Sunday, 20 December 2015

That's it for 2015!


It's been a long, tiring, draining, surprising and - yes - emotional 2015. Now it's nearly over, we thought we'd pick out three themes that have defined 2015 for us, and which might allow us to sum up everything that we've said over the last year. Let's pick them out from the three areas we've covered the most - Western politics (and specifically European politics) overall, the travails of the UK Labour Party, and the various politically self-interested bodge jobs that the present Conservative administration in London likes to call 'policy'.

The centre is just about holding - for now. Everywhere you look, Europe's political system is being bent and buckled by the challenges of a new and radical populism. At the time of writing, it looks likely like the Left-wing Podemos grouping, and to a lesser extent the more centrist and reformist Citizens' Party, are trampling down the decades-long dominance of the two main parties in Spain. But one of the main two parties - the People's Party, or the Socialists - will still head up the Government in Madrid, posing perhaps insurmountable problems for any junior coalition partner that has to give up the purity of saying for the dirty business of actually doing. Europe's elites are just - just - managing to keep the show on the road. The French National Front may well have attained its highest-ever share of the vote in this year's French regional polls, but the party was stopped in its tracks by more centrist voters of both Left- and Right-wing variants, who objected to the idea of the FN actually running their lives and services. The Danish People's Party may well have come second in Denmark, a country that gives every indication of veering Rightwards very quickly, but more moderate conservatives are still in control. The United Kingdom Independence Party might have got over twelve per cent of the vote in Britain's General Election, but they managed to gain (or hold) on one actual Parliamentary seat. That's where we are now. But can Europe's politicians hold back the insurgencies of Left and Right? Can they get a little bit more economic growth going, push youth unemployment down, get a handle on immigration and the morbid psycho-social fears that seem to grip many electorates? Maybe they can. But time now seems short. The system is being bent, warped and tested. This part of the story is not finished yet.

Britain's Labour Party is in deep, deep trouble. Labour entered this year thinking that it might soon seize power. It leaves 2015 knowing, deep down in everyone's hearts, that it is further from power now than at any time since 1983 - and perhaps even since 1935. It is becoming clearer with each passing day that Labour's new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, probably will last through most of this Parliament, and may well contest the next General Election - meaning that it is likely to be as one-sided as you can possibly imagine. It is very likely that Labour will be not just beaten, but humiliated. And why? Because his enemies within Labour have run out of ideas. Yes, it's fine - and indeed necessary - to talk about 'electability'. But you have to have something else - some slate of ideas, a charismatic leader, some exciting philosophy or concepts. 'New' Labour became exhausted in office (following some of the most far-reaching and Left-wing achievements ever piloted through the House of Commons), and then tainted by the disasters of the Iraq War and its aftermath. Those who like to see themselves as inhabiting or fighting from the 'radical centre' of British politics have never recovered. Every time there is a fight between Mr Corbyn and his MPs, Mr Corbyn will win - because all the new members he has attracted (and all of those more long-standing members who have left) mean that Labour's grassroots are now utterly convinced by his Leftwards tilt. That means almost certain disaster at the ballot box, even if Labour's ratings have not quite collapsed off a cliff just yet. It is rare indeed for any Opposition to be so far behind at this stage in a Parliament; it is even rarer for a new political leader to have no opinion poll bounce whatsoever to talk of (indeed, rather the opposite has been the case for Mr Corbyn). The electorate now need a telescope to see Labour at all, for all the thought they give what used to be a national party that aimed to form a government. It no longer does, and probably will not for some years to come.

British public policy is in some ways even worse. Labour's dire problems mean one thing is very clear: there is now no credible Opposition. This will make the governance of the United Kingdom even worse, but it won't be the main reason why it's so bad. The key explanation for poor policy-making, in those areas where it's poor, is that Ministers are not always or primarily interested in solutions that work. That's a bonus and an aim, of course, but our governors are also interested in destroying the alternatives to continuous Conservative administration. Indeed, it is gradually becoming clear that this may have been the point of 'the cuts' in the first place: to drive Labour's ideological core and supporters so wild with anger and frustration that they retreated into the rageful (but somehow familiar and comforting) white-hot core of their own moral indignation. All the easier, then, to cancel many (though not all) of the cuts and just say 'well, they've done their work now, Labour is basically a laughing stock, so let's lessen the pain'. Cynical - but effective if you understand that some Conservative Ministers are basically nihilists engaged in a long and close-quarters destruction of their enemies. Why else have the Conservatives cut the Short Money that Opposition parties rely on? Brought in Individual Electoral Registration for the new boundaries that will help them anyway? Inaugurated a 'Gagging Bill' to silence charities, and trade union 'reform' that'll cut Labour's funding? For one reason and one reason alone: to make sure that our new-old rulers stay exactly where they are. Labour's done everything it can to help them, of course, but that's their own fault. It's clear to see, meanwhile, exactly those groups who will suffer: everyone who needs social housing, while the Conservatives subvert the Housing Association movement in the name of 'right to buy' schemes that will make these small battalions of laudable charity even less viable; everyone who is going without food because of the Bedroom Tax; everyone who is being cruelly and shabbily sanctioned by benefits officials who have to look over their shoulders all the time; everyone who's young and would like a bit of a chance to educate themselves, rather than a load of broken promises about student loans' interest rates and a definition of 'teaching quality' that is only harmful and painful in its lack of range and ambition. They're all going to get hammered for years to come. That can't be averted now. Sorry, but them's the facts.

Well, before we get too bleak, that's it for now. We'll be back around or about Monday 11 January. On the agenda then? Quite possibly a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Union - potentially an epochal struggle which will define what it means to be British for decades to come. An American Presidential election which will almost certainly pit Hillary Clinton against some unfortunate picked from the increasingly-strident, shrill and uncompromising Republican fold. And Mega Thursday, as not too many people are calling it (yet)  - that first Thursday in May date with the electors of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, English local councils, the London Assembly and Mayoralty, Bristol's Mayoralty and Police Commissioners in England and Wales. After that, we'll have a lot more data about the likely popularity (or unpopularity) of Jeremy Corbyn's new-look Labour Party, and the potential lower and upper bands of its performance in the General Election of 2020. Remember: no Opposition has ever come from behind in any of these local and devolved contests and then won a General Election.

Whatever the results, we'll be there - using data, statistics, reason, history and above all transparent, open, falsifiable arguments to try to divine what's really going on. We hope you'll join us.

Until then - Happy Holidays!

36 comments:

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    I think you overreach here. Remember the consensus in 2010 was that austerity was a political loser (Mervyn King famously said privately that whoever won the 2010 election would have been out of power for a generation, and the Governor of the Bank of England is as about as establishment as you can get). It is much more likely that the cuts were a response to the poor fiscal position in 2010, or, if you are being cynical about Tory motives, to reduce the size of the state as an end in itself. Remember that when Osborne announced his first budget, the Tories didn't have a majority and thought that they would be facing a centrist David Miliband-led Labour Party. The idea that they forsaw that they would be able to drive the Labour Party base "into a rage" ascribes more foresight to Osborne than he deserves (even if you are completely cynical about his motives, which you clearly are).

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