Why is a Conservative landslide victory likely in the forthcoming election?
In my most recent blog (2nd May) I lamented the current financial and staffing crises in Britain’s schools, prisons, police service, care and welfare services for the elderly and the disabled, and above all in the health service. I questioned the apparently exclusive focus of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on ‘Brexit’, the conflict between her alleged perceptions of the state of the country and the actual reality, and the volatility of her promises and commitments. Some of her delusions (dare one say ‘mendacities’?) are so transparent you’d suppose a child could see through them. However, remarkably – and worryingly – a large proportion of the electorate trust and respect her. Why is this so?
I can offer some explanations; readers might be able to suggest others. Some of the reasons are obvious. First, Mrs May’s antennae are sensitive to public concerns and she’s adept at saying what people want to hear about those concerns – no matter that her track record reveals recurrent disjunctions between what she says and what she does. Second, most of the traditional media (newspapers) have a strong right-wing bias and present her in the light of Britain’s saviour and protector, and this image of her influences the sector of the population most likely to turn out and vote at the election, i.e. older people. Third, she’s made a spectacle of her vitriolic arguments with certain European leaders (with whom ‘Brexit’ has to be negotiated) and even launched a hysterical tirade against them for “trying to influence the election” – as though there was any way in which they could, or would – and some people construe this embarrassing behaviour as “standing up for Britain”. (In fact, if it isn’t merely an act, it could be construed as symptomatic of mental instability.) And fourth, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, the main opposition party is currently very weak and inspires little confidence in its capacity to govern.
A landslide victory in any general election is unhealthy because it weakens the checks and balances that are integral to democratic government, and it’s especially bad news that Mrs May’s Conservative Party is heading for a landslide. Not only does this prospect raise the spectre of a Brexit-obsessed Prime Minister continuing to ignore Britain’s deepening social problems, it also means we’ll have a government lacking the transformative vision and political agenda required to justify wide public approval and trust.
The main opposition, the Labour Party under the controversial leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has put forward a manifesto that simulates a transformative vision, but isn’t, and has been described as ‘radical’, but isn’t. Of course, Mr Corby and his colleagues promise to find tax revenues to rescue our beleaguered schools, health service, police service, etc., and they propose to renationalise the railways and the energy companies, policies that at least two thirds of the electorate support in principle. (These privatised services are very expensive and operate to the benefit of their directors and shareholders rather than the public, in stark contrast to the state-run services in other European countries.) Most voters question Labour’s capacity to implement these policies; but perhaps more to the purpose, they’re not radical or original. They reiterate the ‘Old Labour’ policies of the twentieth century.
Neither major party is addressing the problems of the future: global warming and its impact; increasing automation, necessitating policies to occupy people who will no longer have work; the cultural consequences of increasing reliance on electronic media; and so on. A truly radical agenda, a genuinely transformative political vision, would address these issues and more. For example, no one, not even Labour, has a radical vision for the National Health Service. Yes, the NHS does need more money, but it needs much more: it needs a radical overhaul. When it was founded during the late 1940s (by a truly visionary government) it rested on three tacit assumptions: the new national insurance contributions levied on all employees and employers would suffice to pay for it; the demands on it would lessen because having health care free at the point of delivery would improve public health; and the demographic structure of the population would remain largely unchanged over time. All three assumptions have been proved false, partly (ironically) because the service has been so successful; therefore, fundamental rethinking is needed. No one seems willing to consider it. This ought to worry every voter.
Parenthetically, it’s worth considering Britain’s history of governments with radical, transformative visions and political agendas. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government during the 1980s was one, though its consequences proved destructive for most of the population; Tony Blair’s Labour government from 1997 to 2007 was another. But while modern Conservatives continue to laud Mrs Thatcher and her ‘achievements’, modern Labour activists condemn Mr Blair for being mere ‘Tory light’. Certainly Mr Blair made no effort to reverse much of the devastation of the Thatcher years, but his governments dramatically reduced pensioner and child poverty, raised spending on the NHS, doubled our investment in schools, extracted more tax money from the wealthy and distributed it to the needy, made blood sports illegal, introduced the minimum wage, and so on. No Conservative government would have attempted, still less achieved, those advances. Yes, Mr Blair was also responsible for embroiling us in the illegal invasion of Iraq, adopting a presidential style of government incompatible with British tradition, making himself appear a puppet of the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the USA president, George W. Bush, and allegedly demanding action on various areas of policy from his cabinet colleagues without specifying details. But it’s grossly unfair to overlook his achievements. I remember the deep deprivation that benighted Britain’s inner cities during the 1990s, after eighteen years of Conservative rule. Under Mr Blair’s administration, that deprivation almost vanished. Now, after another seven years of Conservative rule (and the prospect of at least five more to come), it’s back: children’s homes abandoned, old people isolated through lack of care, bus services withdrawn from rural communities, libraries closed, playground equipment derelict and rusted…
Would we believe Mrs May if she did offer a radical transformative vision for the country? I for one would find it difficult. Her immediate predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, offered a vision of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ and ‘the Big Society’, but when he took office he abandoned those alleged principles and offered ‘austerity’ as a means of reducing the UK’s national debt. In the event, austerity hasn’t achieved much at all, except the indicators of deprivation exemplified above. Mrs May is dubbed a ‘Red Tory’ because she claims to be the friend and supporter of the working class – which, she claims, has been ‘abandoned’ by Labour. To revert to the points I made in my previous blog and the beginning of this one, the available evidence is inconsistent with this claim. Yet, for reasons such as those I’ve suggested here, people believe her. It’s as though she exudes an illusion of transformative vision.
Imagine what the prophet Jeremiah might say if he were living in Britain today!
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