Thursday, 14 May 2015

The general election

No-one expected it to be so straightforward. We were heading towards a first successive hung parliament since 1915. No-one expected a majority, no matter how slight. For many people, including me, the outcome led to grief, rage and despair. I dug my head in the sand for three days, avoiding all media. As I gradually began to face reality, and began reading the newspaper once more, the reality of the situation became stark. The Conservatives, now with a slight majority, are completely untampered. The Liberal Democrats tempered their most radical policies. The truth is that this country is heading to very treacherous territory the next five years. It almost seems like the damage will be irrevocable. This country is going backwards so fast it's becoming scary. The NHS, the welfare state, human rights, EU membership and even the BBC seem to be under threat.

This Conservative party intends to follow through on Thatcher's legacy. It should have been defeated at this election. It was very winnable for Labour - more winnable than it was for Kinnock in '92. They sleepwalked into this election and came out losing. The Conservative party intends to create something very remote indeed from conservatism. It wants to shrink the size of the state. It wants to leave banks and big businesses unregulated. These are liberal ideas. Indeed, Burke pointed out that when you cut the state, you lose any degree of compassion or altruism. A true conservative would want to retain public services to protect conservative families and communities. All the current Conservative party care about is rampant individualism.

The campaign of the Conservatives has always been mendacious and vicious. They have used palpably false facts, and have create a new consensus, to accommodate their neo-Thatcherite agenda. The have blamed the financial crisis on Gordon Brown's term and Keynesianism. The banks caused the crisis. Gordon Brown single-handedly intervened to save the economy and, as a result, ratcheted up a deficit. To blame Labour's fiscal policy on the deficit is a bad joke. It is nothing more than a tasteless ruse so as to enforce their own ideological dream of what the UK should be like. Adopting harsh austerity wasn't even necessary as the UK has its own central bank (unlike Greece and Portugal, who rely on the European on).

Who should we blame the election's outcome on? The media? The electorate? The Labour party? The media is complicit, as always. Aided by Ruport Murdoch, it did its best to peddle scaremongering stories about how an SNP/Labour coalition would wreck the country. But that is an easy target. It is easy to call the electorate venal and stupid. (My knee-jerk reaction when I saw the exit polls was to shout 'I hate mankind,' 'the electorate are a load of idiots', etc. etc.) That is also bit of a facile conclusion. We should mainly apportion the blame to the Labour party.

First of all, the Labour party didn't directly challenge the Tory-fabricated line that they had overspent. They didn't defend their record. They caved in by claiming that they would be fiscally prudent. Worst of all, Labour did not offer a viable alternative. There was no vision or ethos to their project. They came out with a spate of policies, but so what? There's no good in having a rag-bag of policies with no accompanying vision. Most of them were short-term expedients (such as a freeze in energy prices) or gimmicky (like a mansion tax). None of it cohered. If Labour do not come up with a new, coherent, visionary plan then they're going to be in opposition for years to come. They didn't lose because they were 'too left-wing,' either. Moving back to a Blairite outlook would be a mistake. As a matter of fact, they need to forget about the Old/New Labour dichotomy. They need to methodically plan out a visionary outlook. Theorising about inequality, hedge funds and loopholes won't do. They also need to robustly challenge the Tories and call their bluff.

For the past five years, every time I opened the newspaper I felt as if a little part of me died and that I was having a limb amputated. I was encouraged by the illusory hope that it might be over in the next five years. As it has transpired, it has not. We have another five years of Tory rule. And, without the interventions of the Lib Dems, it is going to be a lot worse.

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