UK election 2017 – another political car crash.

Harold Wilson, a previous Prime Minister of the UK, famously said that a week in politics is a long time. If that’s true, then the nine weeks between the announcement of the snap election and the result of it was a political eternity. Like most people not fanatically welded to either main party, namely the Conservatives or Labour, the result seemed to me a foregone conclusion.

At the start of the race, the relative situations of the two main parties with any chance of forming a government was fairly stark.

Labour were being led by a political dinosaur cryogenically fresh out of the class warfare of the early eighties with a cabinet of second-string fringe loonies who were both talentless and extreme, even for a party noted for its political diversity.

They had policies to match; never use nukes, let’s talk to the terrorists while we’re not busy fêting them, virulently anti-Semitic, totally out of touch even with a nostalgic view of the working class and a rather touching tax the rich and give to the poor approach to balancing out the wealth, an idea nobody grownup has taken seriously since the 1970s.

I’ve never yet met a poor tax accountant nor a rich person who didn’t employ the very best of them to end up paying a pittance in tax. When you add in scaling back the armed forces, police, security services and of course abolishing the monarchy, Labour were by most people’s way of thinking, which included their traditional voters, unelectable.

The Conservatives on the other hand looked to be a lot saner. Boring, but saner. They were slowly but steadily pushing the majority’s wish for Brexit while at the same doing nothing particularly innovative or controversial in terms of public policy. They wouldn’t be anybody’s idea of a hot date for the weekend, but they were a safe pair of hands compared to the runt end stragglers from Fred Karno’s army against which they were running.

The minor league players were a disparate bunch, mainly fixated on the politics of geography. The Welsh being a heavily welfare dependent principality, will always go with whoever promises them the most free goodies which is traditionally the Labour party, the Northern Irish will always vote along strict sectarian lines meaning the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Scottish with their yes I want it/ no I don’t attitude towards independence would predictably pendulum back from it when it looked like such a thing might really come about because of the massive majority the Scottish National Party (SNP) had won in the election of 2015. All the William Wallace braveheart guff aside, it’s money from London coffers that keeps the province afloat, and the sensible heads there know it.

The two other parties of any note amongst the minors were the Liberal Democrats or LibDems and the UK Independence Party or UKIP. The former were still getting over a disastrous coalition with the Tories and will continue to do so for a decade or so, while the latter had failed in its transition from a one policy pressure group for Brexit to becoming a fully fledged-fledged political party in its own right that might find rich pickings amongst the despairing Labour voters wandering the streets rending their garments and pulling out their hair.

That’s very much an unvarnished thumbnail sketch of the political landscape three months ago when the election was announced, and the result of what was going to happen seemed inevitable to most reasonable people, in which I include myself as you can see from the article I wrote at the time. The Conservatives looked poised to hugely increase their parliamentary majority and mainly at the expense of the Labour party. To use what turned out to be an appropriate phrase, it was theirs to lose.

Given that assessment, I took no further interest in the election, preferring to concentrate on the bigger political things happening on the other side of the pond. On election night as the results rolled in, I was as surprised as everyone else. The take away lesson from it is the oldest one in the world – never take your eye off the ball.

The actual outcome was the Conservatives losing seats in the House resulting in what’s called a hung parliament, which means no single party in it has an outright majority over all the other parties. This came as a complete surprise to everybody; opinion polls (don’t know why anyone trusts these at this stage), all the political pundits and from the look on their faces all the way through election night, even the parties themselves.

So, what the hell happened?

After scanning through the various analysis pieces on the way the election went, I’m as usual bemused at how supposedly experienced political hacks can come up with massively complex reasons to explain what happened. Even if only ten percent of them were true, there’d still be voters stuck in polling booths scratching their head as they inched towards making a decision next month.

There were three decisive factors at work in deciding the election and all three of them were the initial strategies for winning it by the Labour, Conservative and Scottish National (SNP) parties. Essentially the die was cast at that point, since all three parties refused to modify their offerings to reflect the varying receptions they’d received from the electorate.

It was an exercise in basic political incompetence by all the parties concerned.

The SNP have had all but three of the seats in Scotland for nearly two years, and basically pissed away the realistic opportunities made available by having such a massive dominance of the semi-devolved Scottish parliament. Their domestic record on health, education and other areas has been subject to constant criticism of doing little or nothing effective while giving too much time to repealing decisions that had already been made.

Their leader, Nicola Sturgeon, seemed fixated on securing yet another independence referendum, which very few Scots had any appetite for so soon after the last one, while at the same time trying to roll back Brexit just for Scotland. The perception was that she was so busy running around being the big I am, that she simply wasn’t concentrating of fixing the home grown problems created by her own administration.

Going into the election, the party had 56 of the available 59 seats and ended up losing nearly a third of them. The Scots gave the SNP a slap to get them back down to Earth but more importantly the Conservatives bagged 13 seats, up from the single seat they had. In terms of the overall election result, those thirteen seats were to prove crucial in keeping the Conservatives in power.

The Labour strategy was an implicit admission that since they didn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting elected, they might as well run a classic “everyone’s a winner” campaign, promising lots of freebies to all and sundry, while artfully dodging out of any explanations as to exactly where the money to finance it would be coming from.

The nice thing about this sort of approach is that as there’s absolutely no chance of you winning the election, you won’t have to honour such pledges, and it does come with the added bonus of being able to say after the election – see, if you’d voted for us, you would have got all these nice things and now you won’t.

On the sensitive issue of funding the big give away, they essentially got a free ride, with no awkward questions being asked from a predominantly left-wing media which was led as usual by the BBC. All four of the “free” terrestrial channels ran interference for a bumbling Labour campaign while picking at every scab in the Conservative one, with the majority of the press following suit.

A small selection of the bribes on offer was – an end to any austerity measures, the abolition of university tuition fees, reinstating maintenance grants for the poorest students, increasing the minimum wage and loadsa other goodies independently costed as not leaving much change out of £11billion a year. This focus of policies attractive to mainly the young or first time voter paid off for them since by some estimates they bagged 72%-74% of the 18-24 demographic, who’ve never experienced the tax-and-spend approach to fiscal governance.

There wasn’t much on offer to older voter, since the thinking was they’d seen the bill that usually follows a massive give away budget and were canny enough to smell the pork oozing out of the Labour barrels. The prevailing thought even amongst Labour supporters was that the traditional labour middle class or elderly voter was going to hold their nose and vote Conservative for once in their life.

As things turned out, the Conservatives gifted them most of that demographic. If Labour had been perceptive enough to realise how badly the proposed Conservative policies were going down, and then being nimble-footed enough to rejig their offering, they might just have done even better.

The Conservative manifesto was quite simply a disaster from cover to cover. There wasn’t a single give away of any significance in the whole thing. I can only assume that given the common perception that they were going to stroll past Labour to the finishing line with a huge majority, they felt they could run what nearly amounted to a punitive attack on their three demographic bands of support; the young, the thirties plus family raising voter and the elderly voter within striking distance of retirement or already there.

The young were offered nothing of significance as were the middle group, while the grey vote were offered a future of tax-ravaged penury and living on cardboard cereal packets in houses they couldn’t afford to heat and were going to lose to the government anyway.

As a taster, a selection of Dickensian cuts in their allowances and tax breaks follows. A new so-called dementia tax was introduced to charge the elderly for care in their home for the first time. It essentially was going to strip tens of thousands of elderly people of their house after their death. The winter fuel allowance was to be cut, the triple-lock that protected the value of their state pensions was to be abolished and as a feel good cherry on top of the whole mess, the free school meals for young children was to be axed.

As the Tory MP Nigel Evans expressed it – “The only thing missing from our manifesto was compulsory euthanasia for the elderly!”

The doorstep reaction to these policies was fed back to the campaign management, who pressed straight ahead with the same manifesto policies anyway, just adding a bit of spin to them. The result was the flight of the elderly voter not in the expected direction away from Labour but towards it. Neither Labour nor the Conservative leadership seemed to realise this process had happened until the results started coming in on election night.

It was a self-inflicted disaster for the Conservatives and a windfall bonus to Labour, who’d not paid much attention beyond mouth service to that voter demographic.

In the aftermath, PM May has cobbled together a coalition with the DUP, which will give her the ruling majority she requires in Parliament, but there are a number of questions which arise about her longevity as leader of the Conservative party, and therefore as PM. To say her own MPs are unhappy about the way things turned out would be an understatement, especially after the steady stream of feedback they’d provided throughout the campaign to Tory central about how badly their message was going down.

The Conservatives are ruthless about toppling leaders they perceive as having lost either the trust of the voter or the party rank and file. She has done both and I’d be surprised to see her in office beyond the annual party conference. That would give some time for the coalition to bed in before handing over the reins.

Another very real consideration to be taken into account for toppling her would be the party’s estimate of how long the alliance is actually going to hold together. The DUP don’t have a great reputation for being flexible partners in government, as witness them bringing down the power sharing structure with Northern Ireland Nationalists. This inflexibility becomes important when you consider their absolute rejection of liberal issues such as gay marriage and the Scottish Conservative party, whose support is vital to May, being led by a lesbian.

If the government is to be brought down in the medium term by DUP intransigence in the face of some issue supported by the liberal element in the Conservative party, then it’d be better if a new leader was already in place to fight the resulting general election.

In the end though, I feel it’ll more likely be a perception that the establishment have managed to sabotage Brexit, which will bring down the government.

Whoever is leading the party, my feeling is that they should keep the coalition going for as long as possible, since the opposition Labour party, emboldened by its electoral success, is already talking like it actually won it and calling for widespread civil insurrection to bring down the government.

Basically, the longer they’re left to behave like extremists and therefore the more they begin to frighten the shite out of what is still a predominantly a moderate electorate, the more the Conservatives can rely on their traditional vote flocking back to them.

Given some competent leadership, a manifesto with a few giveaways and one that doesn’t seek to mount a full-scale assault on the core aspirations of its bedrock set of supporters, they should enjoy greater electoral success. If they don’t, they’ll have only themselves to blame.

©Pointman

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Comments
9 Responses to “UK election 2017 – another political car crash.”
  1. Graeme No.3 says:

    Spot on analysis. The last election in Australia was a narrow win for the incumbent government which managed to lose a quantity of their steadfast conservative side with their attitude “they’ve got no where to go”. And who advised the PM to adopt this approach? The same people advising Teresa May. I suspect they won’t be advising for the next election.
    The problem for the conservative side of politics is their lack of conviction (no pun intended) but their claim to be the ‘better managers’ of the other sides policies. No real enthusiasm for Brexit, continued stupidity about ‘climate change’ and the cost, financial and visual, to the ordinary citizen who happens to like birds (no pun intended), forests and having a bit of money to spend.

    Like

  2. Margaret Smith says:

    (‘rely’ not “relay’ in the penultimate paragraph, I think)

    I enjoyed the analysis in your essay. The Left is calling for a summer of strikes to attempt to bring down the government and impose themselves to begin the destruction that the EU intends to do anyway.

    The Conservative Party’s manifesto was bonkers and I felt the advisors had their own agenda: Labour promising the earth moon and stars and the Conservatives promising only pain. Mrs May perhaps isn’t sharp enough when faced with a crisis. There is a concerted effort to thwart brexit now.
    By the way, the DUP’s opponents have only one objective – a United Ireland and everything they do and agree to is pointed in that direction. It is the DUP’s job to obstruct such a horror.

    Fixed, thank you – P

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  3. It does seem to have been deliberate, but Mrs. May was maybe foolish to have told the truth as she saw it. We are not used to politicians telling the truth, after all. Meantime, Mr. Corbyn promised the young that someone else would pay for their education and got a lot of people putting adverts on social media, and thus garnered a large percentage of the young vote and also got a lot more of them to the polling booths too. My daughter and her friends all went to vote – for Labour. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it…. By the time the election came round, it was not that certain that the Conservatives would even be the largest party, so actually they got away pretty lightly for such a silly manifesto.

    It’s pretty obvious that Mrs. May is not very good at oratory, and the nearest she gets to that is remembering what the advisors have told her to say and not straying outside it. She is known for getting her head down and working at the job, not for being nice. This is actually what is needed at the moment, with maybe someone else as the front-person dealing with the press and publicity.

    The Conservatives actually have no-one else who is better, though. It looks like it’ll be Boris’ turn as the best of the rest, which is somewhat worrying. Labour are no better off, with no-one of sufficient stature actually willing to stand even if they do get rid of Corbyn. Maybe Hillary Benn, if he could be persuaded? Otherwise it looks like a disorganised rabble, not that the Conservatives seem to be in a much better state.

    It is maybe possible that the Conservative manifesto was a subtle attempt to stop Brexit by losing the election to Labour. After all, if you can put the other side in to bat then the disaster won’t happen on your watch and you can get the keys to the country back at the next election on with a larger majority because the other side handled it so badly.

    Politics doesn’t seem to make that much sense these days.

    Like

  4. NZPete says:

    A very good read; interesting times ahead.
    We have our own election here in NZ later this year, and with so much happening, nothing is certain. At this stage, the surprise is that the National Government (our Tory equivalent), which is currently in its third three year term, is still quite popular, and there is talk of them holding power for an unprecedented fourth term.
    Thank you for this analysis, Pointman.

    Like

  5. Mark says:

    1) On the other hand, look on the bright side:
    ‘There wasn’t a single give away of any significance in the whole thing.’ along with ‘Dickensian cuts’, and facing a party offering red carpet down every pavement.
    And they won (kind of)! Wow, there is something in that.

    2) ‘calling for widespread civil insurrection to bring down the government’
    Just like in the USA, where the Democrats are busy showing their old constituency what they really think of them, having drifted off into an authoritarian wonderland, while sprinkling fairy dust over every sane idea to turn them into revolutionary pumpkins.

    Like

  6. Russ Wood says:

    Watching my ex-country from afar (to make a change from the sort of idiocies going on in South Africa these days), I see what looks like a deliberate attempt by the ‘top brass’ of the Tory Party to totally sabotage Brexit. The Conservative Manifesto looked like it had been written by a bunch of Remainers, with no consideration for the voters who would have supported May had she got the right backing from her party.

    Like

  7. rapscallion says:

    If this piece is to be believed http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4623456/John-Curtice-says-Labour-no-longer-party-working-class.html then I would say that any attempt by the Remoaners to sabotage Brexit is going to result in a backlash they may not have anticipated.

    As it stands, May is toast, and the real battle for the tory party is going on behind the scenes. I have no doubt that it will be a Remoaners v Leavers battle. If the Remoaners win, the tories won’t regain office at the next GE. If the leavers win, the Remoaner rebels will defect.

    The loony left are just that – utterly bonkers.

    Another good piece Pointman

    Like

  8. Like your use of “shite”.
    Said with feeling it expresses so much more than without the “e”
    A bit like “arse”.

    Like

  9. NoFixedAddress says:

    Would have been ‘hellishly’ interesting to observe how Great Britain would have reacted if good ‘ol boy Corbyn had won.

    Like

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