In a nuclear blast those at the epicenter are blessed with an instantaneous vaporization; indeed a case of “They never knew what hit ’em!” The real and lasting danger is of course the fallout. If we are to begin with this as the analogy in discussing the state of British politics the blast was Brexit. Yesterday was the fallout.
Within the realm of political strategy Prime Minister May’s stated rationale for calling the early election may have made some sense, yet one had to have a sense of unease that perhaps this was an error of judgement. Political strategies are quite often cultivated within the petri dish known as conventional wisdom. What is just as often wanting from this formula is that, though long on convention, the more critical element of wisdom seems notably absent.
Today the headlines shriek of panic: Britain on edge! UK plunged into uncertainty! Hung Parliament! Well, those are headlines. It’s probably not really as bad as all that now, is it? These taglines are created by journalists, who in my experience seem to rank like politicians and lawyers somewhere between the earthworm and the slug on the evolutionary scale. Britain has survived the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Regicide, the Protectorate and yes even decades of Labour rule since 1945. This too shall pass.
There is the irresistible temptation on the left, indeed already manifest, to crow about the resurgence of Labour and the country coming to its senses to reject both the Conservatives and the results of the Brexit vote. I strongly suspect that this is nothing more than partisan hyperbole, the rejection of either or both coming from no more than those whose sentiments were already in Labour’s camp from the last round. I believe the more likely causes for yesterday’s results are similar to the Presidential election results of 2008 and 2012.
In 2008 there was a set of conditions which set the political stage, the most acute of those being the financial crisis. There was an effort to portray this as being the most crucial of causes. It was the rejection of the failure of capitalism. Remember the headline “We’re all socialists now”? This was a convenient oversimplification of the result with more of the causes deriving from prior events.
In 2000 a Republican administration was elected by the most narrow of margins, on the heels of what had arguably been eight years of Democrat rule under the affable and personally popular Bill Clinton. Regardless how this came about George W. Bush was going to be an unpopular figure in a decidedly biased media, all the more so entering the office under a cloud of controversy as he did. Bush won on the merits of two key factors. First was the utter ineptitude of the Democrat candidate, Al Gore. Were it not for his benefitting from being part of an administration which had presided over relatively bullish times in the economy the race would not even have been close. The second factor was an electorate which had frankly grown fatigued with the state of perpetual scandal that had marked the Clinton years.
Bush had promised much to his constituency, a conservative base, which he failed to deliver. Bush had billed himself as a conservative but in governing proved to be anything but. As a product of Republican establishment he served with fealty only to the same. Goldman Sachs, in the person of Hank Paulson, still ruled the treasury. Though responsive to the 9/11 terror attacks Bush conducted the same incoherent and misdirected policy in the middle east that has been the hallmark of Republican and Democrat administrations alike for decades. At varying intervals during his eight years Bush enjoyed congressional majorities yet failed to adequately capitalize upon these to enact any truly meaningful agenda. Instead he and the congress provided yet another entitlement program, prescription care for seniors, an over reaching Department of Education in the form of the “No Child left behind Act”, and the abominations of the Patriot Act and the TSA. The latter of these two, like genital herpes, gifts that just keep giving.
Now it would have been one thing to have failed in accomplishing all of the stated agenda. Agendas are plans which most often will fall somewhere short of a full fruition, but this failure was compounded by an active participation and cooperation with an establishment whose least concern is for the benefit of anyone other than themselves. Like a cat scratching the litter over their freshly deposited feces Bush parted the stage with yet another abomination: TARP, or the bank bailout.
If one takes all of these and then adds financial and economic crises with another milksop establishment candidate in the form of John McCain all of the required ingredients are present for many voters to simply stay home. And that is exactly what they did. In the millions. Fast forward to 2012. Republicans enjoyed remarkable success in the 2010 mid-terms, voted another Washington establishment figure to lead the House, John Boehner, and failed to exercise checks that were within their constitutional power against the Obama agenda. For their poor choice of candidates fielded in several Senate races they fell short of solidifying that check. And in 2012 the progressive establishment wing of the party again failed to deliver a candidate who could carry the day. Mitt Romney is a nice guy. Too nice. He might have been acceptable at another time, but he was not the right choice for that election.
So again in 2012 there were millions of voters who simply decided that with no better choices presented to them it was better to just sit another one out. In both instances Obama did not win because of a sea change in the sentiments of the voters, in fact quite the contrary. He won because the opposition did not turn out in enough numbers, realizing that the alternative presented was just really more of the same. Different pocket, but the same pair of trousers.
In yesterday’s UK election the want of any party having attained a clear majority would seem to support the conclusion that the same has occurred. Both of the major parties only offered more of the same, failing to recognize that the Brexit vote was more than anything a rejection of the status quo. Add to this Prime Minister May’s less than inspiring response to a number of high profile terror attacks during the campaign is it any wonder that a good number of Britons decided to take a pass? I’ve not seen them yet, but I would hardly be surprised if the turn out numbers were to prove less than that of the Brexit vote.
In any event under the British Parliamentary system this sort of result yields a coalition government, which is hardly the worst that could have happened. Where many pundits may see an ambiguity in the result I disagree. I believe it states rather clearly that the British people are not pleased with the menu, a now recurring theme in western elections. Until the menu is remade I suspect that sales will remain flat in these establishments.