On the eve of the UK general elections 2015, I hoped a much awaited Labour led coalition government after five years’ dismal rule by the Conservatives. Eight hours later, that hope was shattered by a Tory majority. All the myths, predictions, analyses were proved wrong, including a number of hypotheses I had drawn in the past on British politics and its future. Being a dress down day at work, I wore a t-shirt with a bold statement, which showed the flag of the UK with a skull at the background. In my opinion, nothing better summarised the outcomes of the general election than that t-shirt, the coming five years will be tarnished with disaster, despair, poverty, death. This is an attempt to analyse the build-up to the election and its aftermath with a historical and social context.
• Campaign and fallacies in 2010 elections
Although the Conservative agenda always circles around championing the individual excellence, which is the cornerstone of the capitalist world-view, in practice, this meant further inequality in an already fragmented Britain. In 2010, the coalition came in power due to the follies of Blair government in Iraq war, as well as widespread mass hysteria regarding migrant workers from EEA taking over jobs from British working class. During 2010 elections, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also blamed the previous Labour government of excessive spending, resulting to an increased national debt, as well as of a slow recovery from the recession of 2008. Also, the fiscal policy adopted by the then labour government to recover from the recession was in direct contrast with the capitalist ethos of monetary corrections, and it was apparent to common British voters that Labour spent a lot of money, and in the way, lost its credibility to run the country to the road of recovery.
It was only after the election was won that the devious and untrue nature of the Tory campaign, backed by the Rupert Murdoch funded British media were becoming clear. The economic recovery in the entire western world has been sluggish, and Britain was no exception. The recuperation of the German economy was cited many times during the election campaigns, but the recovery came through the fiscal reforms, by making people spend their way out of the recession, not by introducing cuts. Labour tried the same method as well, but was only let down by the British public due to risk-averseness and not taking the incentives offered by the government. Also, the national debt that was proved to be another downfall for Labour, it was proved that the national debt inherited by Labour government at the end of John Major government was already high, but the media represented the figures as though the debt was incurred only during the Labour regime.
• Synopsis on Tory rule 2010-2015
Although the Lib-Dems were part of the government, and they attempted to implement a number of policies they have pledged for prior to the 2010 election, it was clear from the outset that the Conservatives will start the austerity and cuts to social services straight away. It was evident when within a year in the government, the highest earners’ income tax was lowered to 45% from 50% that previous Labour government introduced. If this was not a clear indication of which sector of the population the government is protecting, nothing ever would. Not only benefiting the higher earners — be it through tax reductions or offering tax havens to non-domiciles, it did not stop there. The working class has been squeezed through reduction of the child relief thresholds or proposing to increase the working age. NHS saw further privatisation whilst the practices were to be controlled by a trust, redundancies for nurses and stretching the already stressed system to its breaking point. During previous Labour regime, a maximum time limit was set for the consultants to offer treatment to their patients within three months from the first appointment. Under the Tory rule, these time limits were disbanded, hence achieving a saving in the running cost, but at the expense of patients’ health and recovery. Then came the damned bedroom tax rule. Admittedly benefits were there, but no exceptions were allowed, hence leaving people with disability needing carers paying for the extra rooms or move to a house where there would be no room for carers to stay. In educational sector, struggling schools were bullied into becoming Academies, managing their own budget or be threatened to stop all funding. Between 2010 and 2015, the employment sector has improved, but this was more attributable to the recovery of the global economy rather than positive contribution from the government. Thus time will be remembered for the much maligned Back to work scheme where people without work have been encouraged to go and work for employers without any form of payment, hence, effectively working for free.
The ultimate evidence of Tory connivance and their cronies and the extent of corruption in media, governance and juridical system during the Conservative regime was brought into daylight in the News of the world controversy. Andy Coulson, who worked closely with David Cameron was the prime suspect of the phone hacking scandal and was jailed, but News of the World being a Tory mouthpiece, the involvement of the phone hacking during the previous general election was exposed. The same goes for the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks, who was a close friend of David Cameron as well. News of the world went out of publication, but the full extent of Tory involvement in the phone hacking is yet to be known.
From these and numerous other similar examples, a general observation was evident; the Tory regime had paved the path for big businesses and staunch Tory benefactors to increase their wealth, whilst punishing the rest of the 99% of the population. The number of food banks opened have been quadrupled, poor people got poorer, heading towards a precipice.
The only unambiguously praiseworthy action taken by the previous Conservative government was legalisation of gay marriage amidst scathing criticism from Tory backbenchers through insistence from David Cameron.
• Nationalism and Britain
With the financial interest of the 1% top earners ring-fenced, the Tories have then managed, not only to distract the downtrodden 99% from their woes, but they did it so discretely that it left the nation divided into many fragments. On one side, there was the vilification of the poor working class, often referred as “feckless”, and on the other side they have created a red herring in the form of EEA migrant workers and the concept of all minimum wage roles going to the foreign workers. This second ploy led to thriving a number of right wing nationalist parties, mainly UKIP. In 2014, Britain was swept by a spate of nationalism, first, during the Scottish referendum, and then later in the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Scottish referendum not only affected Scotland, the dichotomy also resulted in strong nationalist sentiments at the south side of Hadrian’s wall as well. The Scots were divided in opinion almost equally between Yes and No for an independent Scotland, and finally managed to stay within the UK by a whisker, as the uncertainty of being outside the aegis of UK and EU outweighed the hopes to break free of the shackles from the controls of Westminster. However, this instigated a strong feeling of Scottish nationalism as a large number of people, who voted No only did so to think of their immediate financial situation, despite the urge of breaking were felt strongly. On the other hand, the big brother England felt a different sense of nationalism, the English nationalism, whereby the public saw Scotland as an appendage to the English state, a partisan and not contributing to the government by an equal proportion. The view of the intelligentsia may have weighed up or down the benefits of gaining independence from the situation, the public opinion hovered around seceding from the Scottish union, and “let then grovel back to us for funds in six months”. This was a situation reasonably reaped by the nationalist right wing parties and the popularity soared for then and UKIP became a major threat in realising Labour’s aspiration of forming a government. Although the UKIP policies would have sent the nation teetering back, the white working class that saw Labour as their saviour from Tory atrocities so far, saw a change of heart as UKIP offered them more tangible benefits — no foreigners taking jobs, cheap beer, no EU.
• The Labour opposition
The Lib-dems were almost out of the fray the day they joined the coalition government as the long standing supporters felt compromised from their anti-Conservative position. Hence, it was only down to the Labour to oust the coalition led government, unlike in 2010, when Lib-dems proved to be a potent adversary to the incumbent. Labour’s ascent since the failure in 2010 was not smooth, within months from the election, the leadership vote became a fierce encounter between Miliband brothers, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Then a Labour member, I voted Ed over David expecting his trade union background would prove more belligerence in character than the suave Blairite David. On Ed’s election saw the Miliband brotherhood broken, and it took a long time for Ed to gain credibility amongst Labour’s most loyal supporters, let alone winning over the Conservative voters. Personally, with my left wing visions, I saw Labour gradually becoming a quasi-Tory entity, especially during London mayoral elections — the policy offerings were not different enough to sway the voters, and I gradually became disillusioned during the mid-term of the Tory government. Then came 2013, as Ed Miliband delivered his most fiery speech since the ascension to leadership, and the Labour proposed the most ground-breaking proposals — the bring back taxing the highest earners at higher rate, increase inheritance tax, or the free rein of energy companies and create a new bank from British Investments — offering the most radical changes to the British economy and governance. A clear lurch towards left, and the everybody was anxious — the capitalist market, the investors, Tory British media, and the government. Some argue that that’s what the Conservatives always wanted, a left wing Labour so they can oppose it with the old communist line of attack. Ed Miliband was immediately branded Red Ed, and it was not a contest between Conservatives versus Labour any more; all other stakeholders to be affected from the Labour government weighed in. Labour’s popularity soared as they won council elections by a large margin, but the English nationalism element in the British psyche saw a number of votes poached by the UKIP. People were swayed, but the stigma of immigration and Eastern European workers still haunted Labour, as did their propensity to support minorities, with the horrid details of Lee Rigby’s murder or the recent rise of ISIS still alive in people’s memories, they didn’t trust Islam, nor Labour as the mouthpiece for minorities and equality. With UK fragmented from various counts, it was absolutely important to launch an election campaign that offers some dividends to all such segments, for a re-unified country and government. Treading on eggshells, Labour had to offer a proposal alluring all segment of voters, and what interest one faction would drive another away from them, keeping a knife-edge balance on its election campaign.
• Election campaigns 2015
The election campaign started with the usual hype in the media and the Middle-class and the casual indifference from the working class. 2015 was going to be the year of the women, with Nicola Sturgeon of SNP, Nicola Bennett of Green Party and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru took the centre stage. There was only one clear winner emerging from the first debate, and it was Nicola Sturgeon. With a clear Scotland-centric agenda and a number of policies veered away from the safe grounds of central left or central right, SNP already offered something for the Scottish people that would have been a part of Labour’s agenda. This should have raised alarms on Labour policy makers, as it wood have, when Nick Clegg stole the show during 2010 debates; and last minute alterations were needed to offer equally bold policies to steer the Scottish nationalist votes back towards Labour. Instead, seeing the election results of the previous year, Labour leadership trod on the side of caution and published a manifesto that, without the Labour logo, is hard to guess which party they were from due to its lack of USP. All the hard work over two years, all the hopes it kindled in the minds of the followers were all undone in a moment of hesitation and panic. The legitimacy of the Labour election campaign was hard to make credit due to the leadership issues, but the poor manifesto possibly alienated the voters willing to change their view. Labour’s stand on immigration, austerity, debt, spends on defence especially trident, sustainability, employment and social security failed to convince the British working class that they can offer a star government capable of resolving all the hardships the families face by the Tory regime. In issues like environment, SNP in Scotland and Green Party across UK took much more firm position than Labour and it perhaps disillusioned the environmentalist lobby, which makes a large proportion when the election results will show that Green emerges as the fourth largest party in the UK. Similarly in governance, SNP proposed reforms that was expected fro Labour, and even they were identical in areas, a Labour vote meant devolving power to Westminster whilst an SNP vote would see the poets and policies staying at Holyrood and being implemented in Scotland. In fact if it were not for the female trio, ration debate would have been a lacklustre event as none of the other parties manages to set themselves apart, excluding the conflagrating opinions by Nigel Farage. From that respect, David Cameron has been the most consistent and credible contender, backed by the continuous vilification of Ed Miliband in the Tory biased media and the Conservative election campaign, arguably funded by the wealthy Tory donors, with a possible return of favours following the election triumph. The Conservatives have even featured themselves as working people’s party, but the basis for such incredulous claims were not established, as was the fact with no details on funding cuts but showing additional investments based on these funding cuts.
• Poll result Analyses
At 10 PM on the election day, the exit poll figures on BBC were surprising, and with the benefit of hindsight, analysts with political astuteness should have guessed such an outcome if the trends were followed in recent months and their reason were not clouded by feelings. The exit poll results were pretty devastating for all parties except Tories but people kept their heads high. By the following morning, it was all over, the Conservatives even improved the exit poll predictions, even though not by large amount, but significant enough to provide absolute majority to form a government without coalition. Geographical division of seats were even more interesting and thought provoking. Whilst in 2010, all Scotland was painted red, Labour lost almost all the seats in Scotland. Wales was still a Labour majority but looking at England, the picture was catastrophic. Barring some spots of red in North of England, and London and Birmingham, Labour was obliterated everywhere. The reds have lost their appeal to Scottish people as they did to English population. Lib-dems were decimated, the much hype about UKIP was proven to be non-existent, but a trend was clear — the sweep of nationalism on both sides of the Scottish Border. The SNP emerged as strongest party to lead and defend Scottish interest whereas for England, fear and greed has swung the election in the favour of Conservatives.
In my opinion, there are no better weapons for winning the election than hunger and fear. With the number is homeless destitute persons on the rise, and all the austerity measures in place, it was a simple deduction that the people would want to see the tides change, they want this desperate time to be over. But there were two factors that prevented the full effect of hunger factor to be reflected in the results. Due to Lib-dem interjections, the Tory austerity measures were not as severe as if would have been had they won the absolute majority in 2010. Also, the average voters hovering around 70% mark, perhaps the worst affected part of the population was not interested in taking part of the election when the food for the next day has to be thought of — change in government wouldn’t change that fact overnight. And then there was the fear factor. Evolution of mythology is a proof that we want to know what we are afraid of; and this gave rise to millions of various depiction of monsters, ghosts, demons. In this election, a fear was instilled in the voters’ psyche, a fear without a shape or form, presented with the back up of data. From the fateful day in 2013 at Labour Party conference, the capitalist biased media has been trying to infuse fear in the minds of English population — be it direct demonising on the tabloids or subtle connotations in The Telegraph — media made it a private vendetta against Labour and its leadership. They feared. They feared of a liberal centre-left government would spell doom for the Conservatives, give voice to the Tory backbenchers already questioning the leadership of Cameron, a regrouped Conservative party will have long roads of reform. Amongst the people feared were the big businesses and Tory donors, whose tax evasion and preferential treatment would have come to a halt as well. The media turned this fear into a fear that the working class could relate to, hence the reasons were changed to immigration, jobs, economic reform, whereby keeping the facts clouded under vague predictions did help Tories turning the public against Labour’s ethos. Britain’s ageing population also meant that there is a huge Conservative royalist support base, who would see the large changes as a threat to the state, an anarchy in the development. Looking at election result, this fear of unknown and unseen regime that is purported to stop all businesses working, open doors to all EU workers, harbour radical Islamists under the name of ethical treatment, let EU interfere in all interim governance matters — threats of a communist state, has driven the voters especially in England, where people chose to opt for the incumbent. Looking at the possible results with a proportional representation system makes the situation grimmer with UKIP winning 82 seats based on its number of votes polled. This is a failure of the mainstream political parties when popularity of right wing parties like UKIP soars up, which is a real threat to unbalance the British society, its rich multiculturalism and liberal values. Too much was and will be said about Labour policy ignoring English voters as well as the middle class, but if Conservative approach to tackle challenges faced by the middle class is more acceptable by the society than Labour’s, this must be a major concern on society’s view on politics, ethics and governance. It’s not that Labour failed to rise up to the expectations of the British public, it was rather the public became risk-averse on the prospect of a radical reform to the political system, which is essential to avoid the society heading towards a state of static inertia. At the beginning I mentioned that the results proved some of my views on the electorate wrong. I assumed that since 2010, a trend was created that all future governments will be coalition and no party will be able to meet demands of every different combination of factions. The results showed I was wrong. However, the Conservatives seem to take no risk in terms of targeting its agenda biased towards its biggest support base — English middle class. And this is where Labour failed, as they put more focus on UK as a collective identity than to be populist. This is where my second hypothesis went wrong. I expected the British electorate to be progressive, embracing the new values and changes, but it turned out that the public were anything but that entity. This is a protectionist, risk-averse, myopic state that people would rather want to be a part of.
On the other side, Labour’s failure and rise of SNP in Scotland was shocking but imminent, the leadership must have felt the change in the tide. Referendum on Scotland left the Scots divided on opinion but unified them under the same Scottish flag, realise the potential of a political party fighting for the priorities for Scotland and its people. A very regional approach, contrary to a one UK concept, but limiting the target audience helped SNP secure the record number of seats, leaving all other mainstream parties almost obliterated in Scotland.
• Aftermath of the election results
As an immediate aftermath of dismal performance by all major parties but Conservatives, there was a public outrage amongst party backbenchers to remove the leadership. First to step down was Nick Clegg, who, with the decision to join coalition in 2010 had already done a political hara-kiri to the reputation and trust for Liberal Democrats, yet managed five years of reflected glory being in the shadows of David Cameron. Ed Miliband followed suite during the midday when he took the full responsibility for Labour’s calamitous results. It was a gracious speech, delivered in his typical automaton fashion, eyes hardly lifting off his notes. But his eyes said it all — looking beyond the vacant stare, there stood ask struggling to control his emotions, perhaps hundreds of questions were going through his mind but without any answers. And finally, in a very dramatical manner Nigel Farage cast his resignation as promised, but gave a hint that until August when he might even be re-elected because without him, UKIP had no identity. With all three leaders of main opposition parties resigned, UK is a dangerous situation, as nothing is stopping Tories spearheading with their harsh cuts and other measures of austerity before even the oppositions have regrouped and chosen their leaders. It’s not only the leadership that pushed the parties on the back foot, but also the party stalwarts, who would have led the opposition during parliament question hours, have fallen as well in their bid to win a seat at the House of Commons. A first Tory majority government in 18 years, brings bitter memories from Thatcher era. The government is hardly going to be working people’s party as it preached to be, and the austerities will be brought about straight away. This will be an advantage being incumbent, as Cameron once claimed business as usual from first day. The Conservatives have also got Boris Johnson elected as an MP from a safe seat; doldrums in the other parties will give Boris to settle down fast and pave his way to possibly become the next Tory party leader after 2020. The 2010-15 reign might not be classed as the worst the Conservatives could be, that period has definitely paved the way for a more stricter, hardline Tory rule, breaking up the British society into further class divisions. This will also give them time to achieve an agreement with Bruxelles on the issue of EU referendum. The situation on the other side of the fence is getting worse. Labour leadership elections have always been fraught with fierce rivalry amongst candidates, exposing the internal fissures in the party. The MPs already declaring their willingness to stand up for the leadership position is similar to, as someone aptly put, taking jewellery off the dying relatives. The ex leaders have been too prompt to criticise Miliband as leader, but failed to acknowledge the fact that Labour lost the election due to their Thatcherist compromises in the party command. Adding further woes, Allan Sugar resigned from Labour membership. I am not personally as much concerned with this at one level, because in the end he is a businessman, trying to make a profit, which Labour policy curbed. His defection however is crucial for the party as the election is now won outside the leaders’ debate and speech, or the candidates knocking on the doors of the voters, it is a battleground for business houses, media, and to fight fire with fire Labour do need funding, and they have lost a valuable donor. I still hope they don’t grovel back to him once the new leader is elected, trying to compromise policies for funding. However, all in not bleak and gloomy in this crucial juncture of British politics. Green Party has evolved substantially and nearly annexed Lib-dems in proportional representation analyses, showing a growing trend for the future general voters to choose more radical liberal and social reforms orientated parties. This is also a period with highest number of female MPs. And the most unifying news in the end, BNP which has been in the surge during last general election is obliterated from the arena of British politics, proving a point that people don’t tolerate the right wing politics, and the fate of UKIP will follow the same trend, it’s just a matter of when.
• Future of British Politics
The next five years of Tory rule will be earmarked for its atrocities on the lowest strata of the population. The food banks will be on overdrive, more people will be homeless, further cuts will drive struggling families to fall apart or into desperation, cuts will continue to happen in all public services — stretching them further to the breaking point. The NHS, although promised to be ring fenced, will see longer working hours in the name of providing better service, yet without any extra resource. Zero hour contracts will be the only way one can secure s job, thus making it impossible to have a stable income when companies can exploit the system. The Labour will still have another bloody leadership battle, and the leader will either face the challenge of going back to neo-Labour coined by Tony Blair or continue the work Ed Miliband has started. A politically pragmatic move would be a more centrist Labour to win trust fro working class across UK, before going into more radical socialist reform, although that long-term goal should be set from the day the leader is elected, so the party works towards the same goal as they have in 2015, but with more caution keeping in mind that British population is still not mature enough to embrace the reforms Labour was proposing to bring about.
This brings to the conclusion, a look on the future of British politics. More crucial questions to be raised, that parties like Greens and SNP already started to ask, such as the future if the trident programme — why is this still being funded, which goes back to the question of fear again. A nuclear Armageddon is an American ploy used since cold-war era which they need as the biggest arms dealer in the world. Questions need to be raised on the relevance of House of Lords, with their pompous red ornate seats, and the hereditary peerage. Also the relevance of the Royal family and the monarchy. Free the Queen, rest of them will probably still live their life as celebrities, but what relevance is there of their role on British politics than just the term constitutional monarchy? What does the royal goodwill tours achieve that the businesses and politicians can’t? It is reassuring to find that the Buckingham Palace has to run on its own budget, nevertheless this is a huge outlay when the government is trying to claw back every penny being wasted, what is more important 500 NHS nurses/policemen/public service operatives or a bunch of people leading a lavish lifestyle on public money without any contribution to the economy. We are too quick to use terms like feckless scroungers on poor people, but the family supposedly at the helm of this “constitutional monarchy” (sounds as mouthy and vain as balderdash and hobgoblin) are no different either. There is so a public outcry for stopping foreign aid and immigration. Contrary to popular belief, foreign aid merely constitutes a minimal percentage of the nation spending, and a country with a long and dark history of colonialism should rather start by looking at the past before blaming all developing/ undeveloped nations for the misery of the Britons. Apart from all these contentious questions, a close look is needed on the electoral system as well, firstly to encourage and as the next stage penalise people for not voting. The role of media in making the nation is also questionable. At present, there are the tabloids, crude and distasteful cheap tack, yet the working class have not rejected this type of populist reporting. On the other hand, the broadsheet newspapers retained their snobbish reporting only targeted at the business leaders, academicians, bureaucrats and similar higher echelons on the social strata. The extreme bias between the Labour and Tory orientated newspapers are nauseating, where one news would be reported in completely different tones. Media will have to be liberal, arguably it is the fourth estate, but rather than snide and vitriolic attacks on anyone with a different perspective, the space for constructive criticism needs to be created, and media’s role during the election should be of a unbiased adjudicator, challenging ideas of all political parties and praising for changes for a better future. Also, the election mechanism starting from using electronic voting machines to dissolution of first past the post system — a lot needs changing and this will be a pithy challenge on any party running the government. Liberal parties will have to find the solution and convince the British public that the changes are essential to live in a synergistic compassionate world of tomorrow — expecting this from Tories would only result in frustration and desperation as they are only interested in culling foxes and the poorest of the poor into extinction.