Dear Tory, (A Letter To The Tories)

Dear Tory,

By which I mean Tories in positions of power.  Your voters and your party members don’t really matter here. They are ageing and ill-educated, which is not their fault.  I’m talking to you, Tory MP, Tory peer, Tory councillor, Tory MEP, Tory AM or MSP.  You are the ones I see on TV, read about in the press, over whom I sometimes stumble on social media. You are the public faces and voices of a party which has long sought successfully to win the democratic vote.  So how do you look to those who are not of your tribe?

There’s no easy way to say this.  You look bad.

There is not the slightest shred of authority about you.  You are like a street gang, tooled-up with knives, or bottles of acid, fighting senseless postcode wars that make no sense to anyone who doesn’t share your tiny, narrow, ill-informed world view (almost everyone else).  Your deadly feuds are with one another, and you’ll wield a weapon as the first, not the last response to some perceived threat or sleight.  Much of the Cabinet is like this.

Though, as in any gang, there are the more passive-aggressive members who make up the numbers, but are rarely required to think for themselves.  The backbench member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee who was wheeled out on TV and radio to attack the BBC on pay yesterday was a fairly typical example.  A sweaty man with the flushed demeanour of someone who had recently been studying a porn site on his phone, this creature could scarcely string an argument together, because the only matter of any significance in this affair was to do the bidding of the gang’s Mr Big dealers, the commercial rivals of the BBC.  I looked at this odious man and thought, “No way are you worth £76,000 of anyone’s money.”

Then there’s the Tories who are so Old School that they have forgotten about 200 years of British history, and have no concept of democracy, or of public service. Step forward Councillor Rock Fielding-Mellen, former Deputy Leader (with responsibility for housing) of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  This is the man whose response to council tenants wanting a say over their services said, “The village cannot dictate to the Estate”.

Think about that phrase, dripping with a contempt for ‘the little people’, those without property, status, wealth and power.  It’s the language of the Second Estate, the privileged nobility for whom the notion of public service, still less the equality of all citizens, is wholly alien.  This is a face of the modern Tory Party.  Cold, literally careless.

And who was the relatively youthful Tory (Brexiter) MP who, in a state of drunken euphoria on referendum night rejoiced as the value of Sterling fell off a cliff, declaring that he didn’t care?  He was rich. He’d always be all right.  Kate Maltby, his appalled fellow Tory hasn’t shopped him, but I think we can all guess who this ‘potential candidate for future leadership of the party’ might be.  Because there are just so many who fit this Ancien Regime template.

Theresa May, narrow, slow-thinking, Thames Valley Tory that she is, may have wanted, sincerely, to re-position her party as slightly more sympathetic and inclusive, but she lacked the wit, the words, the policies and the support for it to be anything more than a few speeches written by Nick Timothy.  No matter. The public didn’t buy it. Neither did her party.  She is now the prisoner-PM, chained to the leg-iron of Brexit.

For I must say this, Tories.  You are not only cruel, self-interested, avaricious, undemocratic in instincts, and unconcerned with public service – you are inept.

The level of incompetence you Tories display – across the board – is staggering.  A former miner created the NHS from scratch in three years. His partner built the Open University. Once we had leaders who could lead, create, make change happen.  Now we have you, Tories, who are the embodiment of cluelessness.

That, my Tory fellow citizens, is how you look to the rest of us.

Have a nice day,

Yours faithfully,

A Voter.

Centrism For Beginners

The excitable state of politics at the moment includes much talk of ‘centrism’.  Social media aches with longing for a British Macron.  Sections of the mainstream media went weak-kneed last night at the sight of Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry announcing their cross-party cooperation to ameliorate (defeat?) Brexit.  The nation’s steady, sensible middle classes have had enough of extremisms, whether Brexity, or Corbynite.

Oh dear. We’ve been here before.  In the 1980s, when Thatcherism embodied the catnip destructionism now manifested as Brexit, and Labour was being eaten from within by the Militant Tendency, the Social Democratic Party appeared as a beacon of cool-headed pragmatism.  Founded in 1981, it quickly topped opinion polls and started winning by-elections.  It was dead before the decade was out.

There is a very good case to be made for a realignment in British politics.  Parties need a clear social base from which to draw voters and members, and to whom they owe a responsibility to represent.  It’s pretty plain that the current party configuration is not a good match for today’s population.

It is also clear that without major constitutional reform, party realignment will be difficult.  That’s partly what killed off the SDP – the inherent conservatism of our electoral system.  But that’s not an argument against centrism.

The problem with centrism is that it is a chimera.  The first question is – where is the centre of politics?

Pollsters regularly ask voters to place the parties on a left-right spectrum.  They mostly place their preferred party just a little to the left, or right of the centre, and place the party they most dislike further out towards the extreme.  Asked then to locate themselves on the spectrum, they usually place themselves near to their preferred party, but marginally closer to the centre. We all think our opinions put us somewhere bang in the middle.

Yet any relatively objective examination of political history, or comparative politics, shows that the ‘centre’ is a constantly shifting place.  The 2017 Labour Manifesto is a pathetic, right-wing thing compared to 1945 – or even 1964.  Today’s Liberals are well to the right of the Macmillanite Tories of the 1950s (and so are Labour on many things, including social housing and the NHS).

At the level of political philosophy, centrism is even more difficult to locate.  If the right is motivated by a belief in the natural selfishness of humans, and the need for politics to regulate and constrain that selfishness a little, in order to benefit from the dynamism of self-interest; and the left believes in altruism and social solidarity for mutual benefit, the best I can come up with for centrism is that it believes that it is rational and pragmatic.  The trouble is, both right and left also believe that their political creed is a pragmatic and rational response to human nature.  Try to touch centrism, and it evaporates.

Those who espouse centrism seem to want to square a circle.  They want social liberalism (tolerance, respect for difference and diversity, a meritocracy), and economic liberalism (free-markets, globalisation).  Leaving aside the satirical intent of Michael Young when he coined the term ‘meritocracy’ (the author of Labour’s 1945 Manifesto was no advocate of his invention), social liberalism is meaningless in the face of economic liberalism.  Some social liberalism is marketisable and commodifiable (the recent Pride event had elements of this), but where social injustice and prejudice maps onto economic stratification (social class), as it does in the case of race and ethnicity, and to a very high degree in the case of gender, not to mention the poor more generally, then social liberalism talks the talk, but is very unwilling to go further.  In other words, the ‘right wing’ bit of centrism – its position on economics – renders its social liberalism a facade, or even a con.  As we saw quite clearly with David Cameron and George Osborne’s form of Liberal Conservatism.

We do need a new politics.  But it needs to be a massively ambitious, radical politics.  We need to change all our institutions, devolve power away from the centre, change the electoral system, address structural inequality, find new ways to fund services, to reject the fetishisation of markets where they don’t work.  Above all, we must seriously address the looming global crisis of climate change by meaningful international cooperation.  Indeed, the very concept of the nation must be challenged and eroded, if our planet is to be saved.

We don’t need unambitious, puny centrism.  We need an Internationalist Manifesto!

The Tories Have Lost The Right To Govern

What are the Tories for?  Received wisdom has always been that the Tories are, essentially, Britain.  The CofE, the state church, was the Tory Party at prayer. Tory ladies were the mainstay of the magistrates bench. The generals, the vice-chancellors, the captains of industry, the great and good, were, with few exceptions (eccentrics?), Tory by divine Right.  It was just the way things were.  The natural party of government.

They were, of course, the Stupid Party, too.  But that was no slur.  This is a country in which to be ‘too clever by half’ is deeply suspect.  Or as we put it today, we don’t trust ‘experts’.  Being ‘stupid’ was a way of showing ‘common sense’.  A bone-headed, John Bull triumphalism, shorn of any pesky, doubt-inducing reading.  No one ever joined a gentleman’s club in order to pursue the life of thought.

In short, and for a couple of centuries, the Tory Party represented some of the better impulses of this country (charitable obligations, can-do, hands-on public service, a break on impulsive radicalism, a desire to limit the scope of government to stop it intruding into personal and family life), and some of the worst (anti-intellectualism, snobbishness, fatalism about inequality, prejudicial or bigoted social attitudes, defence of hierarchies of power and wealth).  Many of us, over generations, opposed the Tories, sometimes winning victories over them, but never for long.  They had iron discipline, a firm social base, a grip on the higher ranks of influence and power, and the ability to roll with change, absorbing it, appearing to modernise, whilst all the time remaining the same.

But now it all feels different. Very different.

When Tony Blair strode up Downing Street in 1997, proclaiming that Red, White and Blue ‘New Labour’ had routed the Tories, it didn’t feel as though it was the end of the Tories.  Not only was the Labour programme essentially premised upon Tory economics, so the government changed without the whole direction of travel changing – Toryism with a human face, if you like – but the Tories themselves looked exhausted, not finished.

For, twenty years ago, the Tories still had a large and active party base, a rampant Tory press, and the trust and financial backing of the business world.  That’s a formidable foundation for any political movement.  And, initially, after running through a few hapless leaders (Hague, Howard, IDS), they found in David Cameron the perfect modern Tory leader.  Old-school (Eton), yet modern metropolitan (Converse sneakers, attractive wife), Cameron as Opposition Leader was able to offer, with some conviction, the jibe at Blair, “You were the future once!”

But Cameron’s only real-life job had been as a PR man.  Hugging a hoodie simply wasn’t enough.  ‘Owning the narrative’ could swing an election, but it didn’t have a lot of effect on his own party.  The members weren’t keen on equal marriage, and climate change, and foreign aid, and all that modern malarky.  And in the Parliamentary party, John Major’s “bastards” were still there, the Redwoods, and Lilleys, the Bill Cash backbench boneheads, their ranks reinforced by new swivel-eyed radicals, like Bernard Jenkin, Kwasi Kwateng, Priti Patel.  Their manifesto was a thin, nasty document called ‘Britannia Unchained’.  The virus of Euroscepticism was spreading, and mutating, in the Tory bloodstream.

And so we are here.  Since 1979, the Tory legacy has been to deskill and hollow out the state, dismantle effective local governance, privatise natural monopolies like water, power, and rail, entrench social division, destroy industries that provided dynamism to regional economies, make financial services ‘too big to fail’, parasitic upon what’s left of the state to underwrite their errors, and to make the capital a drain on the rest of the country, rather than a source of national irrigation.  And Brexit.

The Tories own Brexit.  They invented it.  They made it happen.  In the process, and not inadvertently, they stoked social division, criminal levels of hate, and even a political assassination of a British Member of Parliament.

What’s worse, now that they have Brexit, they don’t know what to do with it.  What is it, they say?  It’s not the Single Market, oh no.  It’s not the Customs Union. Jesus, not the ECJ. Freedom of movement?  That’s just for capital.  They own a word, Brexit.  And asked to say what it is, they invent other, equally meaningless words, like Anglosphere.  They have months left to build a home fit for 65 million people, and no plan, no architect, no competent builders, no bloody clue.

There are other things the Tories don’t have now.  They don’t have a parliamentary majority.  They don’t have the backing of most of business – particularly the ones that employ a lot of people.  They don’t have a vote that includes the young and well-educated (aka the future).

The Tories are a Norwegian Blue, nailed to its perch.  It has ceased to be.  It has shuffled off its mortal coil, gone to meet its maker, gone to join the choir invisible.  This is an ex-government.  And when they do, finally, go, it’ll take an almighty effort to regain any credibility whatsoever.

The Tories have simply lost the right to govern.

No One’s In Charge

‘So how’s all this going to pan out in the end?’  That’s the question that flummoxed me. I understood the context – Brexit, and the state of British, and European, politics.  But as to an answer….

We’ve had political crises before. Major ones, existential ones.  World Wars, the Great Depression, Suez, stagflation, the financial crash.  This crisis for Britain feels a bit like the First World War, or the Depression of the 1930s, not that they were unconnected.

The First World War marked the end, or perhaps one should say, the beginning of the long, slow end, of Britain’s industrial and imperial might. The confident, swaggering Victorian age bred the clueless generals who sent a generation of the young over the top in Flanders’ fields, as well as the complacent politicians who negotiated a toxic peace, carved up the globe, and presided over steep decline at home.  A ruling elite completely out of their depth, and uncomprehending of the changed realities, of a new century with different players and new rules.  A hundred years later, and their legacy endures as the inescapable mood music of Brexit.  Except that this time, it is we who will pay those toxic reparations.

Not that one need pursue the analogy.  My feeling is more that what we had a hundred years ago, and what we have now, is a country in which it is not at all clear where power lies, nor what interests it represents, nor how any of that maps on to democratic politics.

The strength and power of the Conservative Party – ‘the natural party of government’ – has always been that it represents the interests of wealth through a focus on stability, that latter being what has given it electoral traction with the substantial part of the population who are uncomfortable with change, and crave a quiet life.

Brexit is the obverse of that.  Brexit is a headlong rush into instability, into unknowable, uncontrollable change.  And it only represents the interests of the smallest fraction of wealth; the psycho-billionaires at the dodgiest end of finance capital.  It is difficult to see how any of this foolishness on an epic scale can, in the end, be finessed away by the waning Tory press, and the ministrations of electoral magicians like Lynton Crosby.  The Tory Party never prospers when it frightens its own supporters.  If they were jinxed by talk of a Dementia Tax, how much worse will be the car crash scheduled for less than two years time?

Don’t underestimate the Tories’ impressive instinct for survival. It remains entirely possible that they will turn on the Brexiteers, excise them ruthlessly, and restore the Conservative Party to its former glory.  Certainly that was the message sent out by their proxy, Vince Cable, when interviewed on Peston yesterday, when he spoke of talking with some of his former colleagues (“Tory dissidents”, as he called them.).  He even repeated one of their mantras, when he said, dismissing Labour, “There is no magic money tree”.  Just as he’d once been happy to say that “Labour crashed the economy”, or “left a mess we had to sort out”, as part of the Cameron coalition (author of all our woes), so Sir Vince is once again willing to put his party at the service of the economic liberals of the Tory Party.

But he cut a diminished figure, however much he wants to relive his glory days in Cabinet, constantly, vainly, declaring his “experience in government”.  There’s the electoral arithmetic, for one thing.  The Lib Dems’ 12 seats outgun the DUP, but that’s not the end of the story.  In 2010, the Lib Dems had 57 MPs, spread across Britain, and no lost deposits, indicating some depth of support.  This time around they lost their deposits in 375 seats, and achieved second place in only 37.  That’s a steep hole from which to climb. He simply can’t offer the economic liberals in the Tory Party an electorally viable means of disposing of their Europhobic wing, which is a big wedge of MPs, and almost the entire Tory Party membership.

The Lib Dems could, one supposes, do a very short term deal with a section of the Tories in the event of Brexit-related events spinning badly out of control, but it is quite difficult to construct a scenario in which this would work out well for either party, especially not the smaller one.  And in any case, it doesn’t affect the central question for political parties of government, which is who, and what interests, do they represent?

The talk, most of it coming from sections of the Tory Party, of a need for cross-party, meaning involving Labour, co-operation on Brexit, is basically a plea for all parties to own the debacle.  Before the general election was called, this idea might have had more traction, and could have been seen as an act of Statespersonship from an authoritative Prime Minister, but now it is probably dead in the water, as our short-termist political class look at the likelihood of another election sooner rather than later.

And so we remain here.  There’s no one in charge.

Strong And Stable

What’s it like to live in a strong, stable country?  I don’t know. In wibbly, wobbly Britain, it’s all just cock-up, chaos and catastrophe.  I fully expect the next leader of the Conservative Party to be Mr. Bean.  Because when politically and economically we are in the midst of an unprecedented omnishambles, you can always rely on the Tories to do the wrong thing.

A week ago we had an election in which, in our wisdom, we did not elect a government.  So the PM we didn’t elect, and her bunch of comedy characters known as The Cabinet, is planning to rule us on a programme we rejected, or some variant of it that is approved by the charming god-botherers of the UUP, and which will be read out in a Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament – though we’re not entirely sure when that will be.

Before that, in the absence of a sitting legislature, the “PM” will despatch David Davis and his inspiring team of nobodies to Brussels, where they will attempt to negotiate what they characterise ‘a deal’, but which is, in reality, merely an attempt at staving off or ameliorating the inevitable shock and chaos of severing the treaty upon which our economy and the stability, even viability, of many institutions is based.  Good luck with that, chaps, though, as you always say, “judge us on our record.”  That’s what’s worrying us.

And all of this is now illuminated by the terrible light of a giant, vertical funeral pyre in the heart of rich London.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy is an event saturated in layers of significance, of deep meaning, for this country.  It is as if a judgement; the outstretched finger of a vengeful deity shooting thunderbolts and lightening.  The Guardian editorial today calls it this government’s Hurricane Katrina moment.  But Katrina was a natural disaster.  It was made worse, admittedly, by poor government, cost-cutting, careless administration, and other political failings, but the hurricane itself was not preventable.  Grenfell Tower, by contrast, ought not, need not have happened.

The long project, not halted, still less reversed by New Labour’s thirteen years in office, was one of divesting government of as many functions as possible.  The market alone was what mattered.

This was no mere matter of rhetoric.  It was a conscious political goal, meticulously applied in every sphere of policy possible.  Government – or local government – was to be reduced to using taxes to procure services from agencies other than the state.  The image was of a family subscribing to Sky TV, or ordering in a take-away from Deliveroo. Like all these analogies, it is tempting, but profoundly misleading.

The reality, or at least the political aspiration, was to distance politicians from the services they used to administer.  Your rubbish collection is rubbish? Tell Veolia.  Your kid’s school is a set of portacabins? Have a word with the academy chain.  Locked up for a crime you didn’t commit because the forensic science lab botched the tests? The cops were obliged to use the cheapest private lab they could find.  Fragmentation is the neoliberal politicians’s friend.  It aims to disempower and atomise the electorate, breaking bonds of social solidarity, and elevating individual – not collective – responsibility.  Your life is shit? Your fault, mate.  Vote for me!

Not a great slogan, is it? ‘You are on your own.’  The wonder is it wasn’t called out sooner.

For that is how it feels now.  The political experiment is out in the open.  We, the lab monkeys, are working out why we’re in the cages.  Some of us have even crawled out, and donned the white coats.  We’ve looked in the mirror and thought, it doesn’t have to be like this.

There will be Tories who look at the community response to the Grenfell Tower conflagration, and see Cameron’s Big Society.  The faith groups, and the crowd-sourced information exchanges, and the acts of charity, are seen as things which are better than, more moral than, the state stepping in to take charge.  They are wrong, and they must not be permitted that narrative.

That people organise, using the tools and resources available, when there is need, is a powerful, human thing to do.  But creating emergency shelters, and communal kitchens, and distributing clothes and toiletries in one thing.  What those people can’t do is make their homes safe.  A priest, an imam, and a rabbi, with the best will in the world, are not going to install DIY cladding on a 24 storey tower block.

It is the role of the state, of politicians, to listen to experts, to frame laws, to set safety standards, building regulations, and to ensure the implementation and enforcement of those rules.  ‘Red tape’, say the Tories, is a drag on business.  What they really mean is, ‘profit before people.’   So the real way to make homes safer is to mark an X in the box next to the candidate or the party who will do their job properly, and accept their responsibilities – or even for the individual to become that candidate, and serve their neighbours.

That idea – of politics as a good thing, as public service – is coming back, as we look around and see how ‘efficiency’, ‘markets’, ‘competition’, and all the other guff have let us down.  They have made our country squalid, cheap (in a very costly way), and ugly.

If we are to be ‘strong’ again, and stable, we are going to have to have a kind of revolution.  A revolution in thought and deed.  A ballot box revolution that mobilises the cynical, empowers those who feel powerless, and acts to change all our lives for the better.

And as the old British Rail slogan used to have it, “We’re Getting There!”  I do hope so.  But there is still much work to do.

 

The People Have Spoken

Yes, the people have spoken.  And once again, the message is incomprehensible.

Arguably, it’s impossible for any general election result in Britain to have a clear meaning whilst we have the current constitutional settlement in place. First past the post voting, in often weirdly artificial constituencies, all set to the mood music of the Press Barons, gives us parties that are uneasy coalitions, rather than negotiated coalitions between comprehensible parties.

That said, we’ve just had one hell of a weird election.

So what might it mean?

It means Brexit means absolutely nothing.  That’s the big take away from this election.  In their differing ways, both the Maybot Tories and the Liberal Democrats misread the message of the 2016 referendum, thereby running election campaigns that couldn’t gain real traction with the electorate.

May thought, and appears still to think, that the message of the referendum was that enough people really wanted a hard, sharp break with the European Union in which cutting immigration drastically was they key objective, even if it led to economic pain.  And the Liberal Democrats really thought that enough people – 48% – were angry about Brexit, and would be receptive to a clear anti-Brexit message.

Both were wrong.

The Brexit vote was a loose coalition of forces, only a small portion of which were hard-line Eurosceptics.  The wider xenophobia which the referendum campaign mobilised is always latent, and would remain so even if the EU ceased to exist, and if all immigration was halted.  The majority which the Brexit vote mobilised crucially included people who felt excluded and patronised by politics as ‘done to them’ by professional political elites who all looked and sounded alike, even if, in reality, the politicians were motivated by very different ideologies.  It was a vote for something different.

May initially appeared to grasp some of that.  Her speech on assuming the leadership of her party, and her first (only?) speech as Leader at Tory Party Conference, spoke of people who led difficult lives, and were ‘just about managing’.  But the rhetoric was never matched by action – and the election shone a cruel spotlight on her lack of substance.  As some wit on Twitter had it, the Tory manifesto was “the vaguest suicide note in history”.

The Lib Dems also misread the anti-Brexit vote in similar terms – that it was about a deep regard for and emotion about EU membership.  As with the Brexit vote, the anti-Brexit vote was a loose coalition of a small number of committed Europhiles, a larger number of people who vaguely thought the EU a normal part of life, and those who believed that it’s better the devil you know.

These misreadings put the EU (to be a member, or not to be a member) at the centre of political belief.  But for most people, it isn’t.

Hence Labour’s extraordinary performance yesterday.

And it was extraordinary.  It has been a long time since Labour got anywhere near 40% of the popular vote.  But crucial to understanding how well Labour did in vote share, if not in seats, is to realise that they got this vote share without regaining dominance in Scotland.  This is, for the first time in a very long time, a Labour Party whose strength lies in England.  Specifically in urban England, and in the young.

Labour built its appeal on a mixture of style, and savvy retail policy offers.  It was optimistic, irreverent, and defiantly not what the press barons ordered.

That said, Labour didn’t win.

And the Tories didn’t win.  At the time of writing, May is about to depart for the Palace to seek formal agreement to try to form a government with the support of radical Ulster Unionists.  May, true to form, is characteristically trying to pretend that all is under control.  She lost an election, lost her party’s majority, the TV studios are full of her own MPs demanding her head, her senior Cabinet colleagues are scheming for her job, and the Maybot is striding around, strong and stable, declaring “I’m in charge!”

She’s not.

We may be about to have a Coalition of Chaos with the political wing of some Ulster paramilitaries, and the Thames Valley Tories, but it is no recipe for stable government at the best of times.  And these aren’t the best of times.  May triggered Article 50 in March, and the clock is ticking.

So where are we now?

Who knows?  We could be somewhere else in a day, a week, a month.  There will certainly be another election sooner rather than later.

So what the opposition does now is more important than ever.  But that’s for another time.  It is, after all, the morning after the vote before….

As Election Day Comes To An End

A couple of hours out from the closing of the polling stations, and the bongs that herald the exit poll, might seem a pretty silly time to write a blog post.  Whatever I say has a self life of maybe an hour. So be it.

I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen. If I was a pundit on a TV show, I’d say something about the polls, and probably make a prediction that the Tories were going to increase their vote share on 2015, but not by a massive amount, and how well they do in terms of seats depends on where their new votes stack up.

But that’s neither here not there.  What matters, first of all, is this simple fact.  We are not facing five more years of Tory government.  We are facing two more years of Tory government.

The election was supposed to be in 2020. It will now be in 2022 – or earlier, as the Tories plan to scrap the Fixed Term Parliament Act.  From that perspective, little changes for us.

Of course, it’s possible that the Tories will get a landslide.  Even a modest increase in their numbers will make life easier for them. In theory.

In practice, a Tory government after today will be as viperous and unruly as ever it was in the old days of John Major’s ‘bastards’.

Their first problem is this.  Just as the referendum was intended to solve Cameron’s difficulties with his UKIP wing, this vote was intended to cement Theresa May as the new Iron Lady, mistress of her party.  Well, you can kiss goodbye to that.

May is finished.  If she gets a big victory, no one will say it’s her victory.  They’ll say it’s Lynton Crosby “wot won it”.  If she gets a small victory, she’ll be blamed personally for leading a bad campaign full of avoidable mistakes and hostages to fortune.  Her critics will point to Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Zen, and say, ‘That man was in the gutter, and still you couldn’t kick him.  You blew it against the best Opposition leader we could have had.’  Knives are already being sharpened for May.

Nor is the problem just her own party.  May had an image of canniness and competence.  Even I wrote in this blog after she assumed the leadership that I felt some relief to have a grown-up in charge.  No more.  Theresa has been found out.

May is a mean-spirited, unimaginative, slow-witted politician whose sympathies are narrow and judgement poor.  She is now seriously damaged goods.  If she was a product in a supermarket, she’d have a big yellow sticker on her marking down the price as her sell-by date looms close.

And the Opposition (and the opposition)?

Labour ran a slick campaign for a knit-your-own-yogurt outfit.  It had passion, and hope, and excitement.  Next to May, Corbyn suddenly didn’t look wanting.  In itself, that’s not saying much.  But certainly Labour morale is the best it has been in a few years.  I’ll wait until we have a result before saying much about where Labour might go from here, but it’s a much less gloomy picture than might have seemed likely when the campaign began.

The Lib Dems were geared up to fight a Brexit election that never happened.  But Brexit isn’t going away, alas. I will also reserve judgement on what happens next on that score. One can only hope that the Lib Dems do well enough in their former strongholds to take seats from the Tories.  But don’t hold your breath.

So this is where we are as the sun begins to go down on election day 2017.  Most likely, nothing has been decided by this election, and nothing has been changed by it.  Except the standing of the Prime Minister.

Theresa May had no personal mandate before this election.  And even if she wins, and wins big, she’ll scarcely have one after.

This Vote Matters – And How

Tomorrow we go to the polls. Until we have voted, any election is wide open. The result is in our hands. As we stand in the polling booth, pencil poised to mark a cross in a box, ours are the hands that hold the crown.  We decide who wins.

This election is the most important vote since 1979.  It is so, because never has it been so starkly clear that we are at a threshold. We can continue as we have been since 1979.  Or we can say, “Enough!”  We can choose another way.

1979 is a long time ago.  A voter has to be in his or her late thirties even to have been alive then.  The world created after 1979 is the only one many of us have known.  But post-1979-world was a deliberate act, a conscious creation, crafted to an ideological template of the neoliberal right.  And, love it or loathe it in theory, in practice it has failed.  Boy, has it failed.

In 1979 we had a state. A welfare state, a mixed economy.  Neither of those were then contentious phrases.  The state was a thing of beauty; pragmatic, British beauty, built upon centuries of law, custom, and practice, and consolidated into what some called ‘a Rolls Royce machine’ through the growth of a meritocratic and impartial Civil Service to underpin good governance.  That state, and the local state, ensured that the British could do things, whether questionable things, like running an Empire, or good things, like fighting a war of national survival, or pensions, schools, and health.  As for the mixed economy, that was simply the pragmatic view that most things are best left to the private sector, but other, key things, natural monopolies, could only be done fairly and securely by the state.

All this was anathema to the Blue revolutionaries who stormed No 10 in 1979 (I once heard Peter Lilley boast, “We were the Leninists of the New Right.”).  Since then we have heard nothing but ‘private sector = good’ and ‘public sector = bad’.  Our heroes are ‘entrepreneurs’, our role models are people who were contestants on a game show like The Apprentice.  In this moral universe a nail bar owner is more laudable than a firefighter, ‘white van man’ morally superior to an ambulance driver.  It’s a world where Donald Trump can be president.

And so we are here.  We voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union.  Even assuming that to be a good idea (it isn’t), we can’t do it.

You read that right. We can’t do it.  We can’t do anything.  We can’t procure a functioning IT system for the NHS. We can’t build a school without paying over the odds for everything from the land to the building firm (and parents, you’ll have to supply the glue sticks, and put your hands in your pockets to cover the cost of not sacking the Maths teacher).  Things are falling apart.  The state has been hacked back in the name of ideology to such an extent that we don’t have the people in numbers, or the brains, or the institutional memory to negotiate anything as complex as Brexit.

Our state has been hollowed out, it is a shell, and the grand buildings of Whitehall are a facade behind which teams of young, well-paid people from a narrow range of social backgrounds amass money for their employers – Capita, KPMG, PWC, and all the rest – regardless of the hash they make of any job they are given by credulous, amateur  ministers.

And it is all so inefficient and wasteful.  Taxpayers – that’s everyone who has ever bought anything – are having their, our, money wasted on this four decade long experiment.

So that’s, above all, what the election tomorrow is about.  Rebuilding a functioning British state.  Restoring our pride in our ability to runs things well.  Re-setting our national moral compass to value things which can’t be bought with vulgar cash.  Getting our country back, if you like.  Taking back control.

Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog, knows that I am no Corbynista. I am clear-eyed about the man and his limitations, and highly critical of many of the things he and his friends have done, or not done.  But there is something Labour under Corbyn offers explicitly that no other party in this election comes close to offering – the promise to restore the state, so that governments can again do what they promise.

Reversing rail privatisation, reversing the privatisation process which is selling off the NHS, taking the private sector (and God, I hope) out of schools, taking the debt out of higher education, making night school a thing again. Giving kids the right to a hot meal and a chance to learn to play a musical instrument, even if they are poor, for heaven’s sake.  That the right wing press call this a communist wish-list, when it’s only what we used to take for granted, shows just how extreme the right has become.

Young, old, or in-between, black or white, whatever our gender, or income, or region of domicile, we can’t be a contented, united country until we rebuild the power of a benign and active state.

That means getting rid of the Tories tomorrow.

Terror, Elections, And Bubbles

We can all agree on two things.  Last night in London, a few men, not of sound mind, and with malevolent intent, went on a killing spree.  And we are in the late stages of a general election campaign, the third national vote in two years.

Beyond that, agreement, concurrence, is limited.  Because we live in bubbles.  I do, you do. Theresa May certainly does.  We are all in bubbles, fiercely refusing to integrate.

Terror attacks, like that last night, look like a big thing.  A huge thing.  It happens in London, or Manchester, or Paris, or Brussels, or Boston, and there is an international response (not so if the atrocity is in Africa or Asia, but that’s a whole other issue)..  Presidents and Prime Ministers make sombre statements, or Tweet, as is their way.  The rest of us babble in our own manner, within our own bubbles.

But such terror attacks are not necessarily ‘big’ in the way both perpetrators and political and media decriers suggest.  They are startling acts by sub-par people, big noises made by little minds, they startle us, but their importance, however great the human tragedy,  is really much less than the killers think.  And much less than many political leaders claim.

When people like the Mayor of London, or before him, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, speak of the resilience of their cities, of the determination not to be changed by the terrorists, and of the need for calm, and a coming together of their diverse citizenry, this is not platitude.  It is a statement of the reality.  Those of us who live in cities touched by terrorism know this to be true.  We also know that it’s messy and difficult, ragged around the edges.  The stoicism that may prevail is edged about by spite, and bigotry, fear and anxiety.  Nonetheless, cities recover and heal, unlike the dead and injured .

Unfortunately we haven’t seen the same clear-headed and sane response from other who are in positions of leadership.  Starting at the top.

The suspension of election campaigning in the wake of London will be, rightly, shorter than it was after Manchester.  But in reality, it didn’t really stop at all. The interim Prime Minister chose to use the attacks to stoke division and fear for what she clearly hopes will be electoral advantage.  No statesperson, she.  Theresa May is a second division politician who has never risen to look beyond her own bubble, ever the Thames Valley Tory,  for all the ‘Red Tory’ rhetoric occasionally spewing from her political advisor’s pen.  The leader of a government of inept amateurs, sitting atop a hollowed-out state without the numbers or the brainpower to run a pension scheme, still less conduct the most complex and demanding set of negotiations in our history, May has been exposed in this election, as have her ‘team’, as clueless and without the slightest long term vision beyond their own survival.

But who am I to say anything?  I’m trapped in my own bubble.  My bubble has little access to power or influence, we Citizens of Nowhere, in our PMs unpleasantly dismissive and hostile phrase.  So what do I see in my bubble?

I see a lot of conspiracy theories, that’s for sure.  Smart, well-educated people, (yes, I admit it. My friends read books, and sometimes write them), but prey to rumours of clever plots, duplicitousness on a grand scale, and worse.  Russia, Saudi Arabia, off-shore accounts, and scheming media, including the BBC.  It worries me that we can get so distracted by such things – because the web of real connections, including trails of money and influence have always been with us.  That’s just the world as it is, unfair, unbalanced, with power often residing with those least worthy to wield it.  So the wife of a former Kremlin minister gave an election donation to the Tories? They used to parade this stuff before the cameras in the days of Cameron’s glittering Black and White Ball – now it has to be leaked.

The biggest spikes in tales of sinister conspiracies have come around the Manchester and London atrocities.  That Manchester happened just as May was unravelling over the Dementia Tax looked a bit “dead cat bounce” to some of my bubble.  Then when the wheels seemed to be coming off the whole Tory Project Fear ’17, we have London. Bounce, tiger, bounce!

I accept that such a conspiracy wouldn’t pass muster in a political thriller – I’ve tried writing them, but real life always turns out more extreme that my worst imaginings.  But just because Islamist terrorists are extreme conservatives doesn’t mean they’re in some kind of Far-Right International, however much their websites resemble Breitbart.  Shit happens.  Bad shit. Horror. It doesn’t take a conspiracy for those events to be exploited by the politically nimble and morally deficient.

Will terror derail our democracy?

It must not, however inadequate Theresa May.  We must pick ourselves up and get on with the job, not least out of respect for the victims of an act of terror deliberately calculated to be an insult to democracy.

And for those narrow calculations, the ‘who benefits’ from the political fallout from terror?  Who knows?  All we have are the numbers.  Unlike the referendum, which was a simple binary vote which pollsters got wrong, the election numbers work for one of the many sides depending on the vagaries of constituency boundaries, turnout, and first-past-the-post.  But above all, voters are in bubbles.

The voters in my bubble won’t have changed their votes, some tribal, some tactical, all for spoken or unspoken shades of a ‘progressive alliance’.  And if we are impervious to movement, why should other bubbles be more malleable?

Despite a spirited Labour campaign, I expect a Tory ‘victory’. But an empty, meaningless victory, with a wounded PM, and a party rampant, high on Brexit, and baying for metaphorical war on enemies across the Channel, and closer to home (that may be us, folks).

So we regroup for 2022?   Oh no.  The permanent campaign started in Scotland in 2014, hit the rest of the UK a year later, and will rumble on until we get a new system, and new leaders, reflecting new social fissures.

Only when that happens will our bubbles begin to converge.

The Marvin Gaye Election – Again

Sheer depression stops me scrolling back through these posts to look again at my observations on the last general election a distant two years ago, but I know one thing. I wrote a post with the title, ‘The Marvin Gaye Election’, aka ‘What’s Going On?’  And you know what?  Nope, me neither.

The weird 2015 election, when the Tories once more showed their true colours by waging savage warfare on their opponents, including their surprised coalition partners, was somehow unreadable.  The polls said that the numbers had barely moved since 2010.  No one party could win. Either the Tories, or Labour, could be in coalition-forming territory, possibly both.  The Lib Dems would be kingmakers, (or hostages). Who’s afraid of Nigel Farage?  Could Russell Brand and Milifandom swing the vote to Ed?

Where are they now? The past is another country. In our times, George Osborne edits a freesheet in his spare time, Cameron has gone for one long, blissful chillax, Ed Balls is a Dancing Queen.

And we have a PM who calls an election, and then legs it.

So.  One week out from the vote, and what do things look like?

Let’s start with the numbers.  The Tories are in the lead. By 20%. By 12%. By 3%.  You could call it a trend, except that the only trend is that the numbers look random.  YouGov is the rogue this time, saying it’s a tight race between Corbyn’s Labour, and Maybot’s Tories.  All the others say May is in big-to-massive majority territory.  So let’s not bother our pretty little heads with polling fluff.

How does the election feel?

It feels like a farce scripted by someone who doesn’t know anything about politics.  The Thick of It written, not by Armando Ianucci, but by EL James.  Fifty Shades of May.  She sure is a glutton for self-inflicted punishment.  Not that she can’t dish it out, too.  The Leaders’ Debate?  The Strong, Stable thing to do is clearly to send in a woman who’d lost her Dad two days earlier, to deputise.  Because if there’s one thing we know about May – she’s all heart.

Everyone says Jezzer’s having a good campaign.  Perhaps he is? I can’t say – I’m only a voter.  He moves from excited crowd, to excited crowd, but they are crowds of supporters.  The press aren’t told where he’ll be, and we voters certainly aren’t.  An example. Corbyn had a huge rally in Hebden Bridge.  I’m not surprised.  I know Hebden Bridge – lovely place, Brighton in the Pennines.  But it is one bit of the parliamentary constituency of Calder Valley, held since 2010 by the Tories, solidly Leave voting in the referendum, and that is much harder terrain for Labour than lovely little Hebden.  Is the Labour leader speaking to people beyond his own support base? I don’t know.

We do know that May isn’t resonating.  People seemed to like May when they didn’t know much about her, just about her carefully tended image as ‘strong’, decisive, and ‘not Cameron’.  She called the election because she fell for her own propaganda.  It might just be a short enough campaign for it to work, but it doesn’t augur well.  May means May.  Which was great as long as we didn’t know what May is. Now we do…. Will the wheels come off her Brexit ‘plans’ (?) as quickly?

I’m a Remoaner.  I thought Tim Farron had played a weak hand brilliantly when he claimed the 48% for the Lib Dems.  But this election has probably buried that conceit.  Labour’s parliamentary strategy over Brexit has been appalling, but it is slowly becoming clear what Labour’s emerging stealth strategy on Brexit might be.  Now isn’t the time to rehearse it,  but it seems to involve looking at Britain’s relationship with the EU from the other side – at putting Brexit into the mix with the EU’s need to restructure the Eurozone and reset relations with the East.  It’s an intelligent ‘have cake, and eat it’ strategy.  In other words, if no one knows what Brexit is, we might as well have a big, shiny Brexit that looks very much like Britain’s present EU membership, but with a different badge.

UKIP isn’t quite dead yet.  May has hoovered up some of its voters.  Some of its members, especially the ex-Tories may go home, too.  But there are people who once would have been right-wing Labour in its ranks.  They are able local politicians.  But whether they will muster 4 million votes this time?  It doesn’t feel likely.

As for Scotland and Northern Ireland, how their votes fall matters.  If non-Unionist parties do well in NI, that could hold down the numbers of potential MPs with pro-Tory leanings.  In Scotland, the reverse seems likely.  The re-birth of Scottish Conservatism might be May’s saviour.

Closer to home, I live in a Labour/Tory marginal, in an historically Tory seat.  I went to a local hustings meeting last night.  The Tory candidate is a personable-looking young woman with the ‘right’ CV for an ambitious Tory, complete with media training.  She’s a posher Justine Greening, a younger Amber Rudd, and a bit robotic.  Labour’s candidate is equally in the modern Labour mould, female, minority ethnic, articulate.  It feels like Labour might just hang on here.

So – what IS going on?  It all feels chaotic and unpredictable.  So could that be the result? Chaos? Don’t bet against it.