Some Thoughts on the Election
Mon, 29 May 2017I am convinced that the path we’re currently on isn’t socially or environmentally sustainable. My primary objective in taking an interest in politics, is the hope that my vote and my interest can help get us onto a more sustainable path, one that maximises people’s chances to flourish, both now and in future generations.
Many of you will be thinking that this wish directly implies that I should vote for Labour or the Greens. I’m much less convinced. Though many Green and Labour policies naturally appeal to me, I believe that all parties are capable of recognising the benefits of making the system more sustainable. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the changes I’d like to see are ultimately made by the Conservatives.
In this respect, I was pleased that both the Labour and Conservative manifestos went further towards recognising the social sustainability challenges that we face than they had before. The Conservatives didn’t go far enough, and quite a few policies in both manifestos could have done with some more thought and discussion. Both had some proposals that I disagree with. The environment was largely ignored. But I do praise them for trying, and I do believe that these views are genuine.
My hopes were raised, and then came the response from their opponents and the media - highlighting the ‘losers’ from any change, ignoring any benefits. Yes, I get that this is politics, and I get that is what gets readers engaged. But when I’m looking at who I want to be governing, and who I want to be representing me in Parliament, particularly with such big challenges ahead, I want it to be a party that shows a willingness to listen and to talk honestly to the whole country. And no party is filling me with overwhelming confidence.
I get why Theresa May is promoting ‘strong and stable’ leadership - I don’t like chaos any more than anyone else. But in a complex world, it is often difficult to tell the difference between ‘strong’ and ‘brittle’. I have moments when I’m convinced that May could be a good strong leader if she gets a decent majority, and other moments when it fills me with dread. But I am similarly unsure how strong or good a leader Corbyn would be.
The Conservatives, Lib Dems and SNP wanted to make this election all about Brexit, but Labour seem to have ensured attention was on everything except Brexit. I wish that by voting a certain way I could undo last year’s referendum, but can’t. The only way I can see of avoiding Brexit is the government negotiate a truly dreadful deal, and I’m not prepared to hope for that. Intriguingly, the financial markets (ie the pound) seem to have decided that the best bet for the closest relationship with Europe is a comfortable Conservative majority (eg https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/may/26/ftse-reaches-record-high-as-uk-opinion-poll-spooks-sterling ).
Probably the one area where I do have strongly partisan views is on austerity and social spending. I am not alone in thinking that the austerity of the past 7 years has been a failure. I believe the bulk of the cuts will have far bigger long term costs than they’ve saved us. in the Health portfolio, I realise that there are difficult decisions to be made, but I don’t recall ever seeing such mismanagement as we’ve seen over the past 2 years. My take on it is that it is ideological - a desire to cut costs without considering evidence or consequences, and without recognising that the system cannot work without the goodwill of doctors and nurses. I’m not totally convinced that Labour would have run things wonderfully or efficiently, but I can’t believe they could have done a worse job than the current government.
Obviously it is much easier to argue for more spending than to say where it should come from. We need to make our government sustainable over the longer term. But at the moment most people (including those at the top) feel the tax system is unfair. We’re going to need to do more talking about how tax and redistribution should work. Blindly raising taxes on those that already feel things are unfair will just create resentment and them to feel justified in restructuring their affairs. We need to ensure we’re doing it in a way that the majority of people feel that their contributions are necessary to ensure a country that they want to live in.
In these uncertain times, I've come to appreciate the importance of having good people in parliament, and I think it is even more important than which party they're in. Assuming that all members of a party are as bad as each other doesn't make sense, and over the past year some of the most effective opposition to the government's worst policies has come from Conservative MPs. So if you've got a good candidate, I'd encourage you to consider supporting them irrespective of their party.
Finally, I’d like to make a comment on how we talk about our politicians. After the tragic shooting of MP Jo Cox last year, there was a bit of a move towards treating politicians with a bit more respect and understanding (eg http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/17/jo-cox-was-brave-so-are-most-mps-lets-show-them-more-respect/) . Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have lasted. I shouldn’t have to point out that politicians are people, not perfect or altruistic, but mostly hard-working people who want the best for their constituents, and indeed for the whole country. I wish we could stop demonising and abusing them (in particular, sexist or racist abuse towards politicians is still unacceptable), and be more thoughtful in our criticisms - otherwise we shouldn’t be surprised if we get the politicians we deserve.