It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There was supposed to be post-election confusion with a hung parliament, and we were just getting used to that idea. Other than the SNP, the number of seats won by each party won wasn’t supposed to drastically change, but they did. The SNP completely wiped out Scotland, the Tories won an outright majority, the Liberal Democrats were decimated and Labour left in disarray and denial.
Not only did we not get a hung parliament, but the electorate delivered huge ideological rifts that have left a UK splintered under a weak “One Nation Conservative” government.
So what does it tell us?
Fact number one – the perceived importance of polls and polling has outstretched its actual value.
Not even that BBC exit poll – which nearly broke Twitter and did actually break the resolve of many Labourites – accurately gauged the state of play in England.
Look, after seeing it, as a means of self-preservation, even I fell into a state of denial. It was almost tin-foil hat time. In truth I was guided by a significant bout of cynicism, not only towards the sources of the data, but who was reporting it. Given recent form there was a very good reason why the dreadful BBC News division would happily project the SNP to win an unrealistically large number of seats. If and when the SNP inevitably fell short, it could be portrayed as a disappointment, justifying a continuation of the BBC Scotland’s self-serving ‘SNP bad’ narrative, especially as they believe Scottish independence could pose a serious threat to the structure of the BBC and in particular BBC Scotland.
But I can’t level that accusation this time. The SNP almost met the number of seats the exit poll predicted and the Tories exceeded theirs. This showed us that the numbers from the polling companies in the weeks and months before the election simply couldn’t account for how people were seeing this election. Perhaps, if we’re being generous, it gave us a loose indication, at most. But too many people took these polls literally and to be indicative of the likely result. For the polling companies themselves perhaps weighting based on past elections when the political landscape has changed so dramatically since then wasn’t sensible.
Which brings us to the how and the why we ended up with results…
Fact number two – the Scottish independence movement is unstoppable.
Yeah, I know, not everybody who voted for the SNP believes in independence, yet, but voting for the SNP this time comes with the tacit agreement that Scotland’s votes must bring more say over its affairs. It also says emphatically that the Smith commission findings aren’t enough.
Over the years we’ve had 50 odd Labour MPs in opposition and now we have 56 in opposition to a Tory government. The only time Scotland gets the government it votes for is if it agrees with England, and that isn’t often.
There’s only one solution to that – full governing powers being devolved to Holyrood. The only question is how much and in what time frame they’re delivered. There are a number of ways to achieve independence, one is staggered – independence in stages. For the pro-independence hardliners it’s undesirable, but as things stand it is the more realistic route. There’s a good chance that to save the UK in name – specifically the military and monarchic union – David Cameron will agree to offer a federalist system or devo max as a means of placating and as such delaying the Scottish agitation for independence. There’s every incentive for Call-Me-Dave to offer it before that fucking crazy in-out EU referendum he’s locked himself into.
Once significant powers are granted people won’t want to relinquish their votes having a genuine say over the direction of their own country. In Scotland we’ve gotten used to having that power recently, or the idea of it, not only during the referendum, but at the prospect of sending a large group of SNP MP’s down south to be involved in governance at Westminster, by propping up a minority Labour government. That was until Thatcherite England put the kibosh on the latter.
Independence is now a one way street, there may be diversions due to road works along the way, but the destination will be reached as the resolve is there. And let’s not kid ourselves, a large part of the drive for independence relates to this…
Fact number three – England is fast becoming a right wing country.
In truth, when it comes to the ideological constitution of Britain, since the late seventies, it’s been this way.
Ignore the abundance of left leaning mouthpieces, talking heads, satirists, comedians, New Statesman, Mirror or Guardian columnists and social media grandstanders and bloggers writing pious or pithy put downs of Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson…mmm, yeah. They’re a small sub-sample of a highly cliquish and distinct cultural echelon. They clearly don’t reflect the attitudes held by a great swathe of the English electorate.
Nobody in England and on the left wants to admit it, either through the shame of favouring their own self-interest, or because it’s too painful to recognise the truth that, even if many don’t vote for the party usually associated with its mores, Thatcher succeeded in making most of us consciously prioritise self-wealth over the collective and the state.
Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell recognised that many traditional Labour voters wanted to be able to think and act aspirationally without the accompanying guilt that it may cost others. So they brought us Blarism, which used affectations of core Labour values; moderate increases in public spending and tweaking taxation, creating the illusion of greater class mobility through a housing price boom while doing just enough reddish stuff to placate the Unions, and merged them with a reliance on Thatcherite economics – increased privatisation and city deregulation.
Time mixed with decadence erodes even modest principles. Now, with Labour policies migrating to the right, it’s given people an excuse to ignore what’s happening outside of their bubble. With the FPTP system in place and a rough social and economic consensus developing between Labour and the Tories, due to its popularity with a bloated middle class, what does your average affluent Middle England voter feel they can do for the poor at the ballot box? The entire system’s geared so that you can only successfully vote for your own self-interest.
Look, Lynton Crosby is a horrible neo-con cunt, but he ran this campaign perfectly, and it started early. The fallout from the independence referendum in Scotland, and that the Tories had little to hold on to in Scotland made it easier to compose a salient stratagem. Needing to only win the English vote, they were free to demonise the Nationalist movement in Scotland, painting it and the SNP as a threat with their filthy socialist values and as scroungers after the English public’s cash. They were able to carry over the lie created by Better Together during the campaign that England subsidises Scotland. Similarly the narrative had already taken root that the Labour party was to blame for presiding over the financial crisis and exacerbating its effects. Throw in perpetual doubts about Ed Miliband’s ability to lead and Ed Miliband’s rather unconvincing bluster in the closing weeks that parroted the Tory position on Nationalism all along, and even though the coalition government’s record was absolute dross, all David Cameron had to do was stick to the script…
…because, as per expected, and as I predicted, but not at the levels that transpired, there’s a demographic of folk, the silent Tories, who simply aren’t engaged by a socially progressive message. Indeed they’re more likely to be tempted by a socially regressive party such as UKIP, than the (incorrectly) perceived centralism of Labour or one of the smaller leftist parties.
This lot are happy with what they have, and they’re the majority now. They’re savvy enough to recognise that they’re relatively affluent, their streets and communities are safe from crime and from too much immigration. They’re in the sweet spot of the taxation spectrum. Tory lead governments work for them, and they don’t care if it doesn’t for others. They want a double garage instead of a single, not new social housing built for unemployed single mothers. They want a second holiday per year, not for tax to take that away to pay for someone’s disability benefits. We have to accept that we’re now in Thatcher’s end game, where allegiance to aspiration is now inexorably synonymous with being middle class and quintessentially English.
There’s been some talk over the last few days about the grossly unfair First Past the Post system, mainly due to its neutering of the Green and UKIP vote. But it’s been framed as a way to help the left recover. If you’re on the left, using last Thursday’s results, a switch to Proportional Representation would only serve to further emphasize how right wing England has become:
Conservatives – 239 (seats)
Labour – 199
UKIP – 82
Lib Dem – 50
SNP – 31
Greens – 24
The vote share for each country paints an even bleaker picture. If we combine the vote share of the Tories and UKIP in England, that’s 55%. Throw in the Lib Dems, as many of its voters defected to the Tories this time, and it rises well past 60%. There’s a reason why Labour has drifted from supporting the Union ideologues, and conceded any semblance of socialist values informing many of its policies, to fight on the Tory terrain, because it has to. Implementation of the FPTP or PR voting system would not alter their need or desire to do this.
As a means of comparison, in Scotland the Tories, UKIP and the Lib Dems took a combined 24% of the vote, and in Wales 45%. Mind you, at this point, there’s less traction for Welsh independence and therefore little incentive for the Welsh electorate to get behind Plaid Cymru. Labour’s highest national vote share was in Wales – 37% – which matched their performance in 2010.
So, what’s the solution for Labour? Well, grimly, and honestly, I don’t see one…
Fact number four – The Labour party is unsalvageable.
A strong statement, but when will the evidence as I’ve provided above, both real and anecdotal, finally resonate? When are Labourites going realise that the party has simply no intention of coming back to represent them? And that they’re now a minority within a minority?
The Defenders of the Faith have spent so long submerging themselves in it, or more specifically in the faith of the party name, that they’ve allowed the party to steer towards the ice berg, sink the ship and drown them with it.
In their post-election desperation the claim that there’s now an incentive for Labour to move back left in policy terms has been aired repeatedly, where higher taxation and increased public spending would be central pillars, but are there enough fair-weather voters in England who would be enticed by that? It doesn’t look like it. The Tories have increased their majority on an austerity manifesto, just think about that. Meanwhile Labour followed suit in an attempt to pick up votes from small ‘c’ conservatives. This is futility.
Now Labour find themselves in a position where their policies aren’t right wing and selfish enough to attract enough Tory, Lib Dem or UKIP votes in the south, or remotely central left to attract any support in Scotland, increase it in Wales or Urban and Northern England. A direction will need to be chosen because remaining in no man’s land is not an option.
Channel 4’s Paul Mason has floated the idea of a new workers party funded by Unite and the other unions Labour have betrayed, and fuelled by grass roots activism that’s served the SNP and the Yes campaign so well. But will Labourites migrate to it en masse? As George Orwell rightly prophesized, once allegiance to the party name is established, it takes something cataclysmic to break the attachment to its mythology.
Was Labour’s defeat cataclysmic enough to destroy the faith? No, and even worse, considering the constituency boundary changes to come, I think it’s likely to disillusion many on the left into political apathy, rather than inspire a Syriza type movement where party policy is dictated by its activism. Plus it’s easier to wallow in self-pity, blame the rise of the SNP as just ‘Nationalism’, blame Gordon Brown for being Gordon Brown, blame Tony Blair’s hubris and his warmongering crusade, blame Blarism, blame Thatcherism (fair enough on that one), blame people for being like sheep, blame people for being “Tory bastards”, blame those who don’t vote, hark back to the halcyon days of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, Clement Attlee, even Tony Benn, than to analyse your own failings. Fittingly it’s become a real trademark of Labour and its branch offices in recent years…
Right okay enough of the serious shit and let’s get to the schadenfreude. So yeah, speaking of the Scottish Labour party…
So what was the highlight of the night? Ian ‘bayonet the wounded’ Davidson finally, finally getting bayonetted? Dougie ‘yeah, drop bombs on small Muslim children please’ Alexander getting gubbed by a twenty year old student? Or was it Jim Murphy losing his seat to a virtual unknown in Kirsten Oswald?
It has to be Murphy. On Election night I had a gut feeling that he’d just hold on through a combination of his profile, tactical voting, money, and rousing just enough of his Blairite base.
Whether Jimbo should now go as Scottish leader is another question. And it invariably leads to another – if not Murphy, then who? Constantly changing leaders seems to be another method for Labour to elide the causes of their failure. In truth Scottish Labour’s failure had less to do with Murphy’s Marmite qualities and public preening and more to do with the schizoid nature of Scottish Labour’s campaign.
Seeing Dougie Alexander, London Labour’s campaign coordinator to boot, lose, was a close second. Mahiri Black could’ve been magnanimous in victory, but I loved the fact that she decided to give a robust twist of the knife that the people of Paisley and Renfrewshire South had already planted into Alexander’s rub cage. I suspect she wouldn’t have done so were she in opposition to one of Scottish Labour’s smaller names, but Alexander has been a total disgrace and deserved it.
Alexander’s concession speech, while gracious, was enjoyable, as he seemed on the verge of tears. His voice cracked, punctuated by his sentences ending in high pitched inflections and followed by sharp intakes of breath. Much like Thatcher when she got the chop in 1990, Alexander’s almost tears were entirely self-pitying. Nom, nom, nom, fucking drink ‘em up like Cartman.
It’s quite an achievement for Labour to lose 40 seats and only take 25% of the vote in Scotland. A similar thing beset the Scottish Tories in 1987, though their decline was gradual. That year the Tories took a similar percentage of the Scottish national vote – 24% – as Labour did this time and in the nearly thirty years since the Tories still haven’t recovered. In fact the Tory share of the Scottish vote has continued to shrink. It’s hard to see how Scottish Labour, a branch office whose direction will be dictated by the ideological and leadership dilemma the central office now faces, that’s filled to the brim with second raters and scratchings that were left on the factory floor, who demeaned between 45% to 50% of the Scottish electorate for wanting independence (and who now correctly views Scottish Labour as an impediment to that), will recover soon either.
And so the future?
Bleak for too many, decent for some, and very good for the few – as you were.
The idea that David Cameron might ‘try it on’, as it were, with an offer that falls well short of full devolution of powers, say Full Fiscal Autonomy, would surely delight Unionists, as it could put the SNP is a tricky spot. But the people of Scotland are watching closely now, and the Tory government only has a small majority.
So I suspect the PM will play it safe with saving the UK, for the time being, with a conciliatory offer of federalism or devo max to Scotland. Boris Johnson, as only he could, rather let the cat out of the bag on Election night, or rather morning, 4:30 am to be exact, when he said there would have to be an offer to Scotland along the lines of a federalist system. He soon tried to back track by caveating that this needed to apply to regions in England and to Wales. And I’ll caveat that by saying he may or may not have had a glass or three of champagne by this point and was undoubtedly knackered.
English votes for English laws will be brought in as a concession for Cameron’s core little Englander support as quid pro quo, and it’s hard to see either part of that equation being voted down in the house.
The EU referendum remains the wild card, but I’m very sceptical that the UK electorate will choose to leave the Eurozone at the first time of asking. Much like Scottish independence, it’s easy to say ‘Yes’ and leave, but when it comes to the crunch many people will take a pragmatic view and stick with what’s in place until it’s clear that an exit is beneficial.
Thankfully we’re getting close to that tipping point in Scotland, but many people in England will have to suffer over the next five years to ram home the reality that they must adapt to the new order of things.