UK Politics

In this election, Britain is neither left nor right, but a smörgåsbord of opinion

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The British electoral landscape is at its most volatile in years, Brexit dominates doorstep pleas, and the Tories just thought it would have been easier. Now, either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May will set foot in Number 10 tomorrow. Today at the polls, where class becomes more and more irrelevant, voters must make an informed choice based on issues alone.  

This time, both main parties offer policies further away from the centre ground. Despite the mudslinging, the chaotic radio interviews and the backfired soundbites, issues matter most. No longer can we expect, as last year’s Brexit victory showed, working class voters to continually side with the socialists, after the populist hijacking of globalisation, portraying it as something impossible to balance with home affairs, rather than something bringing great opportunity and success. Similarly, no longer can we expect wealthier and more middle class voters to always side with the Conservatives. Class boundaries have become so hazy that we may even question the effectiveness of predicting outcomes based on wallets, and indeed the current working or middle-upper class dichotomy. This is the end of big party tribalism in UK politics. 

Today’s snap vote, originally designed to erode the foundations of the Labour party, has instead reshaped the British political landscape, bringing the resurrection of the left-wing that Theresa May only two months ago thought was dead. 

The past two months of campaigning have indicated that Britain is about to pass through an important political portal, however. At the end of this campaign, the Labour and Conservative parties will not be the same as they were several months ago. Party politics is no longer, as Clement Attlee, Tony Blair, and David Cameron seemed to believe, entirely about class. Instead, politics is now more about policy, and more particular factions. Whilst we can still describe parties as either left of right of the spectrum, voters cannot rely on leaders to speak for one entire branch of society; the entirety of the left or the right.

In this election, both main parties have tried to catch-all, looking to reel in all sorts of voters, regardless of class. With May’s focus on strength and stability, and Corbyn’s impetus on governing for the greater good instead of the top 1%, both campaigns have run with messages which partly forget class divisions. One of the most astonishing developments of the Brexit vote only last June was that it leapt across social class boundaries. 

As a result, Theresa May has attempted to prove that Brexit is a transformation which can benefit all – the disenchanted working class, and the wealthy who look to abandon the red tape of the European Union. Similarly, the Labour Party, with its campaign of compassion and a celebration of society, has tried to attract both voters on average incomes, and even the most high-end of champagne socialists.

Right-wing and left-wing parallels can still be drawn with the main parties’ respective social care policies and increases in corporation tax. But largely, Labour and the Tories are out there to grab everyone. Myriad columnists and political scientists have reported that the Conservative manifesto is – wait for it – surprisingly socialist in places, regulating the energy industry, and even talking about a kind of centre ground in its manifesto.

But are the main parties really that similar? In reality, however, Theresa May’s party remains adamant that an intensely right-wing Brexit will be a success. Similarly, Corbyn’s Labour party remains quintessentially 70s-style socialist in places. The two parties, however, as much as they have tried to appeal to all, still remain within their individual right-wing and left-wing camps. Crucially, the two parties don’t even represent the entirety of their right or left wing bases, instead arguably speaking only for smaller details of the bigger picture – Brexiteers for the Tories, and traditional socialists for Labour.

Perhaps, therefore, the Tory party represents only Brexiteers. If this be the case, surely much of the British population remains unaccounted for. Not even Theresa May herself voted for Brexit. As for Jeremy Corbyn, he may have achieved overwhelming success in the past month, but there still exists a fiery branch of more Blairite, New Labour-oriented MPs, who have received little limelight since Corbyn’s anti-Tory crusade gained real traction over a month ago. New Labour MPs in the next Parliament will surely be keen to flex their muscles.

Not everyone can be a winner. Perhaps this is just a fact of democracy. But as society breaks down into more specific groupings, with more fluid conceptions of class, perhaps the big, social class aggregate party is now dead, and can be rendered impractical. Trans-class issues have dominated this election. The Tories are quietly torn between Brexit and liberal internationalism. The Labour party have, until only very recently, found themselves sitting on the fence between Corbyn’s radical socialism and the Blairite third way. How can these parties now appeal to all, if they represent one distinct portion of their ideological wings, let alone their entire right-wing or left-wing sides? Perhaps there is a new gap in the political market. 

There are several possible solutions – firstly, that the catch-all, all-encompassing party becomes successful in pleasing all (a rather utopian idea, based on this campaign and the politics of previous years). Secondly, the UK political landscape could break down, heralding a wider range of political parties, each reflecting different pools of political opinion, welcoming a new proportional system of voting. Or, parties could learn to agree internally – something that the Tories have performed at better over Brexit. Hopefully, however, Corbyn sceptics will consider the success of the party leader of late, and run with his more socialist manifesto.

Chiefly, perhaps our political system is outdated, with a need for rejuvenation if it is to facilitate a wide-range of political opinions. I fear that, despite the successes of Jeremy Corbyn in this campaign, the numerous New Labour supporters in the PLP will rise up against him if Theresa May wins on Friday morning. Furthermore, if Theresa May pushes on with her Brexit agenda, perhaps centrism will resurgence, as Corbyn and May polarise the system. Perhaps a more centrist force like French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche will soon come to the fore.

Centrism needn’t be the answer, and could only confuse things more, aiming to match the weaker right-wingers with left-behind Blairites. The Labour party may find itself with relative post-election peace, allowing Corbyn to do his socialist job. If intra-party feuds spawn, however, a pluralist proportional system could be the answer.

Today, however, the message is clear. Voters must vote based on the issues. Prime Minister Theresa May has shown herself to be unaccountable in debates, and has proven that a vote for the Tories is a blank cheque for Brexit. The Conservative Party’s plans for Brexit will turn the nation into a bargain basement economy. The party’s record, which so many government ministers have suggested that voters examine, shows myriad cuts to public services, and an NHS on its knees. Food banks shouldn’t have to be the core of so many communities. May has revealed herself as a leader who isn’t afraid to overlook the disgraces of Donald Trump’s presidency, let big business take the controls, turn away from the massive benefits of free movement, or broker deals with dodgy dictators. What’s more, reducing the effects of climate change isn’t high on Theresa May’s creaky agenda.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has galvanised much of the British population, and re-engineered the left’s platform. Once the media abandoned him, the Labour leader was last year deemed all too quickly as someone who just wasn’t electable. Reducing the Tory party lead from over 25 points to five would show otherwise.

Corbyn’s Labour Party has shown that it stands up for progressive politics in Britain, and is a truly possible antidote to May’s damaging game plan. Under Corbyn, work may truly pay, and public services will be injected with new life. Labour’s insult-free campaign of compassion, morality and straight-talking socialism has worked wonders. Labour will defend important human rights, uphold Britain’s place as just one cog in a complex international civil society where individual nations cannot always supremely call the shots, and reduce hardship at home and abroad. The nurturing of human success will be placed at the heart of society.

Corbyn’s campaign has been revolutionary, and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the electorate and those who feel upset by the failings of New Labour. Even in opposition, Corbyn has finally given a platform to those left behind. His supporters will not easily fade into the background. However, his next mission is to keep the Blairites at bay, just as Theresa May must calm down the more internationalist, liberal conservatives if she wants to be successful. Class is growing less irrelevant in UK politics, and voters instead shop around on issues and manifestos. Both May and Corbyn now have the tricky task of healing the divides in their parties as they veer their respective right and left wings in specific directions. Failing to do so could mean great constitutional change for the UK, if the huge class-driven aggregate parties which have for so long defined the UK’s political landscape soon fail to speak for all.

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society, UK Politics

Sadiq Khan’s victory shows that Londoners are not naïve

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In his inauguration speech at Southwark Cathedral this morning, Sadiq Khan revelled in the possibilities of a London for all. The son of a Muslim bus driver who grew up on a London council estate has proven that Europe’s largest city is now an epicentre of inclusive and progressive politics. The ten week campaign for the London mayoralty between Khan and his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith has certainly shown that Londoners are not naïve. Instead, the realpolitik Khan has triumphed. Running a campaign which categorically marginalised those of ethnic minorities, the trajectory of Goldsmith’s popularity continued to plummet throughout the campaign. Khan’s unarguable success has punctuated the huge failings of the racially motivated Tory campaign, and has laid the foundations for a city of increased unity.

Branding Khan as a supporter of Islamic extremism and consistently scaremongering the city is what fundamentally caused Goldsmith’s campaign irreparable damage. The Conservative campaign within London this year was unforgiveable, and taught a hard-hitting lesson to those who seek to abandon political pragmatism. A racial crevasse in London would serve to diminish chances of prosperity and unity across London, instead of nurturing the accepting and just culture upon which the city prides itself.

One of the most incomprehensible failings of the Goldsmith campaign is that the Tories never sought to please all Londoners, with marginalising policy. Instead of adopting an ideologically driven, resolute campaign, Khan’s strength was his ability to focus on the real issues concerning the majority. His motto ‘a mayor for all Londoners’ only accentuates this. It seems that through such blatant flaws over the party’s isolating campaign, the Conservatives were always doomed. Their game of unfairness and backward politics meant that a Labour victory was effortless. David Cameron’s willingness to endorse such a divisive standpoint during Prime Minister’s Questions is nothing short of mindless. Cameron’s ease in remarking that Britain would “pay the price” for the election of Khan, whilst the Conservatives insist on supporting a “big society” is scandalous. Marginalising the chances of Conservative gains with even the most successful and high-earning minority ethnic citizens is a foolish move. And the fact that the Conservative party failed to realise its shortcomings with regard to such racially divisive politics is ludicrous. It is further atrocious that many Conservatives themselves refused to condemn Goldsmith’s brutality en masse.

The fact that Khan capitalised on the failings of Goldsmith is not the only reason for his landmark win. As a true Londoner, many believe that Khan will not only seek political advantage through the mayoralty. Freezing Transport for London fares, keeping rents low, and raising the profile of environmental sustainability are issues important to one and all. One of his greatest assets is his status not as a star or a personality, but as a genuinely ‘normal bloke.’ Khan understands the real issues affecting Londoners. His ability to take everyone into account and defy the divisive politics of Goldsmith has led to an unquestionable victory.

In a political world where populist politics from the right of the spectrum is becoming the norm and achieving great support, Sadiq Khan’s natural, left wing win must be refreshing for many. It is a resonant statement that loud-mouthed politics such as those of Trump or Farage have not succeeded within London. Perhaps this is due to Goldsmith’s persona, never really presenting himself as someone who is casually outspoken like many right-wing populists. Or perhaps such divisive politics have failed within a city as multi-cultural as London purely because of its cultural smorgasbord. It is clear, though, that the Tory campaign has taken its focus on defying extremism too far this time. Khan’s politics of optimism have clearly trounced those of hatred. We must be always heavy-handed on dealing with extremism, but presenting such an controversial campaign in a patchwork city like London has fallen monumentally flat.

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