General Election 2019 - A Personal Opinion
Welcome back for part 2 in an irregular series: my thoughts on UK politics, in the context of an upcoming election. As before, these comments are presented here for your convenience - they are much easier to ignore if consolidated into one easy to miss tirade. If you don't want my opinion then now is the time to turn back.
The country is, politically speaking, in an almighty mess. We don't need to look particularly hard to identify the epicentre of the destruction - the 2016 EU Referendum. Prior to 2016 the UK's membership of the EU was a cause for concern to almost no-one. Unfortunately we were five years into a Conservative lead program of austerity. Cuts to the public sector were really beginning to bite. The UKIP party, with it's program of isolationism and thinly veiled hatred was getting traction, and David Cameron needed to reverse that trend and secure his mandate.
Austerity is not without merit. In the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis, there was a clear need to control mounting national debt. But austerity can take two forms, cost cutting or working to increase tax revenue. The fundamental sin committed by the Conservative party over the past nine years of austerity is that they have undertaken a viscious program of cost-cutting, without any meaningful penalty to the wealthy or corporate class. Given the accepted wisdom that cuts affect the poorest first, the less well-off have borne the burden of depravation in order to balance the country's books (not that the debt has actually been reduced). Meanwhile the super rich have continued to line their pockets. Let them eat cake indeed.
The result, a society deeply divided by wealth, opportunity, and access to care. An NHS close to breaking point with waiting lists and staff morale at all-time lows, schools, police forces, and a criminal justice system crippled by cuts, rising poverty, homelessness, and extensive use of foodbanks.
And that brings us back to Brexit. The leave campaign latched onto the rising revolt, and utilised the EU as a scapegoat for the malaise. A good chunk of the Great British public believed the lies and took the opportunity to exact revenge both on the EU for 'stealing' our NHS money, and key figures in government seen to be supporting an allegiance with these continental 'thieves'.
Despite what some readers may believe, I am still ambivalent on the UK's membership of the EU. I still think there are arguments for both sides *. But, let's be absolutely clear:
The EU did not cause the social divide in the UK, nor will leaving the EU fix the problem.
So we find ourselves in a situation where the country is on its knees, thanks to the nasty policies of the nasty party, admittedly endorsed in part by the Lib Dems in coallition. We have since wasted the past three years failing to fix a problem that didn't exist, instead of investing in our society and services... and now we stand on the brink of an election that could see the same Conservatives achieve a fresh majority to crack on with more of this madness. Except it isn't even the same Conservative party - it is a new breed of Tory party freshly culled of moderates, who gave their political careers to prevent the country from a damaging 'no deal' Brexit in October.
The standing Conservatives have made their spending plans the cornerstone of the election campaign. Even for them, Brexit has become something that needs to 'get done' before they can concentrate on more important matters. Gone is any enthusiam for leaving, it has now just become a bitter pill we are expected to swallow. The societal problems the Conservatives promise to fix are of their own creation, and it is they that have wasted the time. And we all know that Brexit isn't over on the 31st January. I am at a complete loss to explain why anyone would consider another Conservative government the right choice to move us forward.
But there is more, the Conserverative leader is shifty and a proven liar, incapable of answering even the most straightforward of questions. The last cabinet was made up of the most scurrilous and least trustworthy zealots you might imagine. Their opportunist objectives are barely hidden in plain sight. Many of these individuals prevented Brexit progress by voting against their own former leader's 'deal' in an attempt to force a 'no deal' that could prove financially lucrative for themselves and their dubious backers. Gove, Raab, Javid, Patel, Hancock, Rees-Mogg, Cleverly, none of them are the sort of people you'd trust to run a bath, let alone the country. The party sold-out their allies in Northern Ireland and tried to close down Parliament unlawfully.
Despite it being said that a liberal is a man too broadmnided to take his own side in a quarrel, let me make my position absolutely clear:
Please don't vote Conservative. Especially not these Conservatives. You will regret it.
So who can we vote for? Sadly, the options aren't great. Thanks to our stale electoral system, we are rather snookered. A Conservative majority can be won with a slim share of the vote. I'm pretty clear that avoiding a Tory government is my number one goal, and therefore a degree of tactical voting in marginal seats is probably the order of the day. But for many, our local influence is limited. In which case I suggest going with your conscience; pick the policies that resonate the most. As Irvine Welsh wrote on Twitter: "When you're not doing so well, vote for a better life for yourself. If you are doing quite nicely, vote for a better life for others."
I appreciate that it is easy for me to take the moral high-ground from a position of great privilege, I will be OK either way (in fact I'd undoubtedly be better off under the Conservatives). However, I think we have reached a turning point, where society is teetering on the brink of crisis. Now is the time to step up and steer a different course. To address the social divide for our children and grandchildren. I consider myself well informed, and I am looking forward to the election, but cannot call the result. Over the past few years, I have invested many hours watching Parliamentary debate, following stories, reading and listening to political analysis from numerous and varied sources. Becoming really quite boring; who else has ridden for hours on their turbo trainer glued to the Parliament channel? Oh, just me. I confess to finding the situation fascinating, and there is good sense and key discriminators between the options if you are prepared to look carefully.
On fiscal policy, we must go after the corporate sharks ahead of the benefit scroungers. It's a well known fact that the rich steal more than the poor; to put this into context consider that around 2 billion is lost each year to benefit cheats, whilst Uber alone have dodged 1.5 billion in VAT. Major names like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks are well known for side-stepping their corporation tax responsibilities on the vast profits they make, but there are many many others. Companies with billion pound profit margins paying no tax, or in some cases actually earning money from government tax handouts (such as BP, despite making 5.6 billion in profit). That all said, society has a major responsibility to pay in also, and I firmly believe in a time of necessary belt-tightening the onus should rest predominantly with the better off. If that means I need to pay more tax, please sign me up. If such investment results in a more balanced society, you can double my increase.
Increasing tax revenue is one thing, ensuring it is well spent is a different matter. To this end, I think we can trust Corbyn's Labour Party. Maybe the country needs a lurch to the left to restore key investment in schools and hospitals. An over-correction in public funding. It may not be the end goal, but it would certainly be better in the short-term than the vacuous promises coming from the Conservatives. Or worse - Conservative profiteering will see an Americanization of the NHS - further privatisation and monetisation of disease. I do like the more realistic tax and spending model of the Lib Dems, giving people freedom, and treating everyone like equal adults. But so much of their current planning hinges on the ability to wind back the Brexit catastrophe. A Green economy is ambitious, and of course the right direction, and we have to hope that this good sense can infiltrate the corridors of power.
Promoting the environment is essential. As a country we can not correct the problem alone, our contribution to pollution is neglible, even when you take into account that our emissions are largely outsourced. But there is much we can do, for instance stopping sending our recycling overseas to landfill, or for it just to be dumped in those far away seas. Or closer to home we can make our houses more efficient, using government money to do so if necessary. The most useful thing we can do is invest in technology, and the countries where it is most needed. Sadly our place at the EU table was critical to maintaining global influence, now we may find ourselves having to sacrifice environmental principles to secure favourable trade terms with major polluters.
On trust in politics, I know better than to expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even when it ends up in the courts. Sadly, honesty has not been at the fore-front of British Politics for a number of years. Many commentators will say this is the case for all sides... but that is simply not accurate. It is quite evident to me that, in terms of both number and scale, the Conservative Party have a far more estranged relationship with the truth than their opposition. This approach is straight from the Trump playbook, muddy the water, and blur the lines between truth and untruth. When caught lying, shrug and move on, don't apologise - the message is already out - falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.
Whataboutism is everywhere, especially on social media; facts and expert opinion are meaningless. I don't subscribe to the wider anti-Corbyn agenda, and actually those that do are often unable to explain why they do? Is it an anti-semitism born from a pro-Palestine stance? Or associating with terrorists in order to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland? These memes are created, admittedly from challenging policies, and broadcast. They stick when other politicans appear teflon coated.
Personally, in this election, I am gravitating towards the Liberal Democrats from a general perspective, but value the Green message above any other single policy. I'm pretty sure I will vote one of these two ways, not surprising considering I am a member of both of these parties. I may be convinced to vote Labour if polling suggests this provides any realistic possibility of ousting our resident Conservative rosetted donkey. Sadly to get where I want to go, you wouldn't start from here.
Please do go and vote. Choose wisely :)
Thanks for reading!
* In brief, the EU is like a buyers club. We pay a membership fee to access an organised trade network, and utilise other facilities like centralised security infrastructure, and take advantage of common privileges like freedom of movement. The actual cost, per person per year, might be as much as 145 GBP. The boost to our economy from belonging to this club means that as a country we benefit significantly, so in reality it probably costs us collectively next to nothing... but I accept that these benefits are not tangible to many individuals. I personally think our membership is worth it, but I can understand why others don't.