I promised myself that I wouldn’t sully this blog with any reflections on the UK General Election, but not to write something would be to undermine why I started blogging in the first place. Having just finished drafting what follows, I can say that it really does feel good to have got it off my chest. Better out than in, indeed! Fear not, there will be no more election stuff here during this campaign.
It’s a miserable time to be a wishy-washy liberal. In a complex, networked world, it is a cruel paradox that everything is now seen in strictly binary terms. You’re either with us or against us. Brexiteer or Remoaner. Patriot or saboteur. Strong and stable, or an agent of anarchy. Metropolitan elite or northern working class. One of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’. The pragmatism and pluralism that have underpinned UK politics for most of the past 100 years are no longer respected values. Instead, we have a cruel parody of a democratic process that sees the two main parties peddling lies and half-truths, supported by a press that long-since abandoned any pretense at impartiality. There is an irony in the fact that broadcast media is now so dependent on politicians to fill the endless of hours of live news programming that it can no longer risk alienating those politicians by actually holding them to account. There seem to be no checks and balances to the abuses of process that have become common-place in UK politics. And all this while sneering at the events in Washington. Look first to the plank in your own eye.
Both Labour and the Conservatives (aided and abetted by most mainstream media outlets) are determined to downplay Brexit in the General Election campaign. This is not surprising. In less than two years, the UK will leave the EU. Both Labour and the Conservatives appear to believe that this momentous change in our relationship with our most important trade partners can be negotiated in a way that will leave us better off at the end of it. This is delusional and amounts to a monumental fraud against the British people. It is possible that UK plc will be able to survive outside the EU. New trading agreements with Europe, the USA, other members of the Commonwealth, may well emerge. If we’re really lucky, they may take less than ten years to conclude, and at the end of the process we may be in a position that is no worse than we have now. What nobody seems able to answer, is what the impact of the intervening period will be. And there will be a long gap between the end of the Article 50 process and the signing of significant new agreements. Ask the Canadians. There are some clues. Wage growth is stagnating; house prices have flat-lined; the initial ‘boost’ to exports following the devaluation in the pound is now balanced by escalating raw materials and food costs, hitting household income and driving up inflation. City firms are planning to move staff and operations to European capitals; others are reviewing decisions on new investments. Sweetheart deals with the likes of Nissan are providing a having a short-term palliative effect, but there are only so many holes that can be plugged in the dyke before the water comes crashing through. In this context, to be making claims for increased investment in public services or defence or preserving the pensions triple-lock, or committing not to increase taxes, is at best irresponsible and delusional; at worst, it is cynical and calculating. And the analysis applies to both the hard left and the hard right, Labour and Conservative, in this campaign.
What’s a wishy-washy liberal to do in the face of this seemingly hopeless situation. I’m lucky. As an exile in a foreign constituency for the time being, I can at least vote for an anti-Brexit candidate with a realistic prospect of success. It’s possible that I might even have the unusual thrill of casting my vote for the winning candidate in a General Election (this hasn’t happened much in my lifetime to date). Admittedly, the Greens won’t be forming a government any time soon, but at least I won’t be voting hopelessly.