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After the Battle: Lessons of the British General Election
D.R.O’Connor Lysaght reflects on the outcome of the British General Election
14 May 2015
It was the economy, Stupid. In the end, the Conservatives were able to point at a slight diminishing of the slump begun under their predecessors, to claim the credit for it, and to warn that, if followed by their opponents, policies almost identical to their own would plunge people back into deep recession .It worked and people gave them their overall majority. Despite the hype it was not a great landslide overall. With the Tories gaining 28 seats and winning 37% of the vote, there was no comparison with the victories of Thatcher in the eighties. Nonetheless, her party came from a plurality to an overall majority. Perhaps the first lesson to be learnt from this is that constitutional democracy is no more able to represent the majority of people than a revolutionary regime.
Admittedly, Cameronian regression does not threaten repression yet, though, no doubt many of the man’s followers would be happy if it did restore capital punishment for the proper people. What is certain is that the new government will not allow the current recovery to end austerity, but will use it as an excuse to prolong it., on the grounds that with the fundamentals strengthening, the role of the state will become less necessary in protecting living standards. Little more remains to be privatised, following policies pursued by all major parties, though tit could yet be applied to the basic institutions of the state, perhaps returning to the Bow Street Runners or creating a Rupert Murdoch Tank Regiment However, slum housing, slum health services, slum schooling, slum transport are all on the agenda, covered by a decrease in unemployment through the increase in sweatshops. Since Thatcher, the unofficial slogan of her party has been ‘Back to the Thirties’, albeit without the industrial base that existed in that decade. The connection with Europe, if Cameron is to continue it at all, is to be with formal recognition of its present semi-detached basis, with economic power centred in the financial institutions of the City of London and limited only by global conglomerates, free from the authority of any country. Under Thatcher, the T.U.C. was the great Satan, holding back the economy. Now it is the E.U. with its regulations. No doubt, if the referendum goes against continuing membership, the resulting disruption will be blamed on the said Union rather than the Kingdom At all events, control of economic life (of life itself) must remain oligarchic.
No counter vision was presented to the electorate, other than by the left-wing sects. Many, many years ago, the Labour Party might have attempted something of the sort. Miliband made a gesture in this direction and away from New Labour, but he was too compromised by his history as part of it, and by awareness of the growing divisions within the class he claimed to lead: between those whose technical skills gave them a stake in the social order, however precarious, and those who did not have such skills, and tended not to vote. Neither Miliband’s allies in the bureaucracy nor his sclerotic, mainly New Labour party organisation could or would turn the latter into a major political force. Now in the aftermath, the siren song of New Labour is being sung again. In the Observer, the great B.Liar urges labour to be ‘for ambition and aspiration as well as for compassion and care’, ignoring the fact that some ambitions and aspirations are criminal under any form of social order and that some are simply anti-social like the bould Tony getting the big bucks by wining and dining murderous heads of states. Overall New Labour plans society, by implication on an individualist rather than a collectivist basis. The trouble is that when Labour stops worrying accordingly and loves the rat race it competes with a party that is organically better able to do so. It cannot be known what would have happened had Miliband separated his politics more firmly from those of his immediate predecessors, apologised for their, and his share in causing the slump and based a programme on this. What is certain is that such a decision would have provided a firm base from which to advance.
As it was, the one organisation to provide an apparent alternative to the Conservatives was UKIP. It played the old game of being within the consensus while appearing to be outside. Its trump card was, and is xenophobia. In its propaganda, unemployment and low pay is caused by foreigners being dumped in Britain under the authority of the EU. No other major party went that far and no body on Labour’s left was given similar coverage by the mass media. Although its opponents fears were not realised (UKIP lost one of its seats),and although P.R.would probably not have given it the 84 MPs that its vote would have reflected most accurately, nonetheless, it is now the party representing the third largest group of voters in the UK.
It is difficult to find any silver lining in the immediate future. Certainly, Farage’s defeat cheered the writer somewhat, even though the bum is likely to make a comeback in September. As for the Scottish Nationalists’ conquest of Scotland, it puts that party in a position of power without responsibility which it is likely to use to block the growth of any group to its left. Although the overall context is more advanced, its approach to it makes it appear more than ever Redmondite rather than Fianna Fail. The EU referendum is likely to give it a problem and an opportunity. Apart from the LibDems, they are the most Europhile of the major parties. A Scottish Yes vote could ensure that the British-Europe link remains. How this will suit the City of London, is uncertain, but the Nationalists’ break is to be with Westminster, not the city. As with British Labour, any constructive new political thinking is likely to be done outside the tent.
And so to Ireland. The results in the northern province reveal even more than elsewhere the inadequacy of the parliamentary road to serious improvement. The most that can be said is that, since the troubles there, the overall results are no longer as predictable as before 1969. As it was, in an election that returned an unprecedented number of women M.Ps, Northern Ireland lost two of its three, and those two the less regressive. Otherwise, the D.U.P. made hay by denouncing Gerry Kelly’s admittedly desperate and counter-productive appeal to Catholics per se as ‘sectarian’. (At least he did not use the phrase ‘faith and fatherland’, but this may be only a matter of time) The hypocrisy of such Unionist denunciations was seen in East Belfast. Here Naomi Long, member of a party committed to the quixotic cause of creating a truly democratic Northern Ireland, and one which had suffered from Loyalist mobs for its non-sectarian stand, lost her seat to a D.U.P. candidate backed by all big-U unionist groupings. It cannot be stated too often: Unionism with a capital U is about maintaining the British connection only as long as it maintains Protestant Ascendancy. What is more, the next five years will see this ascendancy expressing itself with less restriction. The D.U.P. had hoped for a hung parliament in which it could hold the balance of power. Instead the Conservatives have won an overall majority. Nonetheless their surplus of seats is small enough to be erased by the normal process of attrition If this happens, the Democratic Unionists are Conservatism’s obvious allies. Even now, a gutted Human Rights Act is being drafted, leaving opponents of Unionism with even less of a figleaf to protect their interests. More Loyalist triumphalism is on the cards, while Sinn Fein debates whether to counter this by its members taking their Westminster seats.
This should affect politics in the Republic, though it probably won’t as only a few soreheads in Socialist Democracy and the like refuse to see Good Friday ‘98 as other than an Irish civilised version of the original crucifixion. The Government is more worried about the problems likely to beset its trade with Britain if the U.K. leaves the E.U., and is hoping that such a withdrawal will not come until after the next general election. This is of more concern to Fine Gael than to its partners, as these latter can expect only to loose seats, as they do monotonously at the end of their membership of any coalition. On the other hand, Fine Gael has reason to be optimistic; it needs to gain less than ten seats to get its first ever overall Dail majority. In the last few days, reforms have been offered: the strengthening of the Labour Court’s power against the employer and for the individual worker organised and unorganised, limitation of the banks’ power to foreclose. The first of these changes is framed as if deliberately to reduce the relevancy of the workers’ organisations, as the trade unions have stated. Meanwhile, the water charges remain, the health service is scandal-prone and there is the issue of zero hour contracts.
The Labour Party may use these last as the excuse to cut and run to save itself as it did over the ‘87 budget, but this will be no more than a move in the parliamentary game. While the next election will be important, its importance will be less because of its effect in the Dail chamber than among the working people outside. They are angry and are not going to go away. Moreover, as in Larkin’s time, their anger is more effective than that of their comrades in Britain. They have militant leaders, as well as pseudo-militant ones. Now there is both a need and the possibility for an effective programme that will go beyond expressing this anger and enable the angry to get even, at last.
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