I’m much more interested in the election after the event than I was before it.
And to me it seems a comprehensive defeat of the “progressive” Left. The Labour party is now in turmoil, and is going to have to re-invent itself. The Lib Dems have more or less ceased to exist. Only the SNP might be regarded as having been successful.
But I think that even they managed to blow it. Because a lot of people believe that when Nicola Sturgeon said she’d make Ed Miliband Prime Minister, and keep the Conservatives out of power with her 50 – 60 Scottish MPs, she spooked the English into voting more heavily Conservative than they might otherwise have done. If she’d kept quiet, and waited until after the election to make the offer, we might have Ed Miliband as PM right now.
The result is that instead of the SNP being the kingmakers in the UK election, with enormous influence over everything thereafter, it now has no influence at all. It’s just another opposition party.
Aside from that, I’ve been thinking that maybe the UK electorate swings regularly between Left and Right. Over the past 65 years, we had Conservatives in power from about 1951 to 1964, and then Labour from 1964 to 1979, and then Conservatives from 1979 to 1997, and then Labour from 1997 to 2010. And arguably a “progressive” coalition from 2010-2015 (There was a Conservative government from 1970 to 1974, but it was a completely unexpected victory with a small minority. Labour had been expected to win the 1970 election.)
So, very roughly, Conservatives swap power with Labour every 15-17 years. It may be that people get sick of one lot, and call in the other lot, in a process of reaction against what they’ve just endured. By the time Thatcher was ousted, I was glad to see the back of her. And I was just as glad to see that back of Labour in 2010.
On each occasion, the ousted party has to re-invent itself. The 1950s Conservatives were aristocratic or patrician. 1960s Labour was union-dominated. And then 1980s Conservatives (Thatcher) were newly re-invented as business and enterprise-oriented. And then in 1997, New (-ly re-invented) Labour under Tony Blair brought in a new non-union-driven Labour government. Now the Conservatives under Cameron have re-invented themselves as a “progressive” form of Conservatism, with a strong environmental, health, and EU orientation. Labour won’t get back in until they re-invent themselves in their turn.
But if Cameron is a “progressive”, a great many in his party are not progressive at all. They want out of the EU, don’t like windmills, and many of them never voted for the smoking ban either. So the politics of the next 5 years looks set to be dominated by the internal party politics of the Conservative party (much in the way that the Thatcher government was divided into compassionate “wets” and hard-nosed compassionless “dries” like Thatcher herself). By Thatcher standards Cameron is a “wet”, with a lot of “dry” backbenchers in his party. The Cameron government is an inversion of the Thatcher government.
Cameron believed (correctly it seems) that the Conservatives would only be elected if they adopted the environmentalist, healthist, pro-European ethos of the Blair years. Blair had, in his turn, adopted the pro-business ethos of the Thatcher years. But once Blair had been in power a few years, inherent Labour top-down authoritarianism (the “nanny state”) gradually emerged. Cameron will come under mounting pressure in coming years to liberalise and de-regulate the UK economy, as well as slash public spending on nanny state operations like ASH and co.
And it seems to me that he’s quite likely to yield to that pressure, which will become intense the longer the UK economy remains sluggish. After all, now that he’s been elected, he doesn’t really need to continue with the environentalist and healthist and pro-EU stance. It was only necessary to get the Conservatives re-elected. And that job has been done. And the “progressive” opposition has been consigned to oblivion for the time being. He can forget about Labour and Lib Dems and SNP.
I don’t know how “progressive” Cameron really is anyway. I get the impression it’s all rather skin deep. But it might not be. But whatever it is, he’s going to be under pressure to ditch every kind of Blairite nanny state regulation (including the smoking ban, obviously). And not just from his own backbenchers, but also from UKIP, to which there may yet be several more defections.
All the same considerations apply across the pond in the USA. Over there, power swaps between Republicans and Democrats at a rather faster rate (8 years) than in the UK. And currently it’s the Republicans’ job to re-invent themselves, or find someone to re-invent them. And in the power swap cycle, the Republicans are next up for the job. Obama was the Democrats’ last re-invention of themselves. Ronald Reagan was a particularly successful Republican re-invention. But Hillary Clinton is most likely the Ed Miliband of US politics. She’s no re-invention, and she belongs to the pre-Obama past. And she’s probably too old as well.