Friday, 8 May 2015

The cold light of morning and the triumph of fear

The terms of debate of the 2015 General Election were not defined publicly or comprehensively articulated.  This strategy has paid off for the Conservatives, whose evil genius and funding carried all before them.  Snap analysis, in an era of media overload, has the tendency to either oversimplify or miss the point spectacularly, although the sight of Paddy Ashdown eating his hat would not go any way towards mitigating the impact for Liberalism of a flawed strategy and a co-habitation with the Tories that, even at the time of its conception, was clearly designed to squeeze the life out of the Liberal Democrats.  The Faustian pact has claimed many blameless victims.

What is apparent from the results is that the British electoral system has again thrown up an exaggerated outcome.  The Tory surge in England has been impressive, but they cannot really claim a GB-wide mandate on the basis of the results.  The SNP's sweeping triumph in Scotland is again impressive by its scale, and the extent to which a clear proposition after the 2014 independence referendum could finally destroy the weakening bonds of tribalism.  That is probably the most hopeful sign from the night.

The meltdown of Labour and the Liberal Democrats is the real cause for concern.  Taking the Liberal Democrats first, it should be noted that the steady gains of local support built up over the past forty years have been wiped out.  From being a national party in the last twenty years, there remain a few redoubts where personal support (or Tory manipulation in the case of Sheffield) will preserve a vestigial party - but as a coherent electoral force it is difficult to discern any potential for recovery in the near term.

Labour has lost an election that should have been its for the taking.  The question is whether the reflection and blood-letting that will ensue will address why this has been allowed to happen.  The austerity-lite, majoring-on-the-NHS campaign appealed to a core vote, but did not persuade waverers that the alternative vision was either coherent or desirable.  A Blairite package, with its apostle now decapitated, cannot capture the imagination or the anger that the SNP was able to channel, and the apologists will spend their time pretending that it didn't happen.

Looking back at my recent posts, the politics of fear and short-termism have triumphed.  This does not make for a comfortable future - especially as the next stage of the Tory project is to attempt to take Britain out of Europe.  At this stage, it should be clear that the Tories, unlike the Coalition, will not be ruling with a majority mandate, which is both the challenge and the opportunity.

Labour has not convinced, and it desperately needs to articulate a post-Blair agenda.  There are good people there, in the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the genuinely centre-left nationalists and beyond party politics, disillusioned with its shallowness and inadequacy.  The Liberal tradition of radical anti-authority politics needs to be married with an environmental and social challenge that does not shy away from unpopularity.  In the absence of a system that is more representative of diverse popular opinion, the 2020 election could be a re-run, and this is not acceptable.  Pluralism cannot flourish with fear, and tolerance with the kind of disgusting bigotry deployed by the Tory strategists.  It's a one-off flush, and one which may well come back to bite them, but only if there is genuine pluralism and an end to tribalism and triumphalism elsewhere.

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