Brenda from Bristol doesn’t want to hear this question, but I will ask it anyway. Is the snap election a good thing or not? In short, I think it’s good and just what we need now for our democracy. Here’s why:
First of all, I think the UK has been in a sort of twilight zone since June 23rd last year. A range of epoch defining changes have taken place in the last 12 months. Many political and economic assumptions have been upturned and people are more engaged with politics than they have been for quite sometime. Yet, until today there was no prospect of us having the chance to express our views on any of the issues that are splitting us down the middle. Is immigration more important than single market access in Brexit? How should funding for the NHS and social care be found? Are more Grammar schools the way forward? Is the economy working for everyone? Should we be allied to Trump at all costs post Brexit? All these issues can now be debated and people can vote accordingly. This can only be a good thing for our democracy.
Secondly, the U.K. desperately needs an effective Opposition to whichever Government is elected on June 8th. Without a dramatic change in Labour’s leadership, there is nothing to mitigate against the worst instincts of the Brexiteers, the right wing press and the other extremists (yes, they are!) who currently drive Tory policy. On the issue of the job of the Opposition, the Labour Party fairly and squarely must bear the responsibility for simply not showing up for work. So many bad Government policy decisions have gone unchecked by Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. There is no need to go into the why’s here, but Corbyn is just not able to convince enough voters that his Labour Party is ‘The Government In Waiting’.
Nevertheless, many people remain committed fans of Jeremy Corbyn. They feel he envisages something they believe in and I respect that. However, leadership is about having a vision as well as delivering on it. There is no point in having nice ideas if you cannot motivate people to vote for you. If I may, I would ask supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to quit complaining about the Blairites/media/any external factors causing him to be 20 points behind in the polls and to put their time and energy into where they say their heart is. Because Jeremy Corbyn needs all the help he can get to get out the vote. A good start would be for Labour spokespeople and supporters to stop moaning about the Prime Minister and internal critics being ‘too opportunistic’! Since when was politics not precisely about being just that? Instead, to inspire people to vote for them, they need to start talking about what alternative vision they can offer the country. Then target that message effectively.
Looking then to the potential make up of a new Government, will a bigger Tory majority or even a coalition (remember that?) be better? To Tory haters, this may seem anathema. However, due to it’s small majority, the current Tory government is simply too beholden to a few extremists on the right (yep, I said extremists, again!). Hence the Prime Minister’s current focus on a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving the single market, leaving the EU with no trade deal at all if we don’t like the outcome of negotiations etc. This is just one form of Brexit. Only some of the 52% of people who voted Brexit last year might have been looking for that option, we can’t know as it wasn’t on the ballot paper. I think the hard Brexit idea currently discussed is an untested, narrow niche Brexit. That is why a lot of Remainers are still angry and even some Brexiteers are annoyed at this style of Brexit being driven through. A larger Government majority will allow the Prime Minister to push back on the niche ‘Brexit at all costs’ policy. No one apart from the ‘MP free’ UKIP and the ‘MP free but direct line to the Prime Minister’ Murdoch/Daily Mail press argue that the narrow niche Brexit policy has a democratic mandate. No matter all the slurs thrown at Remain voters, to effectively lead and deliver Brexit, the Prime Minister has to bring along with her a sizeable number of the 14.8 million people who voted Remain. She knows this which is probably a large part of why she’s called this election now.
Is this election good for the other political parties? I think it is. Brexit has changed the rules of right versus left as both Labour and the Tory party are pro Brexit. Only the Lib Dems are unequivocally in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. So where do you go if you want to express your key concerns? This is where votes for the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, UKIP and the Women’s Equality Party could be key. Tactical voting in seats has always been possible. But in the past they’ve been set along simpler party lines eg. vote Green to reduce the Tory/Labour incumbent’s majority. Now these ‘alternative’ votes warrant more detailed consideration. It’s not straight forward by any means. Does your MP represent the party you vote for but as an individual they did not reflect your Brexit preferences? If they did vote the way you wanted on Brexit, are you unhappy about their party leader’s policy on Brexit? So for example, many London MPs voted Remain as individuals and defied the party whips to vote against Brexit in Parliament. They also work hard on other policies their constituents care about.
But is caveated support for the two main parties enough for you in this moment? Do Londoners need to send as clear a message as the Scots have about their views on Brexit? Should they punish mainstream party MPs by voting Lib Dem? Is the Lib Dem option clear enough given they won’t rule out a coalition with the Tories again? Should Londoners be more adventurous and vote for the Women’s Equality Party to amplify the interests of women and minorities in Brexit policy? Or is the Green Party better to support for campaigning on employment and maternity rights, the environment? Is ‘any old candidate except Labour or Conservative’ the simplest route for Remain voters? Again, as the two main parties offer little to choose between them on Brexit, this moment offers other voices the opportunity to represent diverse interests. This again can only be good for our democracy.
Is this election good or bad for the union? I think it’s unclear for now. It might be bad if you think an election now gives momentum to calls for Scottish independence. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a less niche Brexit policy dampens enthusiasm for Scotland walking away from the UK in 2019. Similar arguments could hold for Northern Ireland if less ‘hard’ Brexit options enable more flexibility on the border with the Republic etc. So retaining the union of nations and the interplay with what Brexit is offered up is still all to play for.
In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues.
In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. We will shortly see some manifestos and hopefully have more context for the diverse choices on offer. Whatever the Prime Minister’s motives for calling the vote, we are all free to exercise our views at the ballot box. Instead of endless circular rants on social media, radio phone ins and the press, we can use the election to take some of the heat out of the division and confusion on where we’re headed now by drawing a line in the sand.
Once we’ve had the election, some of the questions we are struggling with, should be eliminated. The room for ‘whataboutery’ on Brexit will of course never expire (unfortunately). But at least the policy options will be narrowed down. If you’re fed up with all the options, then get up to speed now on party manifestos, join a political party and if you want to shape their debate, go and campaign for them. By that I mean for real by knocking on people’s doors, because most of the electorate are not in your social media bubble! At the very least, get in touch with your MP to find out what they’ve been doing on Brexit and things that matter to you and give them your views. Then obviously on the day, you need to get out and vote!
It should be obvious by now that in today’s politics, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Pollsters get it wrong. Simple ideas, well explained and well targeted can be extremely influential. Anything can happen and you can be a part of making ‘change’ moments happen in our politics if you want to. (I am not talking to you Vladimir Putin, but I know you totally got this point during the Brexit campaign, but that’s another story). So, please, everyone who can, no matter what your views on Brexit or otherwise, quit complaining and go out and start listening to people, including people who disagree with you. This alone will make a world of difference. See you at the polling station on June 8th everyone, #bringiton!
By Lorraine Hamid
Lorraine is a born and bred Londoner, a former senior civil servant Economist in Whitehall. Currently a mother of one working in the property sector. Surprisingly finding herself returning to the community activism that she threw herself into as a young idealist, Lorraine is currently Co-Chair of the West London Nisa-Nisham group and a voluntary worker for homeless charity StreetLytes.