The General election of 2015 in the UK has variously been described as ‘the death of liberalism’ or ‘the death of the Labour party’ and so on. Might it not be better, more accurate too, simply to refer to it as The Death of Politics – certainly for a decade or so to come?
Here’s why. First of all none of the manifestos, with a public sector shrinking at a rate of billions of pounds per annum, was likely to be an accurate reflection or benchmark of what was to come; a good deal of the speculation therein was likely to be unattainable whilst one or two of such documents - notably those of the Conservatives and Greens – could profitably have been transposed into album covers for the former ‘Yes’ group, so wide of the mark of possibility were they.
Then let’s look at the parties themselves and the individual outcome for each last May. The Liberal Democrats have finally hit the buffer-stops predicted by many for some time. A proportion of their ex-MPs might as well go off into exile to work on cotton or sugar plantations, whilst local party AGMs will revert to being what they have already been in the majority of constituencies for a number of years; tea and fruit-cake shared by silver-surfers in armchairs with a tentative vision, perhaps, for a motion on fund-raising to come at next year’s AGM. And Labour? It seems, now, that Labour’s activists have finally come out of the shadows; tired of pretending to be reasonable and normal they’re stepping out in hundreds, in brief, to the tune of the Great Pretender of Islington North, that Pied Piper who is surely leading them on to join many failed anti-capitalists with the ‘dancers under the hill’?
Neither the Green party nor UKIP fared outstandingly well in things, either. Whilst the majority of Green party candidates on their own, never mind the manifesto, for not voting for them and that the party of Caroline Lucas doesn’t have that much financially to say, UKIP floundered on the margins of Parliamentary extinction outside Clacton following their swollen European result, interestingly losing ground to the Liberal Democrats even there. Comparable with Mussolini in 1943 its leader resigned only to be re-instated by fanatics. In Thanet, Kent, UKIP took control of their first council in England only to lose that thanks to in-fighting shortly afterwards.
What, then, of the Conservatives – they won, didn’t they? Well, yes, if you think a majority of so few and thirty-six per cent of the vote constitutes victory; more significantly they appealed to that ongoing and seemingly ever-increasing mass of British people who seem to feel politics should be de-politicised (which equates to making caffeine itself caffeine-free, I suspect). What is most worrying at present is that the Conservatives may be here to stay for a while – maybe up to ten, twenty, even thirty years. We appear to be facing a situation not dissimilar to that in the early nineteenth century when once the last Liberal resistance (e.g. over slavery) had burnt out characters such as the Duke of Wellington who, despite stumbling to victory at Waterloo two hundred years ago wouldn’t have recognised social justice from a yellow submarine and Peel, who probably only managed to split the Tory party so neatly down the middle because of the vat contemporary over-stocking of that breed, successfully aspired to and trifled with the Premiership.
But before we reach for that tea and fruit-cake we shouldn’t give up completely. To continue the above analogy, by the 1830s a group of people - largely new to politics – had emerged who firmly believed that Britain’s bank accounts shouldn’t be balanced, and her ‘enterprise zone’ theme-parks beautified, on the backs of either developing country poverty and exploitation or disdain for Europe (do the ‘giants’ here sound familiar?). They were a fresh liberal and democratic intake, soon to take over where a great Reform Act which they had so campaigned for gave them a distinct opportunity to begin all things again with a clean(ed) slate. To end shoe-less, ill-housed children walking the streets of London, for example, or beggars without recourse to welfare. So Tim Farron, don’t despair completely. Keep making those radical statements. Others will join you. Politics may be dead right now, but if there is enough goodwill meaningful intentional politics and genuine resource redistribution may resurface with a bold case nevertheless.
It’ll be a matter of holding the line for some time yet though. At the present time latter-day ‘Dukes of Wellington’ and others like them are having their day and will have to hear them out and then, so to speak, contemptuously spit so much of it back in their faces
Neil Hughes is a Cumbria county councillor.