Consistent with 21st century politics the announcement on 18th April of a general election by Prime Minister Teresa May was a cynical move based purely on self-interest. The ‘snap election’ to be held on 8th June contravenes the fixed parliament act of 2011, which introduced fixed term elections (every five years) for the first time.
To the total dismay of many of us, opinion polls have for some time given the Conservative government a commanding lead over Labour. Teresa May and her cohorts want to capitalise on this and build as large a majority as possible in parliament, thereby avoiding the annoying limitations and accountability of parliamentary democracy, enabling any policies they like to be pushed through, thus hastening the demise of the nation that was set in motion in the 1980’s under Margaret Thatcher, and has been increasing year on year since the 2008 economic crash.
Despite being taken by surprise Labour were quick out of the traps and have run a good campaign. Their manifesto is indeed radical by the pedestrian standards of the day; promising desperately needed investment in public services, renationalising train and utility companies, with increased taxes for the rich and businesses to fund the programme of change. It is a principled work and makes crystal clear what Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his chancellor, John McDonnell stand for and what kind of country they would like to help build. University tuition fees would be scrapped under a Labour government, and despite his peaceful anti-nuclear instincts, Corbyn pledged to authorise armed conflict – as a last resort. The manifesto, which was unanimously adopted, is a well-crafted document that rejects neoliberal economics – in public services at least – is full of common-sense initiatives and policies, offering hope to millions of the poorest members of society and is now Labour party policy.
And yet many people – working class, lower middle class people – when polled say they will vote Conservative. This is the party of government responsible for crushing levels of austerity that have resulted in wage cuts and the decimation of public services throughout the country. Libraries closed, bus services terminated, children’s playgroups and youth clubs closed down. The NHS is on its knees due to gross underfunding; wealth and income inequality is at unprecedented levels; food banks now provide emergency food to over one million people – it was 60,000 in 2010. Homelessness is higher than at any time since the 1980’s, there is a nationwide housing crisis – buying a home is a pipe dream for the majority and the cost of renting is increasing exponentially – and hovering over this litany of incompetence is the government’s duplicitous, aggressive approach to Brexit, which it’s worth noting 48% of those who bothered to vote, didn’t vote for and don’t want. That includes virtually all under-25-year olds, i.e. those it will affect most. It makes no sense.
Another Conservative government would mean the attack on the poorest members of society would intensify, whilst the wealthy and businesses continue to benefit: this is something the Tories don’t even try to hide anymore. Labour has proposed a rational set of policies with the aim of creating a fairer society, all of which have been costed, more or less. As their manifesto puts it, “you can choose more of the same: the rich getting richer, more children in poverty, our NHS failing and our schools and social care in crisis. Or you can vote for the party that has a plan to change all of this.” It is an expensive plan, and it may well involve borrowing extra money, and there is nothing wrong with that. The justification for crushing austerity is the need to ‘balance the books’, to ‘live within our means’, but crippling cuts have not reduced the national debt or the deficit. UK debt is increasing at an astonishing £5,170 per second, and the deficit (the difference between spending, including capital expenditure, and revenue) is currently £14 billions, an increase of £140 millions on the previous year.
Given Labour’s common-sense proposals why would anyone, other than the comfortable and complacent vote for the Conservatives? What are the coercive forces at work that make large numbers of people act in a way detrimental to themselves, their families and their communities? The primary reason has to be fear, allied to ignorance and misinformation; the same trinity of persuasion that led to 52% voting to leave the European Union – despite not knowing what that actually meant.
The majority of mainstream media veer to the right, either blatantly as in the case of The Sun, Daily Mail and Express, The Times and Telegraph, or more obliquely as with the BBC, all, to there utter shame, have consistently vilified Jeremy Corbyn, some more, some less. It is from these sources – as well as from family and friends, that millions garner their information, albeit scant. Conservative politicians endlessly repeat nauseating slogans – ‘strong and stable government’ being the most irritating; insults are routinely hurled at Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, all of which is carried over the airwaves: many people absorb this negative rhetoric. Only a tiny percentage of the electorate have the time or the inclination to read the manifestos, in depth articles or listen to speeches and interviews in full, preferring to rely on loud headlines and meaningless sound bites to form a judgment, rather than engage properly and vote responsibly. Add to this the fact that a huge number of those eligible to vote don’t bother. Generally speaking young people are more likely to vote for left-leaning parties than the over 50’s are. But disenchanted with politicians and the political process in general 18 – 30 year olds often don’t even register to vote, let alone trundle along to the polling booth – this is a problem in many western democracies – and so the conservative, reactionary forces hold on to power, the divisions in society deepen, the environmental catastrophe intensifies and the poor continue to suffer.
To its great credit Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, has reclaimed its socialist roots and is presenting a real alternative to the divisive model of governance that has dominated British politics with increasing ferocity since the Thatcher years. Win or lose, Labour’s decision to stand on a principled platform for change has been the right one and they should be applauded. If, as the polls suggest, the Conservatives are re-elected, and Labour lose heavily it will be seen as a triumph of the right; the hand of the extreme forces within Teresa May’s party will be strengthened, further jeopardising the Brexit negotiations, and it may well lead to the emergence of a new centrist party.
It is time that ideological divisions where consigned to the past however, and a new inclusive way of thinking about and doing politics inculcated. One that re-defines the purpose and aim of government, which has become dominated by money and the economy – and a perverse approach that sees the country as if it were a business; nations, like all areas of life have become commercialised.
Notions of left, centre and right are meaningless when ideology and self-interest are laid aside. Political groups and individual politicians with sympathetic outlooks, need to work together, to cooperate not compete. Cooperation is one of the prevailing themes of the time; it is a unifying principle that helps build trust and will increasingly be seen as the common-sense alternative to competition. In all areas of life cooperation needs to be the method of engagement, because where human beings work collectively much can be achieved.
There is much talk of ‘progressive alliances’ in British politics, between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party, who all share much – disgust at Conservative policies for one – but, publicly at least, Labour has ‘ruled out’ any such alliance(s). This is a mistake; such coalitions are the way forward, and together with an electoral system based on proportional representation would, and I suggest, will, form the basis for a reformed political system no longer dominated by economic statistics, but functioning as the facilitator of social justice, environmental health and community unity.