Friday, 9 October 2015

Avoiding the 1980s

There are many truisms around in politics at the moment.  Not least of which is that the 2015 General Election has been a definitive moment, and that we are heading back towards a period of Tory hegemony similar to the Thatcher/Major period.  This appears to be wishful thinking, particularly on the part of a media that cannot comprehend anything beyond a binary choice, nor can it relate the geographical and social fissures that afflict the United Kingdom.

Refracted through the usual metropolitan prism, the election of Corbyn as Labour leader seemed inexplicable - after two decades of politics defined through photogenic, upper-middle class men whose inability to open their mouth without checking back to base this did not compute with a narrative around focus groups and careful stage management.  Perhaps, for once,  the Labour electorate were ahead of the curve, in at least recognising that the narrow focusing on particular interest groups and the pseudo-scientific targeting of swing voters has resulted in an erosion of wider support and political engagement.

It should be noted that Cameron secured less support than Thatcher, and, despite the protestations of the right, not every one of the millions who supported the Farage rodomontade are natural supporters of the Tories.  This does not suggest that there is an ingrained Tory hegemony at the highest level, although the perverted electoral system could deliver them.  Instead politics, as with everything else, has become more fragmented and individualised.  The rise of national identity politics in Scotland and Wales has become ingrained, particularly since (despite the protestations of the party tribalists on all sides) the ideological purity of Nicola Sturgeon and others does not appear to be a major negative factor except for the political geek class.

For all those of us who want to see the Tories out and punished for their rank hypocrisy over austerity, including the brazen near-racism and vile oratory that was turned on for their membership this week, the geek class may be the obstacle.  Instead of identifying what issues resonate with the electorate and campaigning on them - irrespective of other parties' positions - the focus of much internal debate in opposition parties is on dishing their rivals rather than the Tories.  For every sensible pronouncement from Labour or the Liberals, there is a tribal joke at the other's expense, forgetting that, even with current Liberal national irrelevance a change of government may require tacit acknowledgement of sensible targeting in individual seats.

The perceived wisdom is that the electorate punishes disunity - and there are plenty of political activists who see everything in terms of blocs rather than policy.  Perhaps there is an alternative construction, to the effect that the Coalition did at least open the idea to parties working together in UK-wide government, and that the problem was that there was no convergence on policy before the election that triggered its formation.  Realistically, Labour is unlikely to be able to form a majority government in 2020, so there will need to be some form of convergence well in advance if there is not to be a reputation of the canards and misrepresentation that the Tories used to scare the electorate in their target seats.

If there is any form of policy convergence, around housing, regional and devolved nations development, or constitutional overhaul, mature politicians should be working with it, rather than seeking to engage in casuistical differentiation from their partners.  Giving the electorate a clear understanding of party priorities and the likely direction of a changed government would provide a base upon which a sophisticated tactical voting approach could mitigate the impacts of a failed pseudo-democracy.

With outsiders now leading all the opposition parties, this is a clear opportunity to create a programme that is not fixated on the M25 and the machinations of the overgrown adolescents who plague the party apparatuses.  There is genuine anger, concern and fear which will be multiplied as the impacts of destroyed and diminished public services feeds through - and which there needs to be a politics of hope around.  The 1980s seemed like endless impotence against the Tories, this time round it could be different.  Five months ago, this would have been a dangerously low probability outcome - now, with a more diverse and representative politics across the left, there is a chance for a positive programme.

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