So, this time last year. I’d made the point about economic crisis and the links to the fringes of politics gaining traction. I’d listed examples, Daesh, Syrzia, Podemos & Corbyn. Those people had decidedly mixed years but the two other examples had a huge year. Farage and Trump.
If you could claim with depressing justification that Nigel Farage was the UK’s person of the year, then the undoubted loser of the year would be the man who started the year in Downing Street. David Cameron (right) possibly thought that he could pull off the same trick Harold Wilson pulled in the mid 1970’s with an in-out EU referendum predicated on mildly superficial changes to our relationship with the EU. That this was a calculation which was not the one which blew up in his face and, essentially, lost him the referendum and his job as Prime Minister tells you how badly the EU Referendum was handled.
The big reason the UK voted to leave, and that Cameron is now… ah, what’s that phrase again… actively seeking employment… is entirely down to losing the economic argument. When sundry Political commentators marvelled at Cameron’s devastating use of ‘Project Fear’ in the 2014 Independence Referendum and the following years Westminster Election, they failed to read the small print and to see that those results occurred in spite of ‘Project Fear’. If Milliband & Co had successfully turned the tables on Cameron by planting the seeds about Cameron’s (possible) preferred coalition partners, then Cameron certainly wouldn’t have a majority. As for the Indyref, the pro-Union Better Together conceded 25% to the pro-Independence Yes Scotland, thanks in no small part to ‘Project Fear’. Given the poll lead conceded between Spring 2012 and Autumn 2014, you’d have thought that supposedly smart political operators like Cameron & Osborne would have used different, better, tactics.
Which is precisely what didn’t happen…
We got Project Fear II… and that was the problem. Cameron, Osborne and Co may have bombarded us with statistics and figures which told a story. On the ground and on what Obama dubbed Main Street, those arguments did not ring true. Leaving the EU would apparently cost £4500.00 per person. Fine, but most people don’t earn that in a month thanks to stagnating wages, thanks to our economy not shaking off fully the effects of recession. This coupled with the perception that Freedom of Movement/Immigration was playing a part in suppressing living standards in this country deeply undermined the Osborne narrative. This is why the pro-EU side lost the economic argument, therefore the referendum.
The UKIP argument of conflating Immigration with Freedom of Movement was the argument which won the day for the Brexiteers. Yet had the pro-EU campaigners stood up to UKIP’s anti-immigration rhetoric or even set out to comprehensively dismantle their arguments… as they should have, things would have been a whole lot different. As a result, even so called ‘progressives’, like the Progress Wing of Labour, now disown multi-cultural Britain. If Farage is UK Politics person of the year, then his success is entirely down to the collective failure of supposedly middle ground politicians. This is a pattern which repeated itself across the Atlantic as Trump defeated the flawed candidacy of Hilary Clinton.
The other thing which links both Trump & Farage is that both come from the rebranded revival in Fascist politics, given a Hollywood style PR rebrand as the Alt-Right in the US. Given that the US is a country always suspicious of left wing values anyway, you can only see the likes of Briebart getting further traction and more influence… not a good thing.
In amongst the wreckage and fall out from the events surrounding the 23 June, it’s easy to forget that other events happened. Completely understandable in the case of May’s Holyrood election as an SNP campaign that never got out of second gear won a historic third term in office. For someone previously thought of as a resolutely left wing character, Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign and subsequent time in Bute House has seen a slight shift to the right.
We have seen the dropping of the SNP’s flagship policy from 2007 pledging to replace the Council Tax, with a pledge to reform the Council Tax. We have also seen Sturgeon rule out adopting a 50% tax rate when the Smith Commission proposals come into force. Both policy changes arguably mark a shift towards a less progressive taxation regime. That’s not to say that the SNP have completely abandoned a centre left perspective/world view. The policy on Baby Boxes is a fine policy, and the SNP were the only party in the whole of the UK to stand up for Immigration during the EU Referendum. However, with the controversy over the recent budget and the poor performance of Scotrail, there is the beginning of the sense that the curse of the third term is beginning to set in. That’s before we mention the SNP’s response to the EU referendum result, using this as a ‘material change’ trigger to a second EU referendum. I’d said before that I don’t think that this will be the issue that sparks the move towards Independence that the SNP are looking for, and polling shows that. Theresa May’s rumoured policy regarding the UK’s leaving of the European Court of Human Rights will be another matter.
The backdrop of division and acrimony continued throughout 2016, and thanks to the EU Referendum, deepened. How this will play out in the key elections due in France & Germany remains to be seen, with the outcome of both having a direct influence on what kind of Brexit we will receive. Here there will be council elections, with all of the Scottish Councils up for grabs. The big questions for 2017 will be: Will May go for an early election? Will Corbyn survive the year as Labour Leader? If Article 50 is triggered in the Spring, what is Sturgeon’s response? Will Labour split? And what will happen to UKIP?
Before we find out, may I wish you all a Happy New Year and see you in 2017 for this blog’s tenth anniversary.