Friday, 9 June 2017

The day after

So, my plan was simple. Watch the exit poll and then go to bed waking up at 4am to see if it came true.

All abandoned when we got that poll, making my decision to schedule client appointments this afternoon.........ill advised.

I did manage to get a  couple of hours sleep and I'll have to struggle through beyond that, so I have a couple of hours to give you my thoughts on the results and their immediate consequence

Firstly, Labour lost.

It was a hugely cheering night for us but we shouldn't lose sight of that. There is no possible coalition that gives us even a minority Labour Government. Never mind its political viability, a coalition of Labour, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens still has fewer votes than the Tories alone. And, anyway, in the short term the Tories can do a fairly easy deal with the DUP ((more on that later) which gives them an absolute majority. That means they will still be the Government at least for a bit, We'll still have the Bedroom Tax and the Child Tax credit cap and "austerity". And that really matters. Elections are about winning, not just running a good campaign. In the cold light of day people will get that.

But the critics of Corbyn were proved wrong to a degree. He did run a good campaign. Although he was helped by the appallingness of the Tory campaign. The turning point, on any view was the Tory u-turn on the so called "Dementia tax". Not only was it an unpopular proposal per se but, coupled as it then was in its reversal  by it highlighting the lack of figures on it (or anything else) in the Tory manifesto, it effectively excused any detailed consideration of Labour's spending plans. These, as spending plans, were popular but they were absurdly unaffordable and, that aside, despite their popularity, were ridiculously chosen beyond the crude purpose of retail politics. It is clear that abolishing tuition fees was immensely popular with young people (a lesson Corbyn's team clearly learned from Bernie Sanders)  but it is ridiculous priority for a Labour Government if its objectives are to reduce inequality and close the attainment gap. It is instead a free giveaway to (mainly) middle class kids at the expense of more urgent calls on the money, even assuming that money was to be ring fenced to education, And the same goes for keeping the triple lock, non means tested winter fuel payments and ruling out any form of inheritance tax to address the crisis in funding care. Particularly in the latter case since there was simply no alternative funding model suggested. Exactly the same could be said for ending the public sector pay freeze. Understandably popular in the public sector but where was the money coming from? But if you promise free things, the recipients will line up to receive them believing the promise is banked and that somebody else will just have to pay for it. As they clearly did.

There is no point maintaining that Corbyn was not hindered by internal opposition to his leadership but it remains questionable if he would ever line up the more realistic parts of the Party to campaign enthusiastically for such a platform in an election we might actually contemplate winning, simply because they appreciate that it would all fall apart, almost instantly, if we ever won.

Anyway, to Scottish Labour. We lost as well. It was great to regain seats but if you had suggested ten years ago that Labour would be celebrating having seven seats in Scotland you would have been in danger of being sectioned. But there was a more sinister element top what happened. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that our campaign was deliberately sabotaged by our own leader. Firstly her decision to rule in council coalitions with the Tories while ruling in ones with the SNP is difficult to fathom except as a deliberate device to alienate potential Tory tactical voters. She then started her "campaign" by giving an interview to the Guardian as good as conceding we had no prospects of doing much beyond holding Edinburgh South. She progressed to making East Renfrewshire one of our target seats not only making sure their would be no informal "division of the spoils" with the Tories but diverting vast resources not only into a contest where success was to be measured by keeping up the Labour vote to the extent of saving the SNP incumbent but also denying these resources elsewhere in the west. In East Renfrewshire we came third. In two seats within ten miles we lost by less than a hundred votes And then finally there was the Tuesday's leaders debate and Nicola's bombshell revelation.  What wasn't important about that was its later denial, it was that for more than half an hour in live debate on the night it wasn't contradicted and even when it was it was only half-heartedly and at the specific prompting of Bernard Ponsonby.

I have always harboured suspicions about Kez. It is undeniable that, to explain the absence of any Party history, she tells us that she had no interest in politics until she reached  twenty three but subsequently was revealed, two years earlier, to have volunteered for the SNP. Which she then "explained" was because  she was contemplating a career in politics. While apparently, contemporaneously, having no interest in it. As they say in my day job, that is not a story that would stand up to much cross examination.

Anyway, suffice to say, Kez needs to go and soon, particularly as we could face another General Election this year.

And so to the Tories. What can you say. Well done Ruth, taxi for Theresa. The achievements of the former can barely be overstated. Not only has she saved the Union, it shouldn't be lost sight of that her twelve gains have also saved the Tory Government, at least for the moment. She is the woman of the hour, both North and South of the border.

But some of the more hysterical commentary should be reined in. The process by which Ruth would become Tory UK leader and Prime Minister would have to start with her becoming an MP and Theresa not being handed the pearl handed revolver before that. Then she would have to want to do it. Then she woukd have to sell her liberal conservatism to the Tory membership. I don't doubt her ability or her ambition but I suspect quite strongly that before she contemplates moving to Downing Street she fancies a sojourn in Bute House. Or at least another attempt at that address. Which I continue to maintain would be in 2020.

And anyway, who would want the job at this moment? With no stable (let alone strong) majority for anything, never mind Brexit, But, more to the point, with no real idea what to do, now, about Brexit? A wee bit more on that later.

But if it's not Ruth, and assuming Mrs May does go, who does become Prime Minister? The extent of the schism in the Tory Party, initially between Leavers and Remainers and now, at least nominally, between hard and soft Brexiters, cannot be understated. May was meant to the bridge candidate. It is difficult to see who else might fulfil that role but victory in a leader takes all competition might just split the Party altogether. The Tories are always cited as the ultimate electoral machine but it is forgotten that they have split twice in the past and on both occasions over trade. Firstly over repeal of the Corn Laws and again over Imperial Preference, It cannot be ruled out the same happening again.

Which leads me to my conclusion in this part. And it is a pretty dramatic one. There is no strong and stable government available within the current Party system. But there is if it fractures. There is, I quite strongly suspect, a substantial majority of MPs who could unite around a common programme. On Brexit, it would start by a withdrawal, temporarily, of Article 50, and a reopened negotiation on British terms of membership inevitably focused on ending free movement which rightly or wrongly, is the real Brexit driving force. If that could be achieved, and if Brussels really wants us to stay it would have to be, then, coupled with other reform, there might develop a case for us staying for which an ultimate electoral mandate could be obtained.

The self same Government would be able to address the security situation, not by abandoning the ECHR but perhaps by seeking a temporary derogation as, it shouldn't be overlooked, France has already done.

In economic policy it might relax "austerity" to a degree and, from the centre, bite the bullet of limited rises in personal taxation as the route to addressing the deficit. It would also rein in the rougher elements of welfare reform.

But this would be a democratic outrage! I hear you protest. Well, yes and no. Because the idea that the Tories just graft on the DUP and carry on is not sustainable, not least because the DUP's commitment to an open Irish border is simply inconsistent with their supposed enthusiasm for Brexit. And if the Nothern Ireland Assembly isn't reconstituted surely direct rule by a DUP containing government would fundamentally undermine the peace process? So the alternative becomes another election. Is that really what people want? And, anyway, suppose it provides the same result?
And anyway, truthfully, the Labour Party is no longer one Party. Had the numbers made it possible for Corbyn to become Prime Minister I very much doubt that some Labour MPs would have been prepared to thole that, And, as I say, the Tories are equally schismed.

So ending the two Party system, even at its moment of returning "triumph", by introducing PR would be the major task of any supposed Government of the centre. In time, Labour's two wings, no, actually halvess,  could then have an honest competition before the electorate. As could the open and closed factions within the Tories. Possibly with one ultimate Party of the centre, possibly not.

We would of course need a Prime Minister. Probably, in recognition of their status as the largest minority  a liberal Tory. Someone untainted by a Westminster record would be ideal. Actually, now I think about it, perhaps I spoke too soon about Ruth Davidson.

3 comments:

  1. Good piece very interesting

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  2. I think the central Nat seats are there to be hoovered up the next time as well.

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