THERE were two primary characteristics of the 2015 General Election. The major characteristic was the ascendancy of the SNP amidst a Unionist vote divided amongst the other parties that campaign nationally. This saw the SNP take all but three seats in Scotland, and the arrival of some quite unusual characters in Westminster as a consequence. The minor characteristic was the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote. The collapse was for two principal reasons. The Conservatives correctly identified that their coalition partner was vulnerable to a backlash and also that its revival was due to a large degree of tactical voting as well as single-issue campaigning. Labour voters would lend their votes to the Liberal Democrats to keep a Conservative out of office. However this was washed away when the Liberal Democrats kept the Conservatives in power for five years in what remains the best British government of the 21st century. Lib Dems were also punished for reneging on their single-issue pledge on student tuition fees.
The collapse of the Liberal Democrats exposes another aspect of the British electoral system: the feeding frenzy. When a political party is regarded as weak, the other parties will combine to feast on it. The British electorate is a closed system, so parties can gain support only at the expense of another party. The latest target of the feeding frenzy is Labour. While Jeremy Corbyn has successfully recast the party into a simon-pure socialist entity, this ideological adherence has been at the expense of Labour being able to adapt to events. And Labour’s reaction to Brexit has been risible.
Labour has always had problems with policies relating to international trade, but this is a characteristic of all socialist systems, which tend towards autarky. This is more by accident than design, as socialist systems do not lend themselves to producing goods that are competitive in a global marketplace. The USSR was known more for its arms exports than consumer goods, MiG-21s before Ladas, but this was merely an aspect of its internal military build-up, such that economies of scale allowed it to sell weapons at a discount compared with the West. Other than that the USSR exported oil and the aforementioned dodgy cars. An oil glut in the mid-1980s starved the Kremlin of foreign currency and contributed to the ongoing economic stagnation turning into an all-out economic collapse which, unlike capitalist economies throughout history, killed the communist economy stone dead.
So the other parties sense weakness in Labour and appear willing to feed on it. This probably why the Liberal Democrats and SNP seek to ally with the Conservatives for an early election. They all wish to dine on Labour. In this context, the 2017 General Election was an aberration. The bulk of the electorate had never really heard of Jeremy Corbyn and his history, though these were well known amongst people who follow politics. Corbyn has, despite some incidents such as inviting the IRA to Parliament, been a shadowy figure, not one for stealing the limelight, which allowed him to associate with almost the entire spectrum of Left-wing thought. While schism is the norm amongst the Hard Left, Corbyn’s flexibility, or slipperiness, allowed him to make friends where others would be rejected for what appear trifling ideological differences to the even the most clued-up outsider. Corbyn was also aided in 2017 by an inept Conservative campaign. There were many open goals in Labour’s manifesto, but the Conservative campaign refused to take the shot. Mrs May campaigned on the need for an electoral mandate for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned on domestic issues. Mrs May had bizarre rallies in gloomy sheds surrounded by a scattering of supporters holding placards. Corbyn filled town squares. Mrs May sent Amber Rudd to a TV debate. Corbyn turned up himself. The electorate now know Corbyn and his team much better and this is not to the benefit of Labour.
So the small parties scent blood. (I have omitted the Brexit Party because I am focusing on parties with MPs currently in the Commons who are colluding to bypass the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.) It seems they believe that a combination of the traditional antipathy towards the incumbents and hostility towards Corbyn will allow the Lib Dems and SNP to think they can gain seats from both Labour and Conservative parties. The two smaller parties seem to hope this might allow them to inherit the holding of the balance of power in the Commons from the DUP so they can delay or cancel Brexit as well as promote Scottish independence. Labour is trying to convince people that it can bounce back again, just as it did in 2017, but this is based on the fiction that Labour ‘won’ the 2017 General Election. The truth is more damaging.
There are more good reasons not to vote Labour than there are to support it. In Scotland, the Unionist vote is with the Conservatives and this consideration might outweigh the UK’s position relative to the EU. The SNP can garner the votes of Remainers and Separatists. Labour can only campaign on the economy, but people are not much interested in this, and anti-capitalism does not resonate over a decade after the banking crisis. In England, the Lib Dems have found the single issue to replace opposition to the Iraq War and the curbing of student tuition fees in the form of revoking Article 50. On Scottish independence and Brexit, Labour’s position is confused. Its only hope is to campaign on the economy and the NHS. However this is a battleground on which Boris Johnson is only too happy to fight. Boris also seems content to campaign in the streets, even if he encounters hecklers. Boris being verbally abused by socialists in a public setting, and this being broadcast on the television news, has not affected his poll ratings. It is probable that this time Boris will be gracing town squares, and the people will come to hear him and not jeer him. Corbyn remains simply appalling to a proportion of the electorate, especially as there is a prospect he could win a General Election, which was absent in 2017. Labour MPs secured votes by stating that a vote for them was not a vote for Corbyn. They can’t pull the same trick twice on the voter.
Events may dictate a different outcome, and all commentators were caught out in 2017. Well, almost all. I sounded a note of caution as I pointed out that while Cameron had secured a majority in 2015, this had been primarily at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and that Labour’s support had actually increased, but not enough to result in a net gain of seats. While the support for the Conservatives is riding high, this might just mean that the party will pile on votes in constituencies it already holds. Elections are primarily decided by marginals and a majority of the votes does not necessarily mean a majority of constituencies. Despite an incompetent campaign Mrs May scored the highest-ever number of votes for the Conservative Party, more than Tony Blair received in his 1997 landslide. But 2017 was also almost a straight contest between Labour and Conservative, while support for other parties slipped away, bucking a trend that had been running for a couple of decades. The Lib Dems and SNP appear to be hoping that this trend will snap back. All parties seem to anticipate feasting on the corpse of Labour due to its unelectable Leader of the Opposition, incompetent Shadow Home Secretary, disgusting Shadow Chancellor, and ridiculous neo-Marxist policies. The twist and turns of marginals might mean the corpse could revive and feast on the would-be feasters.