Hopes of waking up to a bright new world have been abandoned, at least for some, as implausibly the Conservative Party gained a small majority to become the ruling party of the United Kingdom. As soon as the exit polls were released shortly after ten o’clock, bafflement, and promises of hat-eating were aired live, and no doubt In private quarters, as polls before the election had predicted the closest one in decades. If anything, they were pointing toward a Labour-coalition, because of the number of anti-tory parties that made up the opposition.
As the night rolled on, as numerous high profile Labour and Lib-Dem MP’s saw their seats go, either to the SNP or to the Conservatives, the dire prediction at the start of the night began to look like a formality. And indeed, it was worse than predicted – there was a majority for the Tories. Initial shock and surprise has now given way to, what could be described as, ‘broadsheet soul-searching’, and woodwork creaking. There was a chasm in the Labour party between the Blairites, and the direction that Miliband was trying to take the party already, but now this division is more obvious than ever. Keyboard warriors on social networking sites resort to the only weapon they know, – right bashing.
We shouldn’t really be surprised that Labour lost, and that the Lib-Dems were wiped out. All through the coalition years this was increasingly looking like it was going to happen. Of course it is easy to say this now, but lets look at the reasons why this happened, and why it will continue to happen, unless a genuine left is engineered in Britain.
I wrote a few weeks ago questioning what was really left any more in Britain, and Ed Miliband potentially represented that. However he came into lead the party at a time the party was so unsure of its direction after 13 years of New Labour, the centre-ground politics that liberalism, and neoliberalism promises. No, the reason that the Labour party is lost, not because the country is viciously right wing and austerity promoting, it is because the apparent opposition is so disarrayed that nobody on either its centre right, centre-left, or even further left trusts it in power. We know what the Tories are going to do now they don’t have the Liberals, but if Labour were in power can we honestly assume and lay hope in the they would take. It can be argued that there hasn’t been a Conservative majority (until now obviously), but since Major won in ’92, but more depressingly, it can be argued that there wasn’t a genuine left government since Harold Wilson.
The right are pulling away from the centre, liberal ground, so now its up to the left to do the same. The next 5 years for the Conservative majority maybe even more tough than their coalition days. Here are several issues that I believe led to the situation we’re In now, and why there is more hope, or at least daylight than there ever has been.
1. The Same People Vote.
Voter turnout was up this year, and is rising again after a low of 59.4% in 2001. Since then it has steadily grown and up to 66.1% this year (notably highest in Scotland at 71.1%), but is relatively nowhere near 77.7% of 1992, and 83.9% of immediately postwar, 1950. The same people will usually vote for the same parties, and there is only ever usually a 100 seats of the 650 that ever change. The apathism that still pervades the country as regards voting and seemingly in younger people is one of the factors that leads to the same results. One can hardly blame them, as they’re brought up in this neoliberal passivity, where politics is so ‘professionalised’. But by not participating, regardless of the technicalities of the first-past-the-post system (FPTP), you can not have a say. If anything spoil your card; send a message that way that you’re voting against the voting system.
It can only ever go two ways; everybody votes, and a large percentage spoil their card, send a message that they either do not believe in the voting system, or the political parties; secondly that, the same apathetic people do not vote listening to Russell Brand types about not voting. But the same people will always vote, which is why we get 60-70% turnouts each year. There is no third way: there is probably close to 0% chance of 0% of the population voting. Which leads us to…
2. The Voting System and Farage.
FPTP obviously benefits the two main parties, but it is also why the polls are so misleading. It sends shockwaves when big names like Ed Balls lose their seats and means that, you can vote for a particular candidate if you want them, but not necessarily endorsing their party. And here is one of the double-edged positives about Farage not getting in – the same can be said for the Greens – but Farage holds much more media power. He is a fervent opponent of the voting system, and with UKIP’s popularity growing, he will be more intolerable and detestable as ever, but the rhetoric of the votes they amassed related to the amount of MPs they got in power will persist.
Farage though was depicted as the enemy for this election by those on the left, which was completely wrong – Labour was its own enemy. They watched UKIP take some of the working-class white voters, further showing the dissolution of Labour’s message. This wasn’t Miliband’s primary fault, when the only glory Labour can remember is the New Labour years, and now, whoever the new leader of the party is, is going to have to contend and subdue these factions.
3. The I-word.
There are two words you could be thinking of here, in a schematic fashion at least. Immigration, and also identity of the national persuasion. Immigration again, Labour saw itself taking the ‘capping’ route in line with parties on the right. The problem with immigration is, and I’ve said this before, is that it is the perfect theory for capitalism to exist; immigration and free labour movement is required for capitalism, but it also provides a perfect ‘other’ of people ready to blame when capitalism ultimately fails us, like now.
Liberalism again, doesn’t allow immigration to be talked about. The petty non-pc that affects the centre, means that its an issue that the liberals can’t talk about. The right, naturally do not want immigration and anything affecting the nation state, where in a Marxist world ‘the proletariat have no country'; national identity is exposed as fallacy that assists in the capitalist game. Conservatives now will have freer reign on how they control immigration, and play the European Union card further going toward the UKIP position, reclaiming some of those defected voters.
4. The Other I
Feeding into the question of national-identity, this is going to be the most prominent question in the next five years. The United Kingdom, its parliament, has never looked so contentious, down to an inevitable referendum on the EU, but due to the emerging prominence of a particular party in Scotland. The SNP are the ones that have changed the face of politics in the United Kingdom, not the Tories, UKIP, Lib-Dems or Greens. No longer do the Tories have the Lib-Dems to support them in parliament and what they now have is a stronger, lefter opposition thanks to the SNP, who are also calling for more power in Scotland. But this is to overstate the national issue, which is what has been done by the media. The SNP did not emerge because of independence (and Nicola Sturgeon remained very coy on the question), but because they are primarily an anti-austerity party. The newspapers would prefer the emergence of this strong, left party to be down to the fickle matter of nationality, but it is down to the fact that the dominant party in Scotland ie.Labour had no assurances on their economic policy and anti-austerity. Sturgeon is a progressive looking leader of the left, and that is what the Scottish voters saw, and why Labour was ultimately wiped out.
5. Again – What’s Left.
Like a post I did a few weeks ago, the question is what is left? I’m bordering on a tirade against Russell Brand; he proclaims not to vote, and then suddenly endorses Ed Miliband as soon as he gets him in his kitchen, perhaps reflective of his stance on women. Any person on the left must realise that change does not come from a matyristic figure like Brand or Owen Jones – it comes from the collective . Brand is immersed in celebrity world, and his ability to engage with the young, hipsters, via youtube and social media is typically symptomatic of celebrity led politics. People also still blame newspapers and the Murdoch outlet for the result; this is about as fulfilling as saying that a facebook status can influence voter habits. If anything, they antagonise. In the same way that the same people read a facebook status, the same people read the same newspapers and cast the same vote.
This is the problem with the left – nobody has a clue which way to turn. The left has been absent for so long that they’re satisfied with this idea of liberalism, and celebrity voices like Brand’s and Martin Freeman’s telling them which way to vote or not vote. Politics is showbusiness for ugly people, or so It was, now it looks like its showbusiness for good-looking people as well. This is why there are constant swathes of ‘right-bashing’ on social media outlets, because it covers up for what those who do not know their own position. The left, or the liberal-centre left, are their own enemy.
I evoked Žižek in my recent blog post when he inverted Max Horkheimer’s quote about facism and capitalism talking about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, “those who who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism”. Well here’s one for British politics – those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy, should also keep quiet about conservative austerity. If you do not, and cannot talk critically about your own position, you are in no position to talk about anybody else’s. To echo Žižek further, liberalism itself is not strong enough to save itself against fundamentalism, facism or anything remotely ideological. The right know what they want, and the left don’t, it is the simple fact of the matter. What’s more worrying is that the next five years may not solve the problem for Labour at least. The only answer is a renewed, revived, and progressive left. And there is nothing to suggest that this will be Labour who do it…
6. What next.
John Ashbery, far from anything that could be described as protest poet wrote in his 2013 poem, ‘Suburban Burma’ “Those who remember the past are doomed to repeat it/Plus its part of history.” Liberalism is dead, or in fact is death and stasis. If Labour go back to their New-Labour days, they are doomed to repeat history. This does not necessarily mean that it will not get in power again, but it will further ostracise the voters who defected to UKIP, anti-austerity voters in Scotland, England and Wales, and the youth who have witnessed the aftermath and empty promises of neoliberal governments.
Protests have already sparked, however they seem too immediately reactionary, and a physical embodiment and projection of the vitriol that swamps social networking sites. The reaction needs to be thought out and structured so that when it does happen it will persist in the memory as a movement of the left. Understand that the media will always try and diminish its affect, depicting it as hooliganism (like the 2011 riots). And to invoke Žižek again (from his 2012 work, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Verso), these riots and protests are not proletarian protests, they are protests against being reduced to proletarian status, which is seemingly what the anti-austerity riots since the election have been (and which is why they will die away without any substance).
Clouds and silver linings? There is a very thin one. The centre-ground is being abandoned, and politics again is becoming political, or so early signs seem to show. All that can save voters who want an alternative is a renewed left. If you want the right then that is fair enough, accept this. Be wary of depiction of the SNP as primarily about nationalism, because those who want European independence realise that Scottish independence already undermines this argument.
To finish with a wordsmith much closer to home, politics is becoming exposed. Politics is a fickle game as will the likes of Ed Balls and Simon Hughes know, their hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage is over for now and for too long the lies weaved in with banal narratives that are being told by them are being exposed as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” For too long the promises have been empty, the rhetoric misleading, and now it is time for the left to rise again.