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Fri Dec 13, 2019, 10:57 AM

Six reasons why the Left need not despair

Boris Johnson has routed Labour. But his victory could turn out to contain the seeds of its own destruction

Yes, I know. For “progressives,” liberals, leftists or anyone else less than keen on reactionary nationalism, this has been an abject defeat. Boris Johnson has blustered his way to a commanding majority, and Labour has been routed in dozens of seats while the Liberal Democrats went nowhere at all. We’re in for a dose of nasty authoritarianism, with more lives squandered in failing jails, and perhaps more attempts to bully the media too. Truth-telling in public life will fall further out of fashion, and as I wrote in the first hour after the ballot boxes closed, there is reason to fear the ground rules of politics being rigged. It is, then, entirely natural that a very dark mood has descended over progressive Britain.

And yet. These are mercurial times, in which nothing stays frozen for long. Indeed, a number features of this result make it feel more like the product of surface currents, rather than deeper tides. Most obviously, it was a case of a new prime minister shrewdly seizing his moment of novelty to define himself against everything his party has done in office for a decade. Beyond that, in the embers of election 2019 I can spot several glimmers of hope for those who dream of a world beyond Boris Johnson.

1- Labour’s biggest problems look easily fixed. ... If the party can only find a leader who is remotely cut out for the job, and if its MPs can learn to direct their energies against the Conservatives rather than within their own tribe, then its position would immediately be greatly improved, if not transformed.

2- Meanwhile, the Conservatives now have one almighty and immediate problem that can’t be fudged—Brexit. Johnson showed remarkable skill in cobbling together a unified Conservative position. It got him through the campaign handsomely. But remember how he did it. ... London has only six months to give notice about whether it wants to breach the Conservative manifesto by staying longer in the single market while a trade deal is negotiated, or crash large parts of the economy by dropping out of Europe before a comprehensive trade deal can be agreed. I cannot see how Johnson’s winning Christmas coalition within his party and the country beyond can survive either choice.

3- The dramatic result is more about the way the vote split than any dramatic lurch to the right. If you look at the popular vote, Labour has done very badly, but not exceptionally so by the often-dim standards of its modern record. ... If the anti-Conservative forces had acted with less of the sectarianism that has often dogged the left, but this year infected a liberal centre that also dug in against any co-operation with Labour, things could have been very different. And herein lies an opening for the future.

4- The new Conservative coalition in the country now includes Bassetlaw, Blyth Valley and Bolsover. It is an extraordinary thing, but as a result it is surely also frail. ... Voters don’t do gratitude at the best of times, and there will be no retrospective glory in many of last night’s stunning Conservative gains for having “got Brexit done” if its practical effects turn out to disappoint.

5- In contrast with the last chunky Conservative wins, in 1983 and 1987, there is no sense of the party riding the tide of ideas. ... Sound money is forgotten, along with all the old free market nostrums of the party Johnson joined. They have been replaced by crowd-pleasing moves to raise the minimum wage and grip energy prices. And the crowd is indeed pleased. But there is no sense of any coherence, or even direction.

6- Most fundamentally, Johnson has triumphed by playing to the past, as opposed to the future. This is true at the level of campaign messages—that significant “back” in “take back control”—but also at the level of sociology. Number crunchers will soon give us estimates for which age group backed which party, but we can already see from the electoral map that there is a deep generational divide. ... Locked out of the housing market, and educated enough to ask searching questions about why, the rising cohort is unlikely—even as it ages—ever to be won over to recreating a lost world of more sovereignty, humming factories and fewer migrants which it has no memory of.


Posted as an attempted antidote to the sense of doom that's pervading today's post mortems. Tom Clark and Prospect are by no means lefties.

I'd add that it will be interesting to see how things pan out in the House of Lords, which may continue to put a spanner in Johnson's works until he no doubt packs it out with a spray of new peerages. His time in office so far has consisted of picking fights - and losing. Even with his majority and mandate, there are only so many fronts he can engage battle with at once and succeed. The problem for the rest of us will be sifting the dead cats and squirrels from issues where pressure can most productively be brought to bear.

And there's always "events, dear boy, events". Already the much-trumpeted fallback of "WTO terms" is unravelling as an option:

UK's post-Brexit trade at risk as WTO's top court shuts down

Shutdown of court will leave UK at mercy of EU in its trading relationship after transition period


Johnson's government has been flat-footed in the face of even mundane challenges. The makeup of the new Tory intake doesn't give much confidence that will change for the better. Meanwhile, we have many vulnerable minorities - from Travellers to immigrants to the destitute - we'll need to look out for. And each other, of course.

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Reply Six reasons why the Left need not despair (Original post)
Denzil_DC Dec 2019 OP
Maeve Dec 2019 #1
Mike 03 Dec 2019 #2
Ghost Dog Dec 2019 #3

Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Fri Dec 13, 2019, 11:05 AM

1. Thank you for that

Trying to understand what is happening from an American prospective (with an admitted pro-Irish republicanism bias that I try to keep in check).
It looks like we've seen the end of the empire and are now looking at the possible end of the United Kingdom and almost certain re-awakening of trouble in NI. I hope I'm wrong, but...concerns and best wishes from across the sea!

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Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Fri Dec 13, 2019, 11:17 AM

2. Thank you. Some reassurance here.

I spent some time on the phone with a family member this morning trying to make sense of what happened.

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Response to Denzil_DC (Original post)

Fri Dec 13, 2019, 08:15 PM

3. Growing calls for electoral reform after vote share per party is revealed


Growing calls for electoral reform after vote share per party is revealed

Green MPs elected in yesterday’s general election represented more than 850,000 votes whilst SNP MPs represented under 26,000, according to figures from the Electoral Reform Society. More than 330,000 votes were needed to elect a Liberal Democrat, compared to 50,000 for Labour and 38,000 for Plaid Cymru and Conservative candidates. Meanwhile, the Brexit Party won more than 642,000 votes but failed to get any representatives in the House of Commons.

Overall, the Electoral Reform Society claim that 45.3% of votes did not get any representation, because of the number of voters who didn’t support the winning candidate.

The figures, which come from analysing the number of votes compared to the number of MPs elected, have led to renewed calls for electoral reform.

Former Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas used her election victory speech to call for an end to the first past the post voting system, saying she felt “anger that our political system is so badly broken and is still letting down individuals and our country so badly”. “Our electoral system is rotten to the core,” she said.

Last week, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage pledged to change the party’s name to the Reform Party after the UK’s departure from the EU, in order to campaign for a proportional voting system.


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