It is after 3AM and this has been an upsetting night, but these are my rough, desultory, and morbid thoughts.
At the time of writing, the Conservatives are en route to an unexpected rout, possibly even winning a majority in the UK parliamentary election. Labour look set to be wiped out entirely in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats will likely be ejected from government as the Conservatives won’t require the handful of votes that they could lend to their policies of austerity and European isolationism.
Once again, I have found myself on the losing side. I voted for the Labour party, and not because I saw them as the lessor of any number of evils, but because the labour movement is a coalition encompassing a spectrum from the socialist left to the right edge of social democracy, who presented a left of centre manifesto that sought to balance the need to address economic and social inequality with real-politik capitalist economics.
The Labour manifesto was significantly to the left of those of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the two other major UK-wide political parties. The other nominally leftist parties, the Greens and the SNP, produced manifestos that largely aped that of the Labour party.
But this was not the message that penetrated the electorate. In England the mainstream media acted as a cheerleader for David Cameron’s Conservatives. Miliband, the Labour leader, was ferociously and constantly attacked: as a geek, as Jewish, as the son of a Marxist, and as a backstabber (for standing against his brother for the Labour leadership). It was claimed that he was a communist (Red Ed), and that his father hated this country.
Furthermore, the rise of the SNP in Scotland was used to scare English voters. The Sun newspaper presented Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, as a puppeteer who could control a minority Labour government, pushing the UK to the left, to the detriment of middle England, while fighting to extract Scotland from the UK altogether. The same Sun newspaper urged its Scottish readers to vote for the same Nicola Sturgeon.
The SNP’s campaign in Scotland has consisted of decrying the Labour parties as ‘Red Tories’, and traitors. The SNP has claimed to be the anti-austerity party, and the voice of Scotland. Sturgeon constantly conflated Scotland and the SNP during the campaign – speaking of giving Scotland a stronger voice that will finally be heard in Westminster (ignoring the fact that Scots have played very prominent roles in UK politics over the last twenty years, with Gordon Brown being of particular note.)
Their victory has been all the more remarkable for the fact that the SNP have been in government in Scotland for the past eight years, during which they have overseen the devastation of local government services via their council tax freeze. They have consistently failed to follow through with any redistributive policies: the reform of council tax, which never happened (the local income tax policy, if you have forgotten it). They never used their power to raise the rate of income tax.
There is also the issue of the Scottish independence referendum, which was won by the ‘no’ campaign by a 10% margin. Rather than settling the separatist question for a generation, the SNP were able to stoke the flames of patriotism by claiming that the unionist parties went back on the promises they made during that campaign: ‘the vow’. If anything, the Smith commission has come true on those promises, for better or worse. Admittedly, David Cameron did inflame the situation by outlining plans for English Votes for English Laws, intended as a counterbalance to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution, immediately after the votes were in. But it is the Scottish Labour party, who do not support EVEL, who suffered the consequences.
In any case, the voters now have voted, and they have voted in large numbers for the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives in England. The Tories will form a government, and they will impose cuts on public services that will harm the weakest in society. They will likely reduce income tax on the wealthiest – we can expect the eradication of the 45% rate of tax, and the raising of the income level upon which the 40% rate applies. VAT may well rise, a tax that disproportionately hits the poorest. The SNP will have a loud, vociferous, and powerless voice in Westminster.
Those many Scottish voters who said that they really wanted the Greens, but were voting SNP, while they wanted Miliband to be Prime Minister, will, I hope, be as disappointed as me. I won’t cry a tear for the loss of any particular characters in the Labour party. But I am absolutely gutted that Labour moved significantly to the left and look set to achieve a worse result than that following the 1983 ‘longest suicide note in history’.
It was said that Michael Foot was the last leader of the Labour Party who would rather be morally right than victorious. Tony Blair was lauded and despised for realizing that it was more important to win than to be principled. But what is the lesson here?
Labour presented a sensible centre-left manifesto, and were demolished. The winners in this election have been those who abandoned the idea of equality and shared responsibility. The winners have been those who scapegoated and blamed: The UKIP, who despite not taking many seats polled well, who blame Europe and immigration; the SNP who blame the English and, absurdly, Labour, for Scotland’s privileged place in the UK; and the Tories, who blame the poor and the disabled for not just their own predicament, but for the sluggish economic growth that the UK has experienced since the recession.
Watching the results come in in Scotland has been a particularly difficult experience. The whoops of the nationalists are hard to reconcile to result that is forthcoming. There will be no progressive coalition. In 1983 Thatcher won by warring with the Falklands. In 2015, it looks like Cameron may have won by declaring war on the Scots. I will now sign off, and find solace in misery.