May and her close advisers threw a loose pair of dice in an attempt to win a cheap political game.

Let us be clear: after the vote there is no mandate for such an approach. The hard Brexit Mrs May put at the centre of her election has been rejected. It must be rethought.

Thirdly, the markets crashed as the results seeped into the uncertain Friday morning air. Inflation is at a three year high and rising. Real wages are falling. This is the true legacy of the Conservatives.

 

The Youth Fight Back

For the past few years, whenever politics intruded into the lives of the young, it was never in a good way: the trebling of tuition fees; the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Grant, a small amount of money for those working class aspirational children who wanted to continue with their education; the scrapping of youth services across the country; a housing crisis that disproportionately affects them; a lack of secure jobs; a 10% fall in wages, etc.

Young people over the last few years have had a hammering and the default position of politicians for a number of decades is that we can do what we want when it comes to young people because they are never going to vote. They’re never going to fight back. But what we saw this week was the young roared in this country. They voted for a party which had an inspiring vision for them, and for millions across the country with policies that have been traduced and vilified and ignored by the mainstream media in this country, that by asking those at the top of society to pay a bit more money to invest in services, infrastructure, education, to get rid of student debt, is somehow impractical or Leninist.

 

A Hollow Victory

Oh, but the Conservatives still won, you say. Well, lets be clear about what happened in this election. Labour had the biggest increase in its share of the vote not since tony Blair in 1997 but rather since Clement Atlee in the aftermath of the Second World War. It started from a very low base but its achievement is seismic when Kensington and Canterbury (a Conservative seat since the 19th century) are now hotbeds of Socialism.

This election was a repudiation of focus grouping, message controlling, public relations, advertising, and slogan repeating politics. This will be a return to ideological politics, which in these circumstances, is a healthy thing. The cynicism of this last 20 years when every political message had to be manipulated and controlled, and tested; when it was all about the management of public opinion. That era has now ended.

 

The DUP

On the news they use the euphemism “social conservatives” to describe the group of Northern Ireland MPs who Theresa May has gone into bed with. But let’s be clear about Ian Paisley’s former group of merry men and women. They are anti LGBT rights; they are homophobic; they are anti women’s rights; they don’t believe, for example, that women should be able to have abortions; they are backed by loyalist terrorists (though they do not endorse terrorism); they are staunch climate change deniers.

These people are going to have huge influence over the UK and the government’s legislative agenda. This threatens the peace process where you have the UK government, who are supposedly neutral, now being propped up by one sectarian party in that simmering conflict.

 

A Phoenix Rises

What can come of this chaos? Britain is not the only country reeling from electoral shock. But whereas new leaders – Donald Trump in America, and Emmanuel Macron in France – campaigned for change, Britain’s rumbling revolt has left no one in charge. Mr Corbyn’s grip on Labour has been strengthened. The Tories remain the largest party but their leader is a busted flush and has no obvious successor. UKIP has been obliterated and the Lib Dems are irrelevant.

And yet it is just possible that something better may rise from the ashes. Mr Corbyn ignited the masses. Last week, we endorsed Corbyn and the labour Party. He offers hope for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure; to invest in education, our healthcare and to fundamentally rebalance the iniquitous inequality at the heart of society. The election has not brought “strong and stable” but by giving voice to the voiceless, it may just be the start of “young and hopeful.”

 

Rise Like Lions After Slumber

On the last Wednesday night, Corbyn gave the final speech of his campaign, in the stunning Union Chapel, in Islington, his own constituency. Near the end, he took out his reading glasses and gave a dramatic performance of a few melodramatic lines from Shelley:

 

“Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

ye are many—they are few!”

 

Corbyn was standing in front of a red background emblazoned with Labour’s slogan: “For the many, not the few.” He said that he and his audience had stood together in places like this for countless protest meetings over the decades—“protect this, defend that, support this person.” “Tonight is different,” Corbyn said. “We’re not defending. We’re not defending. We don’t need to. We are asserting. Asserting our view that a society that cares for all is better than a society that only cares for the few.”

Monday morning, the Blackpool Gazette ran an advertisement from the Conservatives that covered half its front page. The other half was a news story: “Poverty-hit families are forced to rely on food bank handouts.” The election was being argued on Corbyn’s terms. That isn’t the same as winning, but it is something.