A year ago today I wrote this piece about Turkeys having voted for Christmas.
It doesn’t seem a year ago though – more like a decade. The Tory party project to shrink the state, shrink the economy and tear itself apart in the process continues unabated.
Cameron and Osborne, the architects of austerity (which apparently isn’t needed any more) have gone – one to write his memoirs in a Shepherd’s Hut, the other pretending to be a newspaper Editor, but really just sharpening tools (including that rictus smile) to inflict daily torture on their successor “leader” Theresa May.
May has lurched from crisis to crisis, showing her inability to make the right decision on almost everything. The election, another self-inflicted wound on the body Tory.
Corbyn has been awful as a parliamentary leader of the Labour party, utterly failing to provide effective opposition to this most useless of Tory Governments. But the election has suddenly transformed him into a hero. Why? Because, compared to May he comes across as human, warm and empathetic, listening to people’s concerns.
And Trump. I’m just leaving that there.
But also it’s been heartening to see Europe reject far-right populism where it has had the choice; in the Netherlands and France. And Merkel is now de facto leader of the free world. Where Europe has not had the choice, in Poland and Hungary for example, the gradual slide into authoritarianism continues.
Back in the UK, there’s been a real flowering of propaganda, on both sides. While it was clear a year ago that the Leave Campaign had been merrily lying through its teeth, what we did not know was the extent to which people had been manipulated by the targeted use of social media, nor the connections to the Trump campaign, and, indirectly, to Russia. If you want to find out more about these, I direct you to the work of Carole Cadwalladr in the Guardian and James Patrick at byline. Both have been doing fantastic work revealing the very real links between the Leave campaigns, Trump, the neolibertarian right (both here and in the US), UKIP; and Putin’s regime.
And while the Tories got away with widespread gerrymandering in the 2015 election (though one case has yet to proceed through the courts), they were not able to apply those mechanisms (bussing in activists but failing to declare their costs as local) again in 2017 – and this will definitely have diminished their vote.
Labour on the other hand learnt many lessons from the 2015 failure and executed a highly effective social media campaign targeted especially at getting young adults to vote. Knowing that most people under 40 vote for the left, and that the turnout had been reduced, partly thanks to disenfranchisement, Labour and other groups such as the unaffiliated Rize Up, were able to increase the number of voters under 25 by over 1.5 million. Compare this to the rather pathetic negative social media campaign the Tories ran against Corbyn, and the constant attacks on him in the press. That the social media campaign succeeded where the traditional press almost failed, is perhaps a signal of things having changed already in the world of political campaigning.
After all this, we are left in a state of real instability. The Government feels like it has no mandate to govern the people. The very reason May called the election, to give her a strong mandate to negotiate with the EU, has been turned on its head. Having lost her majority in Parliament, she has lost her credibility to lead negotiations with the EU. We know, she knows, her cabinet knows, and the EU knows that. For all the shrill complaints from the pro-Brexit right, the EU don’t need to do anything, let alone start bullying the UK. They can sit back and watch concession after concession. On the very first day of the talks, David Davis made a massive concession about the timetable, which was supposed to be a “red line.”In truth now there are no red lines. Gone is the mantra of “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
The hard right Brextremists, both in the Tory party and in the wider world (Farage, Arron Banks etc) are now seriously worried that hard Brexit will dissolve like those old EU butter mountains on a hot Brussels day. Watch as they ramp up their threats – will Farage call people out on the streets? Watch the hard right Brexit press – led by the Express and the Mail, sharpen their attacks on any politician they regard as backsliding. There’ll be more accusations of “enemy of the people” and “crush the saboteurs”. While they will be licking their wounds over the election for a long time, it won’t take them long to find their voice (and a scapegoat) again.
Will May survive long as Tory leader and PM? That rather depends on whether anyone wants to step into her shoes. Most would sensibly decide that the next couple of years are going to be calamitous for whoever is in power, and resist the temptation for the sake of their own political careers if nothing else. Only one person in the current followers pack has the desire, the obsessive need for leadership – an obsession that over-rides all other factors – yes of course, Boris Johnson.
As for Labour – it remains to be seen whether Corbyn can change into a full-blown Leader of the Opposition, one who can organise his troops and mount an effective campaign to undermine, and perhaps fatally weaken the Tory Government. I would like to think he can. The sight of him and Labour MPs separating apart again after their relative unity during the election campaign would be unbearable, given the importance of the work they have to do, preventing further cuts, deregulation and the shrinking of the state; as well as ensuring Brexit is as soft as it can be. But anyone who thinks Labour will stop Brexit needs to forget that. Corbyn was always in favour of Brexit, from a left-wing perspective, Lexit if you will.
Will there be another election this year? Possibly, but I would guess (and it is just a wild guess) probably not. There may well be a new PM by the end of the year, especially if the Brexit negotiations go badly, or if the DUP start playing up.
Is anyone ready for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister?