Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: The Year of the Fringes & The End of The Third Way

You know, in times of impending war or economic crisis, the political fringes thrive.  The 1930’s of course saw the rise of Fascism and the German hard right in the shape of the National Socialists.  Looking at events in 2015, you can see the parallels as a host of figures from the fringes hogged the news.  Daesh, Trump, Syrzia, Podemos, UKIP and Corbyn – all figures from the fringes that were centre stage in this year.

The Tory Attack line that did for Milliband's chances of being PM
One name not on that list being our Prime Minister, David Cameron.  To the general amazement of quite a few of the political punditeriat, Cameron managed to lead his Conservatives to a first majority government since 1992.  The 12 seat majority might well have been the smallest Tory majority since Churchill’s comeback win in 1951, but after five years of the arranged marriage of the Lib Dems, it was heaven.  Cameron’s victory also spelled the end of an era too.  Coupled with the meltdown in the Lib Dem vote and the collapse in support for Labour in Scotland, the 2015 Westminster election saw the end of Blairite ‘Third Way’ politics.

Blairism of course has been a dirty word within Labour circles since…  well probably Brown became PM but Milliband certainly was more active in distancing himself from Blair’s legacy – even if he still kept a lot of policies that fall firmly into the New Labour camp.  Acceptance of Osborne-omics and TTIP being the biggies.  And yet there are people who think Milliband failed because he just wasn’t right wing enough.  Those people who must have looked enviously on at the Orange Bookers in the Lib Dems and thought, well how come they’ve managed to be kings of their party and we’ve been pushed to the sidelines.

Of course, those followers of the Progress Group never quite got how Labour failed to win. In much the same way that they still cling to the notion that you have to be on the centre ground to win.  That each of the Tories election wins since 1979 have been won from the right blows this theory out of the water.  Cameron’s Conservatives demonstrated – like Thatcher did in the 1980’s – that elections are not always won on the centre ground but in pulling as many voters with you as possible.  By whichever means necessary.

As Labour struggled to come to terms with the loss, their party embarked on another phase of navel gazing.  The Progress wingers immediately attempted to spin the election result as Milliband losing for not being New Labour enough.  Resistance to that idea eventually came in the shape of the left’s buggins turn candidate – Jeremy Corbyn.  His subsequent victory once and for all ends the New Labour years.  Yet for those Progress wingers contemplating defection, the odds on a rendezvous with their like minded Orange Book colleagues in the Lib Dems are slim.   The Lib Dem’s own election catastrophe left them with just 8 seats.

I had always thought that there was an informal tactical voting pact between Labour & Lib Dem supporters, a pact that had been intact since 1997.  Clegg’s decision to go into a coalition with the Conservatives can be seen as the starting point for the sheer collapse in support for the Lib Dems since 2010.  From the Holyrood elections in 2011 onwards it has been clear that the Lib Dems had lost the confidence of over half of their voters.

That haemorrhaging of support has consequences and in electoral terms this meant that the Tories benefited from the Lib Dems collapse, even when those supporters voted Labour.  The collapse in support for the Lib Dems made it easier for the Tories to capture those Lib Dem seats, with 26 seats being taken by the Conservatives.  This was enough to push them over the line and into winning a working majority.

With the Lib Dems reduced to the levels not seen since the Liberals in the 1970’s and Labour’s walk back to the left, it now looks as if we are now into a new age of British politics.  The landscape is further complicated by the bloodbath that engulfed ‘Scottish’ Labour.  Having lost last years referendum, supporters of Independence regrouped and resolved to take revenge on the pro-Union parties.  Given the poor performance of the SNP in 2010, this was not so much an uphill task but akin to hiking through the Himalayas.

There were hints that something was happening in polling last winter, however the first proper indications came with Michael Ashcroft’s polls in February that hinted at the bloodbath ahead.  Polls that proved to be correct as the SNP took every Scottish seat bar three.  That the SNP retain their high poll ratings says more about the piss-poor political manoeuvrings of the other parties than it does about the SNP’s competence – which has at least taken a dent.  This far out, the most certain thing to happen in 2016 will be Nicola Sturgeon winning a first full term as Scottish First Minister.

It could of course be argued that the success of the SNP is the exception that proves the rule here.  They have successfully reinvented New Labour for the Scottish electorate – MacNewLabour if you will.  And like New Labour, the SNP have kept their focus on retaining power without any thought of their legacy or of any big picture style policy.  New Labour’s legacy is one they blundered into in the fevered atmosphere post September 2001 – Iraq.  The SNP’s legacy so far is the referendum – something that has split Scottish public opinion in two with both camps steadily becoming more acrimonious towards each other.  “Scottish” Labour’s own hysterical opposition without really providing any alternative roadmap plays its own part in the landscape though.

The true state of British politics at the end of 2015 is division and acrimony, which fits in with the developing situation around the world.  Daesh’s twin attacks on France have rattled western politicians to the extent that one of the candidates to be American President has called for Muslims to be (temporarily?) banned from entering his country.  Yet the West remains on good terms with the country – Saudi Arabia – which is the seat of Wahabism.  The sect of Islam whose values Daesh have appropriated.

The backdrop of division and an inability to find concensus looks set to dominate 2016.  The US of course will be picking Obama’s successor.  In normal times Hillary Clinton would be the favourite, but these are not normal times.  Here there are big elections for Holyrood, Stormont, Cardiff and for London’s City Hall – including the London Mayoralty.  There is also the distinct possibility that the long trailed EU referendum will take place this year, an event that is already causing waves but will have, like the Independence referendum, far reaching consequences.  All in all, it remains to be seen where the new political landscape will take us.

In the mean time, may I wish you all a happy new year and see you in 2016.