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Friday 21 April 2017

Here We Go Again

Thank you, Brenda from Bristol, for saying what we're all thinking :

There's too much politics going on at the moment.

There certainly is, far too much. Time was when we could all discuss politics at leisure, get cross with the other side but not too cross because we could be confident that the damage they could do would be limited. Checks and balances in the system worked well enough to allow the government to get things done but not to an unlimited extent, and pretty nearly all decisions were ultimately reversible at the next election. The system was a weird kind of stable non-equilibrium, but it was, ultimately, basically stable.

The current situation, on the other hand, is more like this :

It's more than for the sake of saying, "I told you so" that I point out that we wouldn't be in this situation if we hadn't had that stupid EU referendum. The EU wasn't much of a concern for anyone except the hardcore idiots before the campaign; now it dominates the political scene. Without the referendum we'd be in our perfectly normal state of grumblings about politics; Scotland wouldn't be launching yet another referendum, we'd be assured that tomorrow would proceed much as today even if today wasn't particularly great. Instead we have to deal with the nightmarishly complicated, unprecedented process of leaving the EU and the potential break-up of the UK. At best we're facing prolonged uncertainty. Oh, yay.
And now we face yet another potential political singularity in the general election. There are good reasons why some are predicting a landslide win for the Tories - they are well ahead in the polls, the SNP dominate Scotland, and Labour seem determined to screw themselves as hard as possible. And yet that does not tell the whole story. We're already in uncharted waters - not just from the referendum result, but from the massive loss of "safe" seats at the last election and in recent by-elections.

Paradoxically, this election is one born of both opportunism and desperation. It's opportunistic because of the high poll ratings for the Tories, the extreme weakness of the Labour party, the saturation level of the SNP and the tiny number of Liberal Democrat and Green MPs. And yet it is also desperate, due to the immense ongoing political pressure resulting from Brexit, coupled with the new challenge of a second Scottish independence referendum, as well as the underlying unpopularity of austerity. For Theresa May it's do-or-die at this point : either secure a "mandate" from the populace or accept defeat and a potential change of course. Politically, an election looks like not just a good way to secure the next few years of Tory government, but the only way. She's certainly gaming the system, but it's a game she's been forced to play.

But she's still gaming the system. Previously in elections if your side did badly you'd feel it had a fair crack again the next time - or for smaller parties, at least a fair chance to win more seats. Is that the case this time ? Perhaps not. Labour and the Liberal Democrats collapsed in Scotland because of their own problems, no arguments there. Of course it's perfectly fair that they're currently weak thanks to their previous actions. What I think is not fair, however, is that Labour now have a leader they not only do not want, but have tried every means possible to remove.

Now of course, it was Labour's fault for electing Corbyn in the first place. Again, that's fair enough. I said it myself, I wanted someone to the left of Miliband. But come on, this was never supposed to be an absolute. I said he should be given a year to evaluate him, which seemed perfectly normal and sensible to me. After all, no-one said, "I want someone on the far left with despotic tendencies who will fight tooth and nail to cling on to 'power' but collapse like a very collapsible wet hen whenever asked to argue anything about policy and there must not, under any circumstances, be any possibility of removing this person if they show signs of leading the party towards electoral catastrophe." Because normally, you know, if your leader is doing that badly and you realise you've made a horrible mistake, you get the chance to correct that mistake. That's surely also part of fairness.

The worst part is that Labour really tried very, very hard, to remove Corbyn. The effort is important. Had they sat meekly by then they would share in the responsibility, so having a dreadful "leader" would still be fair. But they didn't - they used every means at their disposal, but Corbyn did the unthinkable and didn't resign after massively losing a no confidence vote*. This is such a bonkers scenario that apparently no-one thought there'd be any need to make the result legally binding, i.e. that a leader who lost such a vote would automatically be removed. Of course they'd have the common decency to leave in such an eventuality, because who would be idiotic enough to think they could run a government if they couldn't run a credible opposition ?

* Oh, and now he's claiming the system is rigged. Remind you of anyone ?

Analogy : a long-term but somewhat socially distant colleague drives you home one evening from a party. As they're looking a little ill, you're not entirely sure about this but there doesn't seem to be much of a practical alternative. They start looking worse and worse throughout the drive. Pretty soon they're swerving a little and you ask them to stop. They refuse. They run over a cat and now you're shouting at them to let you out but they still don't stop. Now they're actually vomiting in the car and you're screaming at them to stop but they actually lock all the doors and start punching you in the face instead. The car crashes into a pile of fluffy kittens and explodes, with small burning kitties flying from the wreckage like flaming meteors and everyone dies horribly.

OK, maybe you made a mistake by getting in the car. Maybe someone even warned you this person wasn't safe to drive with. But they never told you they were an actual deranged psychopath from whom their was no escape. So is it fair that you should die in the burning wreckage because you made a mistake but are prevented from correcting it despite your efforts ? Is it fair that we should have an election while the main opposition party has a leader that almost no-one wants and has tried very hard to remove ?

Yet for all that the election is naked opportunism, when we're in an era in which Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary, the only safe prediction is that there are no safe predictions. The polls got the last general election badly wrong. Can they do so again ?

I don't know. However, I've firmly fixed my voting preference to the Liberal Democrats. When you're in a knife-edge Labour-Tory minority constituency, this may ordinarily seem like a wasted, even stupid, vote. But rightly or wrongly, I believe the current state of affairs means that we're not in ordinary circumstances at all. Given this uncertainty, it seems to me that the Liberal Democrats are the only sensible choice. And since I was highly critical of third-party voters in the American elections, let me explain why.

Firstly, my assessment of Corbyn and most of his supporters is that they've confused the ends and the means - their policies and their principles are one and the same. To take a relatively emotionless issues, consider nationalising the railways. I - along with a majority of the British public - support this, because I think it will reduce fees and increase reliability. Privatisation doesn't seem to have worked well at all in Britain. But I'm not emotionally wedded to the idea in the way a typical Corbynite appears to be : show me a credible alternative that could make privatisation work (as it does, to varying degrees, in other parts of Europe) and I'll happily go along with it. A typical Corbynite, however, will froth at the mouth like a rabid dog against any alternative. It MUST be nationalisation, anything else would be an act of moral bankruptcy !

So it seems to me with pretty nearly all of Corbyn's ideas : he isn't willing to negotiate or compromise because he isn't able to - they are core parts of his identity. His early token gestures of "kinder politics" rapidly gave way to a distinct nastiness; a total lack of wisdom as to when to talk and when to threaten. This, in my opinion, is because he has made policies into moral issues, and in my personal experience it's very much harder to change someone's opinion about moral ideologies than pragmatic issues. For all my left-wing leanings, this is because I see (again rightly or wrongly) those policies as the best way to improve the lives of ordinary people. I don't want to make the government bigger because I have a sexual fetish for big government, as Corbynites seem to. Hence, my own moral principles and those of the Corbynites are incompatible in a way that was not the case with previous Labour leaders.

Secondly, on a more pragmatic point, there seems to me reasonable evidence to doubt the certainty of a landslide Tory victory. The Lib Dems recently won some spectacular victories in by-elections. Labour are so unpopular it looks extremely unlikely that they can win. Anecdotally, I know too many once-devoted Labour supporters (both young and old) who are literally disgusted with Corbyn to take any claims of a shock Labour win seriously. But surely a shock Liberal Democrat win is even more unlikely ?

Sure. But the Tory minority is tiny. It's far less implausible to suggest that it might be reduced to nothing and the government replaced with a coalition of the left. I accept that we won't get a shock Labour or Lib Dem win, but would a Tory loss be so unexpected ? Anger at Brexit is widespread, austerity is unpopular. With a sensible leader at Labour's helm I doubt there'd be much talk of a Tory landslide at all. So I do think there's a chance of an upset. More pragmatically, Cardiff voted strongly for Remain, so in my constituency the Lib Dems now have a chance to appeal to voters in a way they previously haven't, since no other party is so staunchly anti-Brexit.

Which brings me to my third and final point : Labour are currently, in effect, pro-Brexit. To my mind this is the single most important political issue in a generation, and their leader has rendered them impotent. This is not acceptable to me. If I vote Labour, then despite my overwhelming preference for virtually every other of Labour's policies over those of the Tories, on this one, single, dominating issue I'll still get what the Tories and UKIP (urrrggh !) are championing. And since this will have massive knock-on economic effects, I don't believe any of Labour's other, nicer policies will be workable post-Brexit.

That, then, is why I'm not voting Labour. If I do I will now endorse someone who stands for both different principles and policies than my own. I don't want to endorse someone who mobilises the hard left, who are every bit as idiotic as the hard right. I don't trust Corbyn, who I see as unprincipled and inflexible. I don't want to vote for Brexit, I want to stop it, not just get someone else (who seems even less willing to compromise than May) take over the process. So even if I do vote for Labour, I won't stop Brexit and I'd be electing someone whose principles I morally object to. What's the point in that ? Stopping the Tories hardly seems worth it.

All in all, the best course of action seems like voting for the Liberal Democrats. I agree with them on almost as many issues as Labour. It's a risk - a huge risk. The might not get enough seats to make a difference. And yes, last time they made an almighty mistake - I can't be sure they won't do the same again. But the Tories stated goal is a hard Brexit, and Labour's is scarcely any better, so if I vote for either of them I'll definitely get what I don't want, whereas with the Lib Dems I might not. In essence, there's nothing left to lose at this point. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but that's because this post is explanatory, not activist. Do not think this is a choice I make comfortably. Ideal options in politics are rare indeed, but this time, they all suck more than usual. What fun.

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