Electoral contests are strange affairs. With their own dynamic, they can result in unholy alliances between political parties and tactical voting by the electorate. They don’t always follow the call made by the prime minister. Back in 1974 Ted Heath called an election on who ran the country, only for the electorate to decide that he was failing in running the economy. Similarly, tactical voting more often comes from the decision of the electorate, than from formal packs arranged by parties.
Theresa May has claimed that a general election is necessary to give her a parliamentary majority in negotiations on Brexit. What utter bunkum. She already has that majority. Nothing has changed since then. She can push her Brexit plans through and neither the House of Lords nor the Supreme Court are going to stop her. At most she faces some minor inconvenience that she should have anticipated and respected anyway in a democracy. It also flies in the face of statements previously made.
The opportunity to seek a mandate for her own premiership isn’t a critical issue. As with other PMs who have been selected not elected, whether John Major or Jim Callaghan, she needn’t have rushed to the polls.
Instead this election has been called for the shameless political self-interest of the Tories in England. The time has never been better to crush the Labour Party. Despite the pound plummeting, inflation rising and jobs and businesses beginning to consider leaving the UK, the main opposition party couldn’t lay a glove on her. Moreover, the real price of a hard Brexit has still to be paid.
Instead, it will allow the Tories to set out a new manifesto and one in which they won’t be encumbered by previous pledges. “Compassionate conservatism” espoused by David Cameron will be jettisoned. There’s going to be a lurch to the right, partly on ideological grounds and partly because of the economic challenges that make previous pledges unaffordable. Hence pensions and the NHS are threatened. People who thought that George Osborne’s imposed austerity was grim are going to find it a lot grimmer still.
They’ll prepare to roll back the red tape and regulation they blame on the EU. Yet, what these regulations provide is a regime for environmental protection, workers’ rights and social cohesion. What care they, those free marketers who yearn for a south east Asian society as much as economy. But post-Brexit UK doesn’t even have the family and societal structures that provide some element of a safety net in those countries. However, with a parliamentary grouping that doesn’t just represent the rich but are the rich, they’re oblivious. These are Thatcher’s children, in heart and mind.
That’s why this election isn’t just about the economy but about the very nature of our society. It’s not about Brexit or indyref2 but whether we want to live collectively or individually. Do we want to try and maintain the social consensus forged during the Second World War, and maintained until Thatcher started to dismantle it? Or do we want a country where individuals simply look after themselves and leave the poor and disadvantaged to charities and foodbanks.
The situation has resulted in calls for a Progressive Alliance, especially south of the Border, an agreement for the anti-Tory Parties not to stand against each other in various seats and allowing Greens, Lib Dems or Labour to stand uncontested against the Tories. I’m not a member of any of those parties but support the concept. Shamefully other than with the Greens, the party hierarchies have been lukewarm, if not hostile. As it is, the electorate in many of these areas will simply make the choice that the party leadership failed to endorse, and vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the Tories irrespective.
North of the border, it’s more complicated for many reasons. Firstly, the SNP are defending 56 out of the 59 seats, so any alliance is literally impractical or would require them to cede constituencies which they are unlikely to do.
Moreover, the position taken by the Labour Party in being so hostile to the SNP also precludes a pact or alliance. In many ways, the SNP and Labour have switched over from the early 1980s in power and attitudes. Then Labour dominated in Scotland while the Tories reigned supreme in the UK. SNP fire was turned on Labour often, to the consternation of the electorate who saw the Tories as the principal enemy. Now it’s Labour who constantly carp at the SNP when many voters despair of the Tories. I sense that many whose priority is to stop the Tories will shun Labour, as they shunned the SNP in the 1980s for similar reasons.
However, an informal alliance of sorts is taking place with limited Green contests in this election. Much of that is far from supporting the SNP candidature but simply reflecting the Greens’ current strength. The seats they are standing in are the areas where they have some support. It’s not fighting to win, but flying the flag for future elections.
Does it matter? In some ways giving the SNP a clear run is symbolic and should be welcomed. It can lay the groundwork for future co-operation in years to come, not just between those parties but others.
But there’s nowt as fickle as folk. Will all Greens vote SNP? I doubt it. In my experience younger radical ones will, whilst older ones may not. That’s evidenced by the independence referendum where Patrick Harvie’s contribution for Yes was countered by his predecessor Robin Harpers support for No.
A progressive alliance will come, just not yet I fear. It seems the Tories are on course for a crushing win south of the Border. A return to an Edwardian age of empire and Upstairs Downstairs. However, necessity is the mother of invention, in politics as in life. In this election, many will vote tactically to protect our society.