Friday, June 09, 2017

No one knows anything about politics – here are my 12 hot takes on the general election result

More and more, I feel that William Goldman’s view of the film business
"Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one."
also applies to politics.

Plenty of political bloggers offer hot takes, but they generally turn out to be wrong.

I was more circumspect during the election campaign, offering two modest predictions that turned out to be correct.

The Liberal Democrats did have a good chance of winning Bath and the Conservatives did fail to gain Leicester West.

Still, though you wouldn’t think it sometimes, Liberal England is meant to be a political bog. So here are a dozen thoughts on the general election and its aftermath.

1. What I got badly wrong about the election

Like most commentators, I was convinced that Jeremy Corbyn would crash and burn when he was exposed to the scrutiny of a general election campaign. But it turned out that his chilling with the military wing of Irish Republicanism was too long ago to interest most voters.

More than that, he came over as human when set against the wooden Theresa May. He even overcame his hatred of journalists (remember that grim, silent walk the night he was elected?) to give some good interviews.

Labour’s success means that the people who declined to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet will now make themselves available. This will mean more credible people appearing for Labour on television (sorry, Richard Burgon) and that any talk of a new centre party is dead (sorry, Lord Mandelson).

2. What I got right about British politics

For years I have believed (or clung to the belief) that if the Conservatives moved to the right to chase Ukip’s vote they would alienate their more moderate supporters. And that is more or less what happened. I find that immensely reassuring for the future of the country.

3. Jeremy Corbyn has been good for political debate

For years British general elections have been fought on a narrow strip of territory. They supported the free market and supported public services (though not too much). Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that. I doubt the costings in his manifesto: in fact it reminded me of the Labourism that foundered in the 1970s, but that is also too long ago to interest most voters.

What his manifesto did do was offer voters the hope that things could be different. He has opened up territory that other politicians may one day occupy.

4. The DUP blinks in the unaccustomed sunlight

When Liberal Democrats joined the cabinet one was forced to resign within weeks and another ended up in prison. DUP MPs are not nor going to become ministers, but they may well find the sudden media interest in them and their MPs equally uncomfortable.

I also suspect that the alliance with them will end in tears for the Conservatives too.

5. "I am the ghost of your tuition fees decision"

The decision to support the introduction of tuition fees under the Coalition continues to haunt the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg in particular. As the surge of support for Labour among young voters yesterday showed, the really damaging thing about the decision is not merely that it undermined trust in us. The real problem was that it was politically obtuse.  How can a liberal party expect to flourish without the support of educated young voters?

6. Time to be honest about the level of Liberal Democrat support

After half a dozen results had been declared last night I was moved to tweet what no one else in my timeline was saying: those results were uniformly awful for the Liberal Democrats. I am delighted that we won a dozen seats – that was far better than I feared we might do – but we have to face the fact that in seats where we do not campaign, the Liberal Democrat vote is vanishingly small.

And even in seats where we had the MP a few years ago or where we have traditionally recorded a respectable second place, that vote is now disappointingly low. (I am thinking of Ludlow and Harborough, seats I know well.)

Yet the same patterns has been true of local elections for years now, and it has also passed unremarked. There are some great gains – greeted with #libdemfightback – but where we do not campaign hardly anyone votes for us now.

We need to talk about this problem as a first step to addressing it.

7. Tim Farron: The boy done goodish

Leaving aside his interview with Andrew Neil (the two have always had a scratchy relationship and Tim appeared poorly briefed for Neil’s easily predictable lines of attack), Tim did pretty well. He was always telling people that he came from Preston and had four children, but then the election came too soon for him with the result that few people knew who he was. It is natural that he should try to tell them.

Calling for a change of leader can be a way of avoiding deeper thought about the party’s purpose and direction. And then there are those who are convinced that a front-line politician must have a Southern, public school and Oxbridge background…

8. Theresa May: You have to laugh

Has there even been a less credible British prime minister? Quite what Theresa May stands for, wants to achieve or why she considers herself fitted for the job remain a mystery.

Her credibility has gone, most importantly to her own party. That means that her colleagues will be politicking for the contest to succeed her and every time something goes wrong there will be press speculation about her being replaced.

My guess is that we will start to hear stories about her brave struggle with her health problems and she will be gone sooner rather than later.

9. Mourning the loss of Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg’s defeat was a loss to the Liberal Democrats and a loss to political debate generally. I like Nick and hope he will stick around in some role, but I wonder if, deep down, he was more suited to being a technocrat than a politician. I remember a review of his book Politics: Between the Extremes by James Kirkup:
"Politics is about arguments, about persuading people, by fair means or foul, to lend you their votes and their permission to rule. And this is what baffles Clegg."
10. Ukip is not dead yet

When we have finished laughing at the self-immolation of Paul Nuttall, remember that there may be a by-election in South Thanet one day and that Nigel Farage could be Ukip’s candidate and could win it. The party has fallen apart and reassembled itself several times over the past 20 years. It could easily happen again.

11. No Liberal Democrat MPs in Wales

If you can hear a rumbling sound from the direction of Llanystumdwy, it is Lloyd George turning in his grave. There are no Liberal MPs left in Wales.

12. The power of the press

Some have argued that this election represents the triumph of social media and that the newspapers have lost their hold over voters. I was always sceptical that they had such a hold. Generally speaking, Rupert Murdoch backed politicians because they were going to win: they didn’t win because he backed them.


Phil Beesley said...

Beyond target seats and a few where we are in a respectable second or third place, the Liberal Democrat vote has been wiped out. It seems a good time for Howarth and Pack to start preparing notes for a third version of the paper on building a Liberal Democrat core vote.

If you look at results in multi-constituency cities from 30 or 40 years ago, you can tell where there is a concentration of students and professional people inclined to vote Liberal. It may be true today in Oxford and Edinburgh, but not in the Midlands. The LibDem vote in Nottingham in 2017 and 2015 was a quarter of that in 1974. We used to pity Liberals in seats where Labour could pin a red rosette on a winning donkey, in the knowledge that we wouldn't lose our deposit.

Forty years of pavement slogging was trashed owing to mistakes made in the buildup to the 2010 General Election -- and there is no point going over it. My point is that the Liberal Democrats haven't learned much since 2015.

Some people like the Liberal Democrats enough to join the party. And the party has generated donations from well wishers. I understand that four more MPs offsets loss in vote share when qualifying for Short Money (not sure if the comment was ironic).

Outside areas where a local election campaign was conducted, LibDem vote fell. And current strategy is that we can win a few more seats with a big heave. What happens when we run out of close results?

Anonymous said...

On the Jeremy Corbyn/Sinn Fein thing. I think you're wrong. The public discounted it mainly because "they were all at it" rather than "it was long ago".

The ferocity of the assault may have been counterproductive too. Artillery does not work against Zen.

Frank Little said...

> in seats where we do not campaign, the Liberal Democrat vote is vanishingly small.
Unfortunately, the corollary is not true. Ask the people in Lewes, Ceredigion, Cardiff Central, Montgomery and Brecon & Radnor among others.