Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's open season on "explaining" the U.K. election -- and figuring out what happens next


In the new cabinet Prime Minister Cameron announces in the morning, MP Priti Patel (right) is expected to be one of a group of women considerably expanding the current ranks, which include Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (left) and Home Secretary Theresa May (center). The Telegraph reports that the reshuffled cabinet will be a full third female, with higher-profile roles for some election "stars."

"Want to win from the left? Be left-wing. Offer a real alternative to neo-liberalism."
-- Ian Welsh, on the rout of the U.K.'s Labour Party,
in his Thursday night post on Thursday's election

by Ken

It's easy to ridicule the British election-prognisticating industry for having gotten everything wrong with regard to Thursday's election, and I don't see any reason to hold back on the ridicule. None of them seem to have imagined anything but the tiniest, most minimallly conclusive edge to either the Conservatives or Labour, with much confusion and gridlock ahead.

Still, in retrospect, one thing that may be easier to see now than it was before Thursday is that the U.K. is entering waters that are just about uncharted. Therefore botrh the pundits and the pols are left scrambling to explain what happened and to predict where it's all going to lead, in a situation for which the U.K. doesn't seem to have much applicable historical precedent.


I've seen commentarial blurbs attributing a sudden outburst of charisma to Conservative Party leader and now returned Prime Minister David Cameron, and without denigrating his electoral achievement -- or at least not denigrating it too much -- I have to say, huh? Are we talking about the same person?

On Wednesday the guy was a totally corrupt schmuck and stooge, and I don't see that he's anything different now. In point of fact, the photo shows him at 10 Downing Street on Friday. Oh yeah, that's totally the same buttwipe.

What Cameron did, as far as I can tell, was to hold onto his voters, at least in terms of winning seats in Parliament, at least in part by scaring the dickens out of them, raising the specter of radical Scottish MPs in coalition with Labour. This is more than was managed by the leaders of Labour (the party that, after going on a century as one of the U.K.'s two major parties, all but disappeared Thursday), the Liberal Democrats (who, running somewhere to the left of the Tories and the right of Labour, for a while seemed poised to break into the Big Two, or at least have real third-party heft but all but disappeared Thursday), and UKIP, the UK Independence Party (whose vociferous anti-European stance seemed to be making them comers in recent non-parliamentary elections, until they all but disappeared Thursday). Again, this is in terms of winning parliamentary seats; it's not to say that those parties didn't get votes. But if you don't win seats, the votes don't count for much.


Deputy Nick's rout actually pretty comical. To begin with, when was the last time the schmo did or said anything deputy-prime-ministerial? I suppose he had some sort of voice at the Tory policy-making table, since in the Conservative-LDP coalition government, LDP votes were always needed. But Deputy Nick's status seems to have been reduced to something more Deputy Barney Fife-ish.

And it's not as if he wasn't warned. When Nick pushed the LDP into the coalition with the Conservatives, on the theory that it would give the party a share of power, and a base for goodness only knew what future bounty, there were plenty of people, both inside the party and out, who warned that he was giving the Conservatives what they wanted, power, in exchange for well, nothing -- that he was risking the very future existence of the LDP. In hindsight most everyone sees it now, but there were plenty of people who foresaw it when it was foresight.

It seems clear that in this election LDP candidates weren't offering anything that voters were buying, even -- or especially -- in constituencies they've held easily before.


In a post written as the exit polls Thursday were forecasting "a likely bare majority government" for the Tories, Ian Welsh described himself as "torn between two reactions" -- on the one hand, a hearty you-asked-for-it to voters who voted Conservative even after five years of knowing what that means (he quoted Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard"); and on the other hand contempt for the "Tory Lite" Labour campaign of Ed Miliband, running as "the lesser evil," as "not quite as bad as the other bloke, but they’ll get in eventually and do what they were going to do anyway.” ("And that was his platform.")
I’m seeing a lot of despair from my British friends on the left. And my British friends on the sane, for that matter. Here’s what to do: Either take over the Labour Party, or, if you think that’s impossible, pile into the Greens. Or, heck, create a new party.

I will point to Alberta, where the left-most party in Canada won on a platform of, among other things, raising taxes.They came, essentially, from nowhere.   [And you owe it to yourself, if you haven't already read it, to read that May 6 post about the out-of-nowhere victory of "the most left-wing party in Canada" in "the most right-wing province in Canada" in the provincial election. "It would be," Ian wrote, "like an Elizabeth Warren-inspired party winning Texas."]

Want to win from the left? Be left-wing. Offer a real alternative to neo-liberalism.
Ian makes an awfully important point about the revolution wrought by the indomitable Margaret Thatcher. "The true magnitude of Thatcher’s victory," he writes, "was not her policies, it was that Labour became Tory Lite; she changed the acceptable policy matrix for not just the Conservatives, but for the main opposition party as well" (emphasis added).
Until that “acceptable policy window” changes, the trend will continue right -- it cannot do anything else. Each Labour interregnum will be just that, a period in which neo-liberal policies are pursued at a slower rate than during Conservative governments, but in which the trend is not reversed.

This is true in almost every country in the West of which I can think (Iceland and perhaps Finland being the lone exceptions).

Offer a real alternative, with real left wing policies. If you can’t capture an existing major party, pile into a minor party or create a new one. 


None of which takes in the triumph of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the Parliament in London. SNP candidates hoped the election results would have them negotiating with Labour to form a new government. Instead, Scotland will be at the mercy of a central government likely to be pursuing even more austerity and, as Ian Welsh puts it, the sweeping away of "most of the remains of the post-war welfare state."

Ian notes that "Scots may really be regretting not voting for independence" in the great separation referendum. "Most of the wonderful social policies Scots value more than the English," he says, "will now be taken away from them." The lesson? "Failure of courage when there is a real alternative will reap the expected results."

Now we remember the promises Prime Minister Cameron made to the Scots in the increasingly panicky weeks before the referendum when it looked as if they were really prepared to vote for independence, and he stood to go down in history as the man who presided over the busting up of the United Kingdom. Well, he got through that vote, and I don't imagine that any of those promises have been heard from again. You have to wonder about anyone who thought they would be.

One concession Cameron won was a pledge that the independence referendum wouldn't become a regular, recurring thing, that it would be a "once in a generation" deal. It remains to be seen, though, whether Scots will feel bound by a promise made to a man who did nothing but lie to them. Already the PM is insisting that there will no second Scottish independence referendum, even though, according to The Scotsman, "Downing Street sources at the weekend said Cameron is 'very concerned' about the election result, which has left just three pro-Union MPs out of 59 from Scotland." He insists, though, that the government will continue with all reforms and pledges already promised. He says he's "very confident" that he won't be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom.


As far as I know, the electoral failure of UKIP was as unforeseen as those of Labour and the LDP. And given the general ugliness of the party's appeal, there's some comfort in this surprise, at least.

The nativist response to economic woes isn't likely to disappear that quickly, especially since Cameron, sensing that it could only be a losing issue for him, tried to skirt it. He's pretty much committed, though, to a vote by the end of 2017 on pulling the U.K. out of the European Union. But, report the Washington Post's XXXXX and Dan Balz, "some are pushing for the vote to come far sooner so that uncertainty doesn't hang over Britain's economic and political fortunes for the next 2½ years."
Polls suggest that if the vote were held today, Britain would choose to stay in the E.U. But the energized voices for “out” are gearing up for the fight, in the belief that the country could better manage itself without meddling from Brussels.

Opponents of an exit say it could be catastrophic, leading to an exodus of jobs and a muffling of Britain’s voice both in Europe and beyond.

Cameron has projected ambivalence on the issue, saying he wants the country to remain inside Europe, but only if he can win critical changes to the E.U. charter — changes his European allies have repeatedly said they are unwilling to grant.

The question will divide not only the country but also Cameron’s government, with some of his top lieutenants likely to push for an exit.
And it's not as if Cameron can expect clear sailing on, well, anything. At first blush, all those reports about the election which include the qualification about his "bare majority" seem kind of niggling. After all, he went from not having any kind of majority, having to rely on his coalition with the LDP, to having an actual majority of his party's own! But commentators point out that the bareness of that majority makes the prime minister significantly more dependent on every crackpot back-bencher than he has been in his first term, when he could usually expect enough LDP votes to cover any dissension in his ranks.

And as the U.K. political system veers ever closer to ours, the likelihood only grows that party leaders won't be able to count on party discipline to stifle such dissension.


In the immediate wake of the election results, the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart pointed out, in a "Post Partisan" blogpost, "David Cameron victory also a win for gay marriage," one marked contrast between "their" conservatives and ours.
Civil partnerships, the United Kingdom’s answer to civil unions, started in 2005. That’s the year Cameron became leader of the Conservative party. In 2010, he became prime minister. The following year, Cameron’s coalition started looking at ways to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.K. Using his conservative credentials to make the case, Cameron succeeded. In 2013, same-sex couples began to wed.

Cameron showed true leadership. Neither his nation nor his party supported Cameron on marriage equality. So, angry were Conservative leaders that they predicted the death of the Tories. The BBC reported in 2013 that Cameron’s move on marriage “is thought to have been one of the factors behind a mass defection of grassroots members to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in some parts of the country.” It added that a leading Conservative think tank “warned that the party is ‘dying’ and facing ‘an existential crisis’.” And, in a 2013 letter to Cameron, a Conservative leader wrote, “I am personally convinced that the Conservative Party has little chance of winning a majority at the general election unless you reach a sensible accommodation on this subject and draw people back who have gone to UKIP or have no intention of voting at all.”
"Man, were they wrong," Jonathan writes, and adds:
This ought to be a lesson for Republican politicians who always lambast liberal U.S. leadership in favor of our conservative cousins in the U.K. Just look at the GOP presidential candidates. They all oppose marriage equality. But when asked whether they would attend a same-sex wedding of a loved one or a friend, their responses ranged from humane to heartless. These folks need to move into the 21st century with the rest of the country — and Cameron.
"The Cameron victory," Jonathan writes, "is further proof of three things: marriage equality is not antithetical to conservatism, support for same-sex marriage is not a killer at the ballot box, and the electorate ultimately won’t care when they see that the sky hasn’t fallen because the nice gay couple next door can legally marry."

He concludes: "I can’t wait for the GOP to wake up to that reality."

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At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is it written in stone that: "Scotland shall have one, and only one, vote for Independence"?

Re Thatcher and the Labour > Tory-lite transition:
so we can thank her for the US phenomenon of Democratic noses wedged, firmly, up GOP rears?

John Puma

At 12:36 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

John, as I understand the legal situation regarding such a referendum, which is very sketchily, the September referndum was only made possible by the Edinburgh Agreement of October 2012 (with an assortment of successive enabling legislation by both the U.K. and Scottish Parliaments). That agreement, negotiated with enormous difficulty, covered a large range of legal and constitutional issues, starting with agreement to suspend constitutional obstacles to the legality of such a referendum -- for one such vote, to be scheduled by the end of 2014, as indeed it was. (According to a January 2012 ruling of the Advocate General for Scotland, the Scottish Parliament doesn't in fact have the constitutional authority to legislate such a referendum, and was able to do so only with a temporary transfer of authority included in the Edinburgh Agreement -- again, for that single vote.)

Authorizing another referendum would presumably be possible IF all parties were prepared to go through all the steps that made the September one possible, and this can't possibly happen without the agreement of the Parliament in Westminster, which there doesn't seem any possibility it would even consider.

At some point the Scots and English took to using that phrase "a once-in-a-generation" thing for the referendum. I don't know whether that was written into law somewhere or is just an understanding among all parties that's built into all of the above. But in fact, the pro-independence leaders in Scotland seemed to accept it, including after the September "no" vote.

None of which, however, is likely to make the Scots happier with developments, and the prime minister's repeated declaration of "no you can't, no you can't" isn't likely to make relations easier. Of course in England he has made it a rallying point that he stands between good English folk and those marauding Scots.


At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ken.

Others think the massive SNP victory means Scottish independence is inevitable, if not immediate.


At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Scots SNP have more gumption than the American Democrats. Now that Cameron spit in their faces as soon as he knew he had a clear majority, expect SNP to lead the opposition to Cameron, and to renew the drive to separate Scotland from the UK when they can stand no more "austerity".

John Puma:

The answer to your question is YES.

At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon @ 6:29PM

Any given slug in my garden has more gumption than that of American Democrats combined. But I get your point.

Presumably Britain does not want to lose its share of whisky taxes, nor easy (cheaper[er]?) to the whisky itself.


John Puma


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