Thursday, 18 May 2017

The General Election Surprises So Far...

The background to the General Election is of course the referendum on exiting the European Union. This was that if Cameron had won and we remained, the Tory Party with its crazed right wing would have become ungovernable and even effectively split. UKIP would have campaigned on. With Cameron losing, the Tory Party stayed united and UKIP lost traction. Labour became divided instead, and needed to form policy pro Single Market later on. The Liberal Democrats had to set up stall as a remain party, build slowly, but tactically 'accept' the referendum whilst nursing the 48% remainers.

Those of us seeking to remain in the EU were waiting for negotiations to go on, and the governing Tory Party to split later on 'Single Market plus Customs Union' and 'total break' lines. The Liberal Democrats would gain traction, and the government start to lose the ability to make decisions as its majority was lost one way and the other.

Unfortunately, another of Theresa May's flip-flops was to call an early General Election. She has run the election campaign as a personal mandate (she is not on most election voting papers folks) as "strong and stable" and has been successful in banging away the mantra. Trouble is, no one in the media has challenged the number of U turns she has carried out since slipping into power. The biggest U turn of course was being Remain to now parading a UKIP style 'hard' exit from the EU. But her U turns range from the Chinese building a nuclear power station to the Budget.

However, elections can have a mind, or dynamics, of their own, and this one has a few surprises.

The first is not a surprise. It is that the Liberal Democrats have failed to gain traction. Given their main cause, it is simply too early. Their manifesto isn't a bad one, with a little imagination added in, but it is a fake. Here's why. If the Liberal Democrats won power, do we seriously think they would negotiate our removal from the EU? Of course not. We'd expect that they would stop them. This is why: the manifesto is still trying to 'accept' the referendum result; however, they should be running as if for government. The manifesto needed the balls to say that a General Election trumps a referendum, and therefore 'Vote for us and we remain'. Arguing for a referendum is for an opposition, and indeed the argument should be to learn the mistakes of a binary referendum.

The second is a surprise. It is that Theresa May, for all the pumping up she receives across the media, press and television, is wooden. She is coherent, but that is about all. She seems to believe in nothing much, other than making a land grab across the political spectrum. She seems to fly in the face of reality: the reality of the state of the NHS, the social services, education cuts and a low-wage low-productivity under-employed economy. But against this, people do fantasise; people do not vote according to self-interest (except the rich), or evidence, but according to mental values. The immigration debate has been one of these fantasies of short-cut identity. So the reality of the economic situation isn't enough to sway the vote. However, in keeping with this, the Tory Manifesto is remarkably dull, and effectively attacks its own elderly supporters, also with a big negative in policy regarding social care. The Cameron policy of social insurance was a far better prospect than this effective 'pay up' beyond a fixed figure, especially once you are dead. The children of the elderly will not be impressed. Expect an early U turn.

The third is a surprise and this is the imagination in the policy direction of the Labour Party. It is distinctive and it is positive. It means a change for the future, and one all about each looking after the other. So it has vision.
And the press and media go on and on about the apparently inadequate Corbyn, partly because (but not only because) the Members of Parliament gave an 80% vote of no confidence in the leader. But watch him. He speaks well, he is on the ball, he knows what he is talking about, and he believes in it. He looks authentic because he is authentic. Jeremy Corbyn is having a good campaign. He draws crowds where the camera angles reduce the numbers, not like Theresa May often locked away with a close-up around a tiny gathering.

Now my first choice is Liberal Democrat. I want us to remain in the European Union. This really matters for the future. It matters because it is about sharing with others like us, about liberal and democratic values, about peace and about shaping a continent. However, I am unimpressed with Tim Farron. He is coherent and he speaks well, but he doesn't have the gravitas of Ashdown, the seriousness (and deviousness) of Clegg, or the personal connection of Kennedy. He might get to be like Kennedy. There is a serious danger that Liberal Democrat seat gains will be undermined by losses, including his own seat if not careful. It is just really about the timing. It is too early, and the Liberal Democrats may have to suffer more. Their social media reach seems ineffective. Don't they know I support them?

What gets me about Labour, however, is that whilst the leadership is at least running a good social media campaign (as they must, the rest of the media is out to undermine), the social media discussions I see among its members is like a war zone. They are undermining themselves. People are saying there vote Labour despite the worst manifesto ever, the worst leader, a shambles at the top (Diane Abbott was their early example), poll ratings that will lead to devastation, and a war to come to remove Jeremy Corbyn who still will not stand down after a defeat. With supporters like these, who needs an opposition?

I'm still aware that Labour was a shambles of organisation since the Corbyn leadership. However, the campaign has been good and it is no surprise that he is picking up support. I am tempted myself, or I would be if I didn't live in East Hull. The local MP is one who would unseat Corbyn, so if I voted Labour because I liked the manifesto (and I do) my MP would be one to stage a coup with others.

Labour on the 'no deal is not better than a bad deal' has actually firmed up its option to remain in the EU: if remain is better, we remain. But it is unclear about this. Nevertheless, in power it would negotiate to come out, presumably with a better view of the single market and jobs.

Again, timing means UKIP is dying. Good riddance, maybe, but it could return later. It has a Donald Trump like leader, a sort of me-me person, childish, a fantasist, but the Tories have stolen its rhetoric and parades a few left-centrist policies (and another U turn was workers on company boards - so don't believe a word of it).

I don't believe a word Theresa May says. Nothing she says indicates what she is going to do. I take the view that all she wants is a majority that just allows her to decide one way or the other. I don't buy it that a moderate remainer (which was power-tactics anyway: she has just sought the top job) is someone who will crash the economy via a no deal. With a majority to defeat the Tory nutjobs as well as the single marketeers (if she wanted), she can choose a closer relationship with the European Union whilst coming out of voting for what policies it chooses. She won't risk Ireland (although she can be careless), and she won't risk massive failure, which is easy to achieve in wrenching ourselves out of the EU.

As said before, removing from the EU is to lose sovereignty. We will still have to obey its rules, but never go to the Council of Ministers or have representation in the European Parliament or put in Commissioners to make and monitor those rules. We will have to pay to leave and pay for its benefits, whilst they choose closer integration. Leaving the EU is simply stupid. The only problem is this. If Corbyn's imaginative manifesto and Fallon's feeble approach cannot overcome the Tory majority on its way, then we are on our way to loss of sovereignty or economic stupidity.

And here is the odd thing. Just as Blair's command of the political sphere ended in disaster (after several re-elections), so will the Tories, and quicker: a huge majority could last but one session of five years. It is bound to end in failure, in one side or the other utterly disappointed and angry, in a sense of all that and nothing achieved. Theresa May really is a nobody, with ministers who are even less; and she will command with nothing to do except fail: fail everyone or fail half. So there is hope, if we can take yet another five years of this.

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