Wednesday, 19 April 2017

UK General Election: the real action starts the day after

Exciting times for us in Britain, as we head for another, and rather premature, general election.

Well, moderately exciting. There is a general sense that the actual result may be a bit of a foregone conclusion. But that’s only based on the most recent polls suggesting the government has a lead of around twenty points. That’s only the polls – there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, even if in this case it would need to be more of an avalanche than a slip.

Indeed, without an avalanche to knock them back, the Conservatives may well be winning by a landslide. Perhaps that’s the most exciting aspect of this campaign: if we can’t block Theresa May’s re-election, can we at least limit its scale and prepare for a Labour comeback in the future? We shall see. The election’s on 8 June. One certainty in this campaign is that a fierce debate will start the following day.

Theresa May. Going to the country
At a time that suits her...
How about the timing of the election?

In 2010, the Liberal Democrat Party, for a long time the conscience of the Centre-Left, frequently sniping from the Left of the Labour Party on civil rights issues, amazed us all by going into coalition with the Conservatives. This put them in partnership with a party that stood against practically everything the Liberal Democrats claimed to believe. They claimed they’d influence the government to enact some of their measures but in fact, and unsurprisingly, pulled that trick off very seldom. Instead, they were simply dragged along behind their dominant partners until their inevitable and richly deserved punishment at the polls in 2015, reduced from 57 MPs to just 8.

Of their losses, 27 went to the Conservatives: after all, if you have to choose between two members of a coalition, you might as well go for the senior partner.

One of the few things they did achieve was the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act. This was designed to put an end to the custom of Prime Ministers calling elections when it suited them (generally when they saw the best chance of being re-elected), forcing them instead to go to the end of the five-year maximum term for which a Parliament can last. It would take a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons to overturn the measure and allow an election to be called early.

In the event, the vote was 522 to 13 which, in case you don’t want to do the maths, does constitute a two-thirds majority.

Odd, isn’t it? The vast majority of MPs voted for the election, even though a great many of them are at serious risk of losing their seats. Sound like turkeys voting for Christmas? The reasoning seems to be that you must never let the other side think you’re afraid of facing an election. Political machismo, it seems, comes first, even at the cost of letting the Prime Minister play the system to her advantage.

It also shows another accomplishment of that sad coalition government between 2010 and 2015 failing at its first test.

Ah, well. At least we’re now only seven weeks out from clearing the political air. By then we should know some of the questions that have been troubling us for the last couple of years.

Can Labour put up any kind of reasonable showing against the government?

Has the electorate swung massively over to the Conservatives?

What are the prospects for rebuilding a progressive alternative?

A new phase of interesting times starts on 9 June.


Anonymous said...

Well there we go a negative view from a member of a negative political party with a negative view, maybe that is why they get a negative vote. The lesson is negativity is a vote looser i.e. Remain or leave. Remain won the leave vote solely because it focused on the negatives and offered not a single positive for it campaign to remain. Remain offer so only positives i.e. Benefits a lesson never ever campaign n negatives.

David Beeson said...

Hold on, hold on: David Cameron and George Osborne campaigned on negatives. Most pro-EU people campaigned on peace, prosperity and progress - you could hardly be more positive. The Brexit vote was won by a campaign based on selfishness (we're taking our ball away), retrogressive thinking (nostalgia about a great British past that never existed), willful self-delusion (the belief that Britain still counts as a world power) and, above all, hatred and fear (of foreigners). Brexiters are about saying 'no' (to Europe). Theirs was a victory for the most thorough and intense negativity.

Anonymous said...

Well I think that just shows how totally out of touch Labour or Remainers are with what did actually motivate the leave vote.

Awoogamuffin said...

I don't think Labour vote is negative. The problem with Labour is listlessness, showing a half-hearted reaction to the problems of today, and finding comfort in an old-fashioned kind of idealism. It would be nice to see a progressive view presented with the passion of the leavers, who despite Anonymous's weird comment, are absolutely the more negative movement in that they are only really clear on what they are against. And I don't know who Anonymous is, but the whole "Remainers are out of touch" game is disingenuous and not half as clever as you think it is.