General election: Why the social contract of Churchill and Attlee may be finished – Kenny MacAskill

The vision of Britain as a ‘Singapore on Thames’ may not happen, but post-Brexit Britain is unlikely to be a green and pleasant land as the welfare state and workers’ rights are rolled back, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Clement Attlee, centre, with MPs Arthur Jenkins, left, and Neil McLean, in 1941 when the Labour leader was Deputy Prime Minister in a national coalition led by Winston Churchill (Picture: D Reid)

So the election campaign’s almost over and the analysis starts tomorrow when the votes have been counted and results declared. For the public, it’s just a blessed relief to get on with the coming festivities and that’s echoed by many a bedraggled activist weary from a winter election.

It’s been a strange campaign and I’ve been involved in all, in some capacity, since 1974. Its shortness and the limitations of long nights and bad weather have constrained it. Harder than most in some ways but much easier in others. Friendships made on the campaign trail, though many have more interest in Xmas shopping than who they’ll vote for. No one and no party has set it alight and, to an extent, it’s been about who’s made the least gaffes.

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Boris Johnson has made more mistakes than his predecessors combined and lost party grandees like Sir John Major and Lord Heseltine. But on he barrels and with continued support despite his obvious failings being all to evident to ordinary English voters. Labour seems to have become almost desperate as pledge follows pledge, but all delivered to an increasingly sceptical audience.

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The Lib Dems have gone backwards in inverse proportions to Jo Swinson’s stridency, regrettably taking some courageous Independents with them. It’s quite incredible to most Scots who see Johnson as an English toff, a sign of a different political agenda up here.

The changing nature of the media and campaigning have also impacted with social media mattering much more and the behaviour of some broadcasters bordering on the craven, failing to challenge Johnson and simply regurgitating lines fed them by backroom staff. His refusal to go on the Andrew Neil show should have seen him blackballed from others, yet it passed without a by-your-leave by the BBC big wigs. Hell mend them if they find the licence fee removed in coming years. But for the voter, the election has become a choice of who’s least unpalatable and that’s even before they consider a tactical vote.

Fork in the Road

Yet despite that subdued backdrop I also sense that it’s a “Fork in the Road”. That’s also the title of a short video put together by Ken Loach and his screenwriting partner Paul Laverty. Its based on a poem penned by Paul with excerpts and characters from the movies “Sorry We Missed You” and the award winning “I, Daniel Blake”. If anyone reading this hasn’t already voted or made up their mind how to do so, then I’d urge them to have a look at the video afore they do.

It doesn’t tell you how to vote but it does make it clear that the election is a juncture in our democracy. The outcome of either a Boris Johnson majority government or perhaps at best being able to constrain him in a hung Parliament are contrasted in their implications for our society. The seismic change of Labour’s election victory in 1945, it might not be but it will still be profound in its implications.

If Johnson gets his majority, then a Brexit of sorts will happen. He’s such a charlatan that selling out ardent Leavers will be no harder than reneging on pledges to the DUP. Business will breathe a sigh of relief as the debacle of a “no-deal Brexit” will be avoided but the societal implications for the country will still be massive.

Singapore on Thames

For sure, the ‘Singapore on Thames’ dream of some ardent free marketeers will be avoided but the crushing of workers’ rights and reduction in social infrastructure will still be huge and damaging. Pledges on funding for health and education will be forgotten or inadequate to roll back from the massive cuts imposed by years of austerity. The deal that might be agreed with the EU will work for business but not for workers. Those who have come here and made this their home will feel unwelcome or be discouraged, if not blocked from coming. The ills of the so-called gig economy will morph rather than be tempered. Hardship will grow and depression increase.

It will be the final ending of the social contract established by Churchill during the Second World War and enshrined by the legislation and changes delivered by Clement Atlee in the election that followed. A welfare state was born by total war, as indeed were nationalised industries. Margaret Thatcher rolled back the latter and Johnson would do similar with the former.

So a Rubicon could be about to be crossed but if Johnson gets a majority, it won’t lead to an England that’s a green and pleasant land. Instead it’ll be harsh and brutal. Hopefully it won’t happen or we’ll need to choose a different future here in Scotland.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP candidate in East Lothian