After the euphoria wears off….

June 11, 2017

Like a lot of people I found election night to be sheer delight compared to the horrors that I was expecting. Watching the looks of horrified disbelief and confusion on the faces of the Tories as they realised that they had just shot their own foot off was something to savour. Corbyn and May defied my expectations, the first by running such a good campaign and the latter by running on that was so utterly awful. But now the euphoria has worn off things look a little less wonderful. Two things stand out for me:

One is that Labour did lose its third election in a row and in order to actually change Britain for the better it needs to win at least a couple of elections in a row with good majorities. So quite a way to go yet.

Secondly neither party seem close to coming up with a plan to address the really big issues that Britain is facing. Running a clever campaign is only the small first step, because once in power any reforming government has to actually change lots of complicated stuff for the better, and how to do that is still pretty unclear.

Regarding the first issue, about the need for Labour to actually win elections, and win them well, George Eaton has an interesting analysis in the New Statesman explaining how “Jeremy Corbyn turned safe Conservative seats into marginals, leaving his party needing a swing of just 3.6 per cent next time.

On the second issue of what needs to be done my friend Andrew Puddephat sent me some interesting comments in an email. We have been talking about this sort of stuff for so many decades that we tend to converse in bullet points but I think these comments stand on their own.

Andrew wrote:

“Some thoughts a couple of days after the election.

It was the worst election campaign I’ve seen. The Labour programme essentially promised a lot of goodies with someone else paying for it and no institutional change required – so no surprise that it proved popular with those most likely to benefit. But the campaign also broke from the conventional boundaries of what seemed to be political realism so caught a wave of insurgency fuelled by social media (which I guess sounds familiar to you).

On the Conservative side, there were some useful ideas on inter-generational challenges and fairness in their manifesto but it was presented by a robot who hid from debate, and had stuff like fox hunting and grammar schools which are irrelevant and made them sound like they were living in the past.

So the closeness of the result is no surprise.

The problem for me is that there are three main issues that no party in the election seriously addressed.

The first is the economy – how to build a sustainable economy in a digital era with a proper base in a market economy which is not dominated by rentier capitalists or monopoly businesses and which allocates resources effectively. We are facing colossal disruption from digital innovation, real questions about where good employment will come from in the future and little understanding about the role of government in generating a sustainable economy.

The second area is what I would call the good life – what kind of safety net, what kind of public services we need in the C21st and how they should be organised and paid for. No-one queried the bureaucratic nature of our public services, their inability to use technology to organise around user needs or the sheer challenge of an ageing society. Nor did we talk about what kind of cultural life should be fostered, through art, music, theatre, film etc and again – what is the role of government in all of this.

Thirdly, what is the position of the UK in the world, what kind of alliances do we need, how do we face the security and development challenges across the world, what kind of military and diplomatic presence should we build to ensure our security and the wider rules based international order which is eroding.

But we had no debate about any of these issues, nor did we even get near a debate.

And my other observation is that we have governing structures that are essentially C19th – based on professional bureaucracies that evolved 150 years ago, generalist, hierarchical, enclosed while we live in a world where governments would be more usefully structured around citizen’s needs and problems, utilising the kind of networked technologies that are now available to become flexible platforms.

And now we have a hung Parliament staffed by parties which are also C19th in origin and seem ill equipped to think about the modern world.

Big questions for us all. And I’m staggered by the lack of thinking, imagination or political will to examine the future…”


On a lighter note watching the Tories slow motion train crash of a campaign was liking watching this driver trying to park 🙂

sue beardon June 12, 2017

have you read David Van Reybrouk’s book Against Elections: the Case for democracy? I think it addresses some of the issues you and Andrew raise. Actually I think this is the best result we could have. If labour had scraped into the position of having a tinny majority, they would be the ones facing frustration of their attempts to change, their enthusiastic base would become quickly disillusioned, and we would be set back years again. As things stand there will be more likelihood of people working together, there will be reaching out to other wings of the labour party. The good thing is that this has shown that a left of centre stance is not electoral poison. The manifesto as it stood was appealing but probably not completely realistic, so now there is time to debate that further within the party, which is much more united now – Certainly this has put the cat amongst the Brexit pigeons, which is great. The important thing now is that all those galvanised young people need to be sustained and exposed to a bit more political education and sophistication, because that is what is going to bring about a brighter future and one which is more suited to modern conditions. So euphoria no, but cautious optimism yes

Tony June 13, 2017

I haven’t read Van Reybrouk’s book but it looks interesting. I did recently read “Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy” by Peter Mair which is very good if a bit depressing. The really interesting thing about the election was that both Labour and Tories did really well, both attracted a very high vote, and both results in previous elections might have swept them into power. So both parties have really grown their electoral base and it’s not clear if either can grow them any bigger. If that is the case then its a question of who cocks up and loses supporters the first. My money would be on the Tories because they have to actually manage this mess.

I find the endless discussions about soft versus hard Brexit, or about nuanced variations of Brexit, amusing because I think the chance of a negotiated agreement within the timetable is essentially nil. I know the whole process is described as a negotiation but that assumes that both sides will actually negotiate (i.e give and take, compromise, fudge etc) and I see no evidence that the EU wants to negotiate.

Even before the election, when I thought May would get a bigger majority, my assumption was that the chances of getting an agreement with the EU in the time period we have, was almost zero. Not only are the most cumbersome parts of the EU institutional system involved (because the treaties specify the need for unanimous agreement between member states and the parliament has a veto) which means it may not be technically possible to get an agreement in the time period, but also because the permanent governing apparatus of the EU system (which is also its most powerful component) does not want a compromise of any sort. It simply wants to dictate what the UK must accept. There is a whole strata of the governing EU bureaucracy which has grown used to operating without democratic restraint or oversight and that is reflected in their way of doing business. The announcement from Brussels that if the UK insists on bundling trade relations into the first stage of the negotiations then the EU side will need to retire for a year to consider its options is exactly the sort of thing we can expect.

I am currently half way through Varoufakis’s book on his time as Finance minister and his experience of negotiating with the Troika (eye opener to say the least, great read) and he tried really hard to negotiate in the most constructive and helpful way he could and was simply rebuffed. Throughout the entire episode he was heavily briefed against in the media by EU ‘leaks”. So I expect lots of reports of how awful the Brits are being and how reasonable the EU is being, and I expect those leaks to be lapped up uncritically by the remainer press

So what I expected before the election is what I expect now, no Brexit deal and at the last moment perhaps some form of interim agreement to prevent a drastic impact on trade and EU residents, ‘kicking the can down the road’ is the phrase they use in the EU. But if the British ruling system is in disarray then even an interim deal may be off the table and some in Brussels may think that now they can cajole the UK into dropping Brexit and returning tail between legs. Remember the EU has a long history of ignoring or restaging referendums if the first result was ‘wrong’. They already think the Brits are a bit bonkers for taking their referendum result so seriously.

Norman Ellis June 13, 2017

Well, yes, the euphoria has worn off a bit given that the Tories still remain in power but their wings are seriously clipped and many of their policies will have to be rethought (grammar schools, social care, the NHS?) and this was a sensational result- Labour took seats not only in London but took or kept seats in the North, Wales Scotland and even Kensington and Chelsea (!) with a higher percentage than Blair achieved!.(unthinkable just days before!)

I too worried that Labour did not forefront a vision of the economy. My own view was that Labour can only win with a vision of the economy that explains how to bring about prosperity for most, not just fairness for the disadvantaged (otherwise Labour would have won every election). In the past we had Wilson’s ‘White Heat of technology’ and Blair’s ‘New Labour, New Britain’ and of course Clinton’s “It’s the economy stupid’, which Hilary ignored to her cost).

Why they didn’t, we can only surmise (perhaps they felt the Tories are always trusted more on this and that keeping a low profile for John Mcdonnell advisable though I think he has improved greatly).

However, I don’t think it’s true that they had no such vision: among other things it included investing in infrastructure with the jobs, and the boost for industry, spending power and tax revenues that brings but also an investment bank to provide capital that small and medium businesses find hard to get, tax breaks for investment to try to free up the horded cash that big business is holding on to,

In terms of what we will produce there is a commitment to superhighway and digital technologies and investment in green technologies, research and help to extend our manufacturing base.

Some may not find that enough but I think it is as good and detailed as any Western Government has come up with.

Of course, there are big issues that were not addressed e.g. the increasing automation of even white collar job. Hamon, the Socialist candidate in the French presidential election, is the only leading politician I am aware of to address this with the inclusion of a universal wage in his manifesto (not that it did him any good with only of vote of 6% but for other reasons 6%). However, since his proposal was 6,000 euros per annum (similar to Paul Mason’s 6,000 proposed in his book, ‘Post Capitalism’) this could be seen more as coraling the poor and no longer required where they will do least harm!

So yes, the bright new dawn has not arrived but Labour is now in with a chance for the first time in years: next election slogan; ‘An Economy for the many”.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: