Monday, 24 April 2017

The era of zombie politcs

It looks like Britain is overwhelmingly going to vote for a conservative government. This by no means is an endorsement of Theresa May. She is neither loved nor despised. She is a caretaker prime minister and as close to an adequate functionary as we are going to get for the purposes of leaving the EU.

As much as anything this is Britain playing it safe. There is no possible way Jeremy Corbyn could be considered an adequate leader but he is only part of the problem. Labour is out of its depth and it is not equipped for the challenges of the day.

For all of my adult life the issue of the European Union has split the Conservative Party and has prevented it from uniting. It cost them the 2005 election and prevented it from winning outright in 2010. In order to exploit this Labour has taken a broadly pro-EU stance. In that regard, Labour’s support for EU membership has never been wholly honest.

For the most part this tacit support for the EU has served them well. It has saved them from having to engage in the subject matter and it has kept the Tories off balance. Now though, the issue is the defining issue of the day and Labour is boxed in on all sides. Many of its core constituencies voted to leave – most of them being their working class base. Consequently the party is unable to offer a coherent position on Brexit. It has of its own volition opted out. It has nothing useful to say on the matter and would alienate half its voters if it did.

Thus far the best Corbyn has been able to muster are a collection of recycled themes from the US election about the system being rigged, stealing the clothes of populists and complaining about media bias. This is loser talk.

What’s disappointing about this is that there is still a mission for a decent left wing party. Labour just doesn’t know how to connect with voters. Corbyn speaks of a rigged system but so far I have heard nothing that really speaks to how it is rigged and what he would do about it. He speaks of a fairer society but as a long standing MP on decent salary I think he’s forgotten what it’s even like to struggle.

One universal truth about life in Britain is that being poor is expensive. If you can’t meet payments you are hit with further costs and bank charges. Rents are more than likely crippling and food costs are spiralling. Even for the middle classes disposable income is shrinking and wages are stagnating. There is clearly scope for a radical government. Sadly though, all Corbyn has to offer are defunct socialist ideas from the 1970’s.

What I find most depressing about this election though is that Labour is not alone in its complete inability to present a worthwhile prospectus for government. You would think that Ukip, the party that campaigned the hardest and the longest for our exit from the EU would have an entire agenda ready to roll for when we do. Instead it has chosen to become a dismal nativist party complaining about Muslims.

As to the Liberal Democrats, they are political opportunists. Since Corbyn has ruled out a second referendum there is nowhere else for remain inclined voters to go. Running on an anti-Brexit platform is an astute move on their part if they wish to revive their fortunes. This though is not an agenda for government. It is a clamber to preserve the status quo, which would not have delivered a Brexit vote were it satisfactory.

To me this is a sign that UK politics has lost its way. Having outsourced government to the EU it has killed the art of politics. We are no longer seeing parties fighting to promote agendas. Instead we get within a few weeks of an election where each of the husk parties pluck feel-good ideas out of the air and run with them. Most are so completely at odds with reality that there is little hope of ever implementing them. Gone are the days where parties would invest in good research and present a coherent and joined up prospectus to the electorate.

If there is one thing I have learned about politics and government it is that everything is connected and if you want certain outcomes then you need joined up policymaking. We need to see credible and detailed plans but what we get instead is differing versions of the same thing. Bogus promises to divide the spoils of power among their respective voter bases according to what is fashionable.

Throughout the 2015 election I blogged almost daily on the rolling train wreck that was the UKIP campaign. What I didn’t realise was that we were seeing a new template for incompetence emerging. Bereft of their own ideas and strategies it seems that the zombie parties are disintegrating in the same way. This is why we are seeing a Conservative landslide. It’s the closest thing to competent we are going to get.

Tories, though, should not be complacent. Once they have solidified their majority they will feel safe in office and rebels within the party will be emboldened. The Tory party at peak has a strong tradition of being its own opposition. It won’t take very long for the infighting to start and eventually it will bring down the May administration in much the same way that Mrs Thatcher was deposed. What we then find is that the talent pool for successors is mighty shallow. We can then expect a disorganised rabble and as is typical for Tory governments we will see fresh corruption allegations week in week out. We’ll have come full circle.

It is true that all politics is cyclic but it seems that each iteration is somehow more debased than the last. Movement building is a lost art and so by the time the Tories fall out of favour there will be nothing left to choose from. The options at the next election will be even bleaker than they are now.

There was a time when I might have taken a closer look at the stock of politicians to see if there is any sign of life. Now they are just names and faces in a creaking and decaying system. If we are looking to Westminster for leadership then we are looking in the wrong place. 

It seems to me that politics will remain broken until such a time as we see a new movement that knows how to do politics. Ukip ultimately failed because it had nothing of substance to offer. Similarly the SNP have jumped the shark for the same reasons. They wanted independence for its own sake had had no programme for government. That much is now abundantly clear. This teaches us that anyone can start a brand and advance it into positions of and influence. The problem is that in a culture where knowledge carries very little currency these upstarts don't know what to do with power when they get it.  

We can see the same even in the Tory party. We have a prime minister who never especially wanted Brexit thus is unable to add substance to it and a Brexit movement so obsessed with its 1990's narratives that it has nothing that speaks to the real world. On the fringes we see Brexiteers concocting manifestos for resurrecting the Commonwealth completely oblivious to the world as it now is. Competence seems too much to ask. 

This is ultimately why we cannot expect any real improvement from the next government. The next crop of MPs will be yet another band of ambitious but clueless party hacks eager to climb the greasy pole. Already my Facebook is a grim spectacle of party devotees suspending their critical faculties to put on a good show for their local party associations. 

For the foreseeable future it looks like politics will remain the same daily grind as exasperated and bored voters peck at the carcass of Westminster politics. Far from seeing a Conservative revival we are electing a stop gap government. This is not a party driven by anything other than self-preservation. The Tories are as dead as Labour. They just don't know it yet. 

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