After the most uninspiring and dishonest election campaign that I can remember, we have ended up with the most uninspiring and dishonest of governments. There must be a way back for a progressive, positive UK – but in the carnage wreaked by the Etonian elites and Bullingdon Bullies, it is difficult to discern…and it is a long way to 2020. A first step must be getting beyond the Tory media and “Murdoch’s party’s” triumphalism to an understanding of what has actually happened. Thereafter, we can begin to consider how to build an effective, radical response.
First, we must correctly diagnose the scale and character of Cameron’s ‘triumph’. He went into the General Election (GE2015) leading a government which had commanded 363 seats and 59.1% of the popular vote after GE2010. Today he is busy dividing up the spoils of his patronage amongst a party with 331 seats and under 37% of the popular vote. In terms of leading a government with a breadth of legitimacy, Cameron is actually must weaker without his self-aggrandising poodle – Clegg, his 57 MPs and 6.8m 2010 votes.
With a small majority (two difficult by-elections away from single figures), he is now in the thrall of a large group (probably over 100) of little-Englander, UKIP apologist Tory MPs, effectively representing the 3.8m disenfranchised UKIP voters. The tendency to tack to the right will, therefore, be strong – leaving greater and greater space to begin to build a progressive consensus stretching from a middle ground to the left. Moreover, after the obligatory celebratory party conference, the Tory leadership election campaign will begin in earnest – with contenders being much more interested in their personal positioning than in either following Cameron’s leadership or serving the country.
So, if Cameron (as leader of government) didn’t really ‘win’ GE2015, who did?
Despite this being widely billed as ‘too close to call’, and despite the fine weather, the ‘DNVs’, yet again, were the clear winners. The 16m+ citizens who ‘did not vote’, exceeds the 11.3m Tories (under 25% of the electorate) by at least 50% (once non-registrations are taken into account). Any new progressive project needs to have a strong, radical, even revolutionary governance component. This goes way beyond, but will necessarily include, voting systems. However, at the heart of the debate(s) of a democracy fit for the future will be new approaches to political leadership, followership and citizen/community engagement; to devolution, multi-layered governance and inter-governmental relations. In the 2020s, the locus of public policy determination must move from the Westminster and Whitehall ‘villages’ to the cities and communities of this country.
Third, widespread political cynicism and apathy would be immensely aided if progressive politicians started being more honest and humble; and the media stopped colluding in political lies and deceit. The Cameron/Crosby/Osborne campaign was undoubtedly the most dishonest and destructive I have ever experienced; and a manipulative media gave them a free ride to set the terms of debate.
The construct that Osborne was strong on the economy was accepted, uncritically, by most of the media, and the Labour party. Osborne presided over the highest absolute borrowing, the lowest growth, and the only falling living standards of any five year term since the 1940s – but Miliband didn’t have the confidence to make this the centre piece of Labour’s campaign.
Cameron’s main strategy was the stoking up of little-Englander fears of an illusory Labour-SNP coalition. Having grotesquely mishandled the September 2014 Scotland referendum, the media gave him a second free-ride to put the final nail in the coffin of this once-great country. Miliband spent much of the campaign on the defensive against Cameron’s ‘slash and burn’ strategy. Instead of a safe but ultimately meaningless ’24 hours to save the NHS’ mantra – the Labour counter-offensive should have been ’24 hours to save the UK’. Indeed, although, as argued above, Cameron is pretty much a ‘lame duck’ in his second term, he and his UKIP-apologist comrades have more than enough momentum to end the decade having both destroyed the Union, and our relationship with (and within) a civilised (and civilising) Europe.
Sturgeon benefited immensely from Miliband’s defensiveness and the media’s manipulative collusion in Cameron’s deceit. In her own terms (of moving Scotland towards independence) she genuinely ‘won’ the election; and she wasn’t even a candidate. Her main Achilles heels were whether she would be able to direct (from Holyrood) a resurgent Salmond at the head of 56 MPs in Westminster; and her total inability to ‘blackmail’ a minority Labour government, because it would inevitably let the Tories back in. But, in England at least, neither Labour nor the media challenged her on these grounds.
She is an impressive performer, and played a GE2015 blinder. Whether she can be part of substantive progressive UK movement, however, remains unanswered. Salmond too easily played the ‘lying game’ in partnership with Cameron over the referendum; and will probably not have ‘changed his spots’ now he is back at Westminster. When the inevitable Sturgeon/Salmond split comes, it will be interesting to see which way she (and Scottish progressives) jump.
Is Labour going to learn these (and other) ‘lessons’ from GE2015?
The post-Miliband debate should not be between a ‘return to Blair-ism’, or incrementally building the core Miliband 30% constituency towards a ‘winning’ 35%. The ‘easy’ option of choosing a ‘conventional’ leader (whether Blairite or ‘old-ish’ Labour) to fight the Tories, principally in Westminster, on terrain well-suited to the Etonian elites, their media partners, and financial sponsors, seems destined to extend Cameron’s destructive decade into the 2020s and beyond.
The UK and Europe need an honest deliberative process to build a positive, confident, progressive narrative for the future. That narrative will be exciting and inspirational, forward and outward-looking, empowering from the local to the global. It will eschew the fear-led, demonisation and blame-game deceits of the Cameron decade; and will expose him and his buddies for what they are.
The ‘nasty party’ stole the election, and will seek to use the rest of the decade to complete their destruction of the country. Of course, after the horror of Thursday night/Friday morning, there will be a period of grief and mourning. But it needs to be a very short period. The task of building a positive, progressive 2020s needs to begin on Monday!