It’s been a while since I felt this hopeful about British politics.
Yesterday’s result was excellent, and although re-delivering a Conservative government, has punched the wind right out of their sails and sets Labour up to truly contest for power whenever the next vote comes. This is Labour’s 1992 moment.
Events have refuted the pessimism I showed at the end of my post on Wednesday. Labour are united in success, the Tories divided in failure. But while our exit from the EU will soften, living standards are going to decline, the ‘living wage’ will only rise to £8.75 an hour by 2020 (not a living wage), and public service investment will continue to fall in real terms. We can now, however, continue on with hope in our hearts.
Laying down the seeds
Yesterday, against all expectations, brought Scotland right back into play, which means Labour can now hope of winning an overall majority in Parliament and governing without coalition. Just a few weeks ago, it was universally believed that with the enormous majorities won in 2015, the SNP had Scotland sewn up for at least two more elections, and could only lose a couple of seats to very organised tactical voting for Conservative candidates. Whether or not dropping calls for a second referendum can save them now, we’ll see. But every Scotish voter wakes up today living in a marginal with a vote that counts, and I believe that Labour is the natural party of SNP opposition north of the border. This must be the high water mark for Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives.
Down in my neck of woods, the South West, something quite astonishing happened on Thursday. While the farmers and pensioners, ever fearful of Europe and revolution and land taxes, re-elected Tory MPs with increased majorities, Labour surged up from third or fourth place in 2015 to become the next largest party. In Newton Abbot, Totnes, Devon Central, and across Cornwall, no longer can the Lib Dems run adverts holding progressive voters over a barrel and claiming it’s them or the high road.
No, last night showed you don’t need to vote tactically. Next election, citizens of the South West could participate in the election of a Labour government. That’s a beautiful thing. And let’s not forget Plymouth South and Davenport – where Trident nuclear submarines are repaired and upgraded. A Labour gain, proving that even those servicing the bombs believe you don’t have to want to obliterate billions in a nuclear holocaust to lead the British people.
Thinking back to the three received truths of British elections I laid down in my post on Wednesday, they’re shattered.
The campaign matters
It doesn’t matter how popular you and your party are six weeks out from a general election. The people do pay attention to manifestos, and if you didn’t think yours through, or didn’t provide enough detail, or enough hope, they’ll vote you down.
You can’t sit in your ivory tower waiting to be coronated. The public are open to seeing a new side of candidates they’ve already made up their minds about – both in positively and negatively.
The young will vote
Results from uni towns; big swings in the vote providing Labour gains in Reading East, Ipswich and Canterbury (held by the Conservatives for almost 100 years), show that youth turnout is significantly up. Let’s hope this is a permanent force, and not simply because, as Conservative commentators are already beginning to dismiss, that Corbyn tried to buy them off with his policy to end tuition fees.
So much for Shy Tories
Far from being a gateway drug, turning Labour voters into Conservatives, UKIP ever was just a protest vote. This election, Corbyn the outsider, Corbyn the genuine man of the people, led ex-Labour UKIPers right back into the fold. On the night, it was Shy Labour – those who had been voting UKIP and were initially impressed by May’s big play for Labour heartlands, but come June 8th, standing the ballot box – who meant Corbyn exceeded his polling average by a good 5 points.
Well done that man.
I stand by what I said 12 months ago.
Anyone who saw how decisively Corbyn won not one but two Labour leadership elections knew that he’s a top notch campaigner – a rousing speaker, a listener, authentic, promising what he believes in and keeping his promises. In the past month, he’s shown he can convince a wider audience than merely the Labour faithful. A much wider audience.
But up to now he has not been an effective opposition leader. From disorganisation, to promoting factionalism within the party, to poor Parliamentary debating and public engagement, Corbyn is part of the reason why, in the last two years, we’ve seen such poor national governance and such a rapid deterioration in our public services.
And since he didn’t win a majority on Thursday, I sincerely hope that he will bring greater experience and competence into his Shadow Cabinet – and I hope that those Corbyn-sceptics will fall in line and serve him. Until election to government, the job of the Labour party is to provide and articulate an alternative vision, and to hold the government to account on every speech they make, decision they take and every law they attempt to pass. We need Corbyn’s Labour party to step up and do this.
The Democratic Unionist Party
It is now clear that our new government, for so long as it lasts, will be a Conservative – DUP coalition. It might be referred to as a “minority Conservative government”, but that fact that talks are ongoing between these two parties before any cabinet or legislative agenda has been proposed means that deals are being done to guarantee lasting backing from the DUP; a coalition.
Who are the DUP? They’re the largest ‘unionist’ party of Northern Ireland, elected almost exclusively by protestants and strongly pro-UK and anti-Irish reunification.
Except for their attitude toward Brexit, they’re UKIP by another name. Their policy platform is extremely socially conservative; against LGBTI rights and abortion, but economically left-wing; opposing austerity and supporting increased government spending and state intervention in the economy to ‘pick winners’. They don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming. On Brexit, they want to leave the EU but keep just about every existing right – notably free movement and membership of the single market.
Constitutional questions must be asked of such a coalition because, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, Westminster must remain neutral with regard to Northern Irish politics. Clearly, as devolved power sharing in Northern Ireland has currently broken down and direct rule from Westminster looks set to return, our next government – including one NI party but not the other would be anything but.
But before this all gets a bit too serious, let’s just bask in the delicious irony of it all.
In the leaders’ debate, Amber Rudd tried to discredit Corbyn, saying that Labour’s plans relied on a “magic money tree”. Well Amber, you were right, there is indeed a magic money tree this election, but it’s the one the Conservatives are planting in Stormont to guarantee the fealty of the DUP. And they’re going to need it, as they’re still led by only-a-politician-could-be-this-bad-at-maths-and-keep-their-job Arlene Foster, who oversaw the mispending of £500 million by directly paying businesses £1.60 for every £1 they spent running biomass boilers.
As for the oft-repeated “coalition of chaos”; that’ll be the one between the Westminster Tories; led by an utterly discredited leader they despise but are propping up in order to keep power, in the same way the Republicans prop up Trump across the pond, the Scottish conservatives; led by a Lesbian with significant policy differences, and the DUP; who think homosexuality is a sin that can be cured with sufficient piety.
In the coming days I’ll be writing profile pieces on the winners and losers who’ve caught my attention.
But for now, bask in the glory and enjoy the ride, it’s only going to get more exciting!