The Reckoning – The view from Ireland

I went home to Ireland the day after the election, thus I got the results while in Ireland. Needless to say the view over here is we knew the brits are a bit barmy, but how could 11.3 million of ye be that dumb? :no: Britain seems to have lurched towards the sort of Fox news led right wing delusional politics that has wrecked the US politically (and probably will lead to the America’s decline as a world power).

And make no mistake the media were fairly bias towards the Tories, as backed up by statistics. A study by Loughborough university found that during this election the media, while swallowing whole any old tripe the Tories trotted out, they were mildly negative towards UKIP, extremely negative towards labour and overwhelming so towards the SNP. As the Cork Examiner over here put it “to believe the British media, Scottish hordes were going to come South and take Miliband hostage in Downing street, then bleed England dry”.

The Sith always betray their own
Its now clear that the Tory election strategy was not to directly confront labour, for they knew that given the choice between a party committed to more cuts and austerity, v’s anyone else was a battle they’d loose. So instead, they left their right-wing media attack dogs loose to spread all sorts of ridiculous stories about how the SNP, pitted labour against the SNP, while the Tories focused on going after Lib dem held seats.

Now given that the lib dems had moved so far to the right over the last five years it was starting to become hard to tell where they stopped and the Tories started. And given how angry students were with them, it was a safe bet that all of their seats were vulnerable. So perhaps this isn’t surprising, but certainly it is a bit of an underhand and dishonest way to win an election. I’m reminded of that bit in Star Wars whereby the Sith always betray one another >:-[

Needless to say once the lib dems have finished pulling themselves together one hopes they will never again even contemplate making this same mistake again. Going into power with the Tories is a death sentence for any small party….unless you’re prepared to light-sabre them in the back at a moment of weakness….or toss them into a bottomless pit!

Proportional Representation
Its rare you’ll hear me or any Irish person agree with UKIP but given that they got several million votes, yet one seat, with the greens in a similar position, it hardly seems fair that the Tories averaged one seat per 30-40,000 votes. Needless to say the Irish view would be that its not really legitimate for Cameron to claim a majority mandate when only 37% of the votes went to the Tories….and with a turn out of 66% that works out as a mandate from just 25% of the electorate. Hence my tag line for the next 5 years will probably be “we are the 75%”.

This should underline the need for electoral reform, bringing in either AV or a proper system of proportional representation. With PR the Tories would have still finished as the major party, but not with anything like a majority. The SNP would have only gained half the seats they did, with the bulk of the rest going to Scottish labour. Of course the irony here is that the SNP campaigned for AV, while labour campaigned against it (pay back’s a bitch ain’t it!).

Certainly any such system will mean more MP’s from smaller parties such as UKIP. However, I’d rather put up with UKIP in parliament (keeping in mind that many hard right Tories often hide behind UKIP, something they would no longer be able to do), where they are forced to realise that its all well and good throwing rocks around when you live outside of the glass house, but things are a little different when in parliament. Many far-right parties like UKIP that exist under PR systems tend to have a very short shelf life. Largely because while they find it very easy to draw in populist anti-government votes. But in the cold light of day, once they become MP’s and get bogged down in the bureaucracy of government, their supporters realise they are no better (and indeed often much worse) that the politicians they replaced, and they are quickly decimated in a subsequent election.

However, I hope the lesson here is that whose ever in power next needs to put PR on the agenda, otherwise election results like this are a possibility, keeping in mind that it only took a small swing in a few marginals to keep Blair and Brown in power with large majorities.

The Nasty Party
Certainly a Tory majority government, means more cuts, more kicking the poor and screwing over the working class.

The Tories will claim these cuts were a necessary evil to bring down the deficit. To which my response is grade A horse$hit! The UK now has one of the highest deficit’s in Europe, only Croatia is higher. The Tories have been relying on the fact that many people get national debt (what the state owes its creditors) and deficit (how much the state needs to borrow per year to meet the short fall between spending and taxes) confused. They have been in effect borrowing from abroad to pay off the existing debt. If the UK was a company there is a technical term for this sort of strategy.

I bring this up because one of the issues raised in the election campaign is that there are huge holes in the Tory spending plans. Clearly there’s only so much they can borrow from abroad, before they get caught at it and credit rating agencies start getting jittery. They claim they can make “savings” in the welfare budget. However the only bits of the welfare budget with enough zero’s behind it to meet the Tory numbers are things like pensions, working tax credits and child benefits. All of which must now be on the chopping block. So I hope whoever voted Tory doesn’t have any kids!

And I hope your not a fan of BBC programming, as it looks like the price for the Beeb of not offering unwavering support to the Tories (as the Murdoch press did) is that the Tories plan to “go to war” on the Beeb.

And needless to say the environment is fucked. While happy to lavish vast subsidies onto Shale Gas and Nuclear, they are somewhat reluctant to do the same for wind farms (increasingly the cheapest source of low carbon energy) or solar power (rapidly falling in price and heading towards maturity).

Europe
Of course the next few years will be dominated by Europe. As I discussed before, I’m not so sure how serious the Tories are on this referendum, regardless of what Cameron is saying now. Then again, the previous Tory government did earn itself a reputation for bungling incompetence, ignoring advice, putting their foot in it and then running around with the hair on fire in a panic afterwards.

Take the Scottish referendum, I, like many others, pointed out two years before it that without Devo Max on the ballot paper as a valid third option, there was a decent chance of Scotland leaving. In the end the Tories, after going into a tizzy when polls showed the Yes vote had the momentum, Cameron had to sign up to plan (proposed by Gordon Brown) giving Scot’s Devo Max in order to save the union. A plan that’s going to cause him no end of grief with his back benchers.

So its possible they will go ahead with this EU referendum, even thought leaving the EU will likely be the death of the party, raises the risk of a second Scottish independence vote, the loss of Northern Ireland (who would suffer disproportionally worse in the event of Brexit), cost as much as 14% of the UK’s GDP, etc. Previous Tory governments have avoided any such talk of a referendum as they know that Europe is where Tory governments go to die.

Its possible that Cameron might be able wring some cosmetic changes out of the EU. Or perhaps some changes they were planning to bring in anyway (such as welfare reforms that the Germans have been pushing for). I recall pointing to a plan of a few years ago in which the Brussels mandarins proposed giving Britain some sort of second class EU membership. This would see the return of certain powers to the UK, but in return the UK would lose its right to veto or even vote on these issues. Thus for example, they UK gets an opt out on migration issues. But if the EU changes its policy towards, say migration from Africa (bringing in a quota system as is being proposed), the UK has no say on the matter, even thought a large proportion of those migrants are going to end up (by legal means or otherwise) in the UK.

However, nothing Cameron comes back with is going to appease the hard right “headbangers” in his party or UKIP. They will campaign for a No vote…followed by a nuclear strike on Brussels! Meaning even if he wins any in/out vote the end result is likely to be a split in his party (ironically of course, the whole reason for holding this referendum being to save the Tory party from such a split). And if the country votes to leave, then he’ll be going into an election in 2020 having seen the economy go over the cliff’s of Dover, Scotland (possibly even Wales) going for the exit door, a strong possibility of NI uniting with the South. A massive Tory defeat is therefore very likely.

So ultimately Cameron needs to decide whether Europe is really the hill on which he and the Tory party want to die on.

And just to make things interesting, another curve ball. It has been pointed out here in Ireland that any substantial change that the UK gets (i.e. any change to existing EU treaties) could potentially provoke a referendum in other EU countries, such as Ireland. Thus we could see a situation, where the UK votes to stay in (which is what the opinion polls suggest), Ireland and a few other countries then veto the reforms, plunging the EU and the UK into a massive crisis. In essence by voting Tory, England may well have placed its fate into the hands of others EU nations.

Near total wipe out
For me the iconic moment of the night was Douglas Alexander of the labour party being beaten in Paisley by a twenty year old SNP student. It shows just how far that labour has fallen in Scotland.

It reminded me of this incident a few years ago back in Ireland where there was a US warship in the harbour and a couple of sailors from the ship formed a team and visited a local wargaming convention. They ended up being blown out of the water in a game of Harpoon (a naval strategy simulation game) by a team of 10 year olds!

However, the collapse of support in Scotland for labour was perhaps inevitable. Obviously Miliband going around telling everyone that he wasn’t going to even talk to the SNP, nevermind form a coalition with them, totally undermined his credibility. Yes, it was a trap set for him by the Tories and a predominantly pro-Tory media. But he blundered into it rather than fighting the election on his own terms.

But this alone can’t explain labour’s performance north of the border. I’ve been saying for sometime now that labour simply has not understood the implications of devolution, that you need to let regional affiliates of a party offer something more appealing to locals, if you want to retain local support.

For example, let us suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger of California or Rudolph Guiliani of New York were to campaign in their states claiming that the science behind global warming, vaccines or evolution wasn’t settled. That they wanted big government off people’s back, hence no more public subsidies to public transport in NY or San Francisco. And far from promising to take guns off the street, they now favoured concealed carry laws that allowed teenagers to openly carry uzi’s. Well needless to say, such policies would drive away all moderates and quite a few republicans would conclude they’d gone funny in the head, with decimation in the polls following. But this is essentially what labour’s been doing in Scotland.

Take independence, while understandably anyone living in London is opposed to it, many labour supporters in Scotland see it as more a grey area. Some are steadfastly opposed, others in favour. But in short its not a deal breaker, they can work with the nationalists, so long as the SNP realise they’ll be tuning out whenever they go into a Braveheart rant.

Then there’s Trident. Again seems like a good idea down in England, but they don’t have the subs sailing up and down a lough right outside their house! And similarly nuclear energy might seem like a good idea down in England, which is a net energy importer, quite a bit of which comes from French nuclear plants across the channel. But in Scotland, with 50% of electricity now coming from renewables (as much as 70% on a windy day), the case for nuclear is less clear cut. Trying to sell these sorts of policies in Scotland is like trying to sell fridge freezers to the Eskimos.

As a result, if Scottish labour is to survive, or make a comeback, radical action is needed. Hence I would urge Jim Murphy, or whoever ends up in charge of Scottish labour, to break with the rest of the party in England and set up and independent labour party in Scotland.

This party would be more or less in lock step with labour south of the border, they would vote with the party whip, except on certain issues that effect Scotland. E.g. while against independence, they would be prepared to work with the Nationalists, either in Westminster or Holyrood. They would be prepared to back Trident, if it was moved out of Scotland (or failing that, they would abstain altogether) with a similar policy as regards new nuclear power stations in England (on condition similar subsidy packages are offered to renewables in Scotland).

This is not as radical a proposal as it seems. The Greens have similar disagreements as regard the independence issue, hence why there are two Green parties in the UK, one in England/Wales and another in Scotland.

Union busting
Meanwhile back in England, one of the reasons why labour failed to make any serious headway was the fact that Ed Miliband was seen to be too close to the unions. A somewhat ironic fact is that he has instituted reforms, which will make it very hard for the unions to pick his successor. However, what the Tories don’t seem to get is that if there’s anything more scary (from their point of view) than a labour party in the thrall of the unions, its one that’s not.

The likelihood is that labour will now either lurch to the right, in which case we’ll see a Blairite take over the party, something that would undermine the Tory position, possibly rendering them a lame duck administration once a few defections set it.

Alternatively a left wing labour party, which is run by the socialist wing of the party rather than the unions would mean them ditching many policies such as Trident or nuclear energy (in both cases a strong part of the reason for keeping these policies is they many union jobs that depend on it) or looking into re-nationalisation of public services. In short, if there’s anything that will have Tories waking up in a cold sweat its the thought that they’ll make themselves so unpopular over the next five years that such a party might take over in England.

Double Jeopardy
And another thing for the Tories to consider is that with all but 3 of Scotland’s MP’s representing the SNP, the case for independence is strengthening in Scotland, something the anti-Scottish vitriol they engaged in during the campaign no doubt helped. Needless to say Cameron’s “one nation government” speech fell somewhat flat in Scotland. Already here in Ireland parallels are being drawn to the 1918 general election where De Velera’s Sinn Fein finished 3rd, wiping out the unionist parties in Ireland, making Irish independence (be it by the ballot or the gun) inevitable.

So if the Tories plan on doing an Edward Longshanks and screwing over Scotland (all that “English votes for English laws malarkey”) then its not going to be long before the SNP have managed to close that 6% gap and get a majority in favour of Scottish independence. Indeed I came across an opinion poll the other day (taken before the election) which suggests the gap has closed to 44% to 47% (48.4% for and 51.6% against if we eliminate the “don’t knows”), suggesting that a swing of just 2% in Scotland (or a referendum held on a rainy day, which keeps many older voters from the polls) could tip the scales.

And again, an in/out referendum for the EU is the perfect excuse for the SNP to put a 2nd referendum into their manifesto for a future Holyrood election. Keep in mind that the legal opinion is that it would be very difficult for the UK to leave the EU, without the cooperation of the regions, such as Scotland and Wales. Hence independence votes in these regions is a near certainty if the result of any in/out referendum is to leave the EU.

Going, going, back!
One of the more positive moments in the aftermath of the election was Nigel Farage’s resignation. It was looking like that he’d finish his days playing straight man in a double act with pub landlord Al Murray.

However he’s now apparently putting his name forward for the very position he just vacated. Yes, in that strange morally ambiguous universe known only as “the UKIP zone”, one can resign from a post and then simply re-apply for it. I wonder if anyone has pointed this out to Clegg or Miliband?

Of course its not really that surprising, UKIP without Farage is a bit like the Branch Davidians without David Koresh. Its not so much a political party, but a cult of personality. And without Farage, they are nothing more than a group of closet racists.

Back to the 90’s
But if there’s any silver lining to this election result its that the Tories may well come to rue the saying, be careful what you wish for, it might come true. They can no longer blame everything on the lib dems. Cameron will likely be facing off against backbench revolts over Scotland, Europe and a number of other fringe issues.

And with such a small majority and a partisan opposition, he’ll find it hard to get legislation passed, at least without relying on the Ulster Unionists who will demand their pound of flesh in return. In short, my prediction is that David Cameron will finish his premiership as another John Major…and we all remember what happened after that!

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6 thoughts on “The Reckoning – The view from Ireland

  1. we don’t need a perfect excuse for another referendum…..the UK parties have no mandate to govern in Scotland! democracy i know can be annoying for the Tories and their media cronies – you can’t always manipulate the populace to get what you want – leaving devo max out of the choice was Camy’s big mistake – he will go down in history as PM to lose the Union….

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  2. Pingback: The erosion of public sector work | daryanblog

  3. Pingback: Project Fear v’s Project Doom | daryanblog

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