Following a General Election of twists and turns Paul Riley presents his thoughts on an inept Tory Campaign, and the challenges ahead for both Labour and Brexit.
“There is a curse.
May you live in interesting times.”
– Terry Pratchett
Labour have performed an incredible feat. The Left appears to be resurgent in UK politics. Liberal, progressive values have been stunningly brought back into the political mainstream. Many politicians and commentators thought it impossible to successfully fight an election on policies such as social justice and increasing tax for big business, yet they have been proven wrong by a mass movement in the general electorate.
This movement, at least in part, mobilised in response to the biased coverage of mainstream media. Anyone who had any part in bringing about the biggest electoral upset in many of our living memories, from phonebanking and knocking on doors to promoting the policies and the party through engaging in conversation, should be incredibly proud.
Papers that one would normally associate with right-wing bigotry (i.e. The Daily Fail and The S*n) have been joined by the vast majority of other outlets including, very sadly, our supposedly impartial BBC, in smearing and ridiculing Jeremy Corbyn. Certainly, these campaigns against him were in the interest of those who own the papers and who hold the strings of power. Labour’s surge in the polls tellingly began when the Ofcom Election Rules came into force, which state that parties must get ‘equal weighting’ in TV coverage. If the Labour campaign had been given a few more weeks in which to be more transparently broadcast to the public, then perhaps we would have won a majority.
This piece is not going to be a gushing celebration of Comrade Corbyn; there is enough of that elsewhere. I’m not going to gloat, too much. My initial reaction on seeing the Exit Poll on Thursday night was shock, quickly followed by laughter, and then whiskey. I loved watching the vindication of the Labour leader and campaign as reflected in the huge increase in seats won, and yet the situation we have found ourselves in is one that is deeply worrying.
Let us be completely clear; To call a General Election and send the UK to the polls just eleven days before Brexit was, quite frankly, an insane gamble that has ended in what can only be described, from an impartial stance in Labour/Tory terms, as a colossal clusterfuck for this country’s Brexit negotiations.
I voted Remain, some of my friends voted Leave; this is not worth agonising over now. What is most important is that we are certainly leaving the EU, and for once I find myself agreeing with Theresa May; we need a strong and stable UK Government in order to get the best deal in these negotiations. What we have, thanks to this election, is a much weaker place from which to enter into this critical time in our history.
Why would anyone in their right minds risk a 12 seat majority? Why did May call a snap election that she repeatedly said she was not going to call? It certainly was not for a Brexit mandate; she already had that from the EU Referendum.
There is the suggestion that, as an unelected PM, she wanted legitimacy for her position and to free herself from some of the promises and policies of Cameron and Osborne. The more sceptical amongst us may suggest that she took a look at the polls, saw she was absolutely miles ahead of Corbyn, and recognising the danger he represented to the status quo, she decided to stick the boot in.
One particularly piquant theory that has been conveniently forgotten by the mainstream media is that May’s hand was forced. In March 2017 the Electoral Commission revealed that they were looking into evidence that suggested the Conservative Party had breached spending laws during the 2015 election. Up to 20 sitting MPs were the subject of a criminal investigation by 16 police forces around the country; the largest number of MPs ever to be investigated for violating electoral law.
This could have resulted in a slew of By-Elections, as MPs found guilty and imprisoned would have to stand down from their seats. At the very least, an election that was not going to be called seems a convenient distraction from an incredibly embarrassing situation.
Corbyn has said it is quite possible that there will be another General Election this year, and that the Labour Party are ready to fight it ‘as soon as may be’. We must not drop away from this now, as between now and the next election we can truly change our lives. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that good old Jez will walk it in a second election; it is by no means clear how much Labour’s efforts contributed towards winning all those seats, compared to Tory efforts to lose those seats.
The Conservative Party have fought the most hilariously inept campaign I have ever seen. They pissed off students, environmentalists, home owners, teachers, nurses and public service workers. May’s refusal to answer a bloody question, the endless parroting of buzz phrases and the presidential campaign that kept many major Tory faces in the shadows, were all rather stupid mistakes. Perhaps most tellingly, they pissed off older people with their policies on pensions and social care.
In the next election, they will have learned from this embarrassment. There won’t be as many easy targets and hari-kiri policies (fox hunting, anybody?). Therefore, Labour and its supporters need to keep pushing.
Next up on Interesting Times: Proportional Representation, the DUP, the prospect of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and something rather crazy happening over the pond…
Paul Riley is Director of Sustainable Liverpool