S&C regular and local writer, Matt Wingett, explores the growing resentment with austerity that drove the results of last weeks’ general election, and how the Prime Minister could have so badly misunderstood the electorate.
It’s not the left and it’s not the right that has been driving politics in the last few years. That’s the miscalculation Theresa May made in the General Election that has wounded her so badly.
She assumed that most Brexiteers were right-wingers and that she would hoover up the votes of these people who had, as it seemed, inexplicably converted to the far right wing ideas of UKIP now Brexit was set to go ahead.
Yes, it’s a logical next step to make that calculation. But it misses the main underlying factor that had been pushing voters toward far right ideologues.
What both the Brexit referendum and GE 2017 had in common was not the ascendancy of right wing ideology. It was more simple than that, and more from the guts: desperation with the status quo.
Many Brexiteers voted that way because they were fed up with how things are now. They framed the squeeze on health services as the EU’s fault. That notorious figure of £350 million a week for the NHS on the side of the Brexit Bus was a simple lie, but an effective one that made a false but highly powerful equation. The EU = bad for NHS.
Then there were “those foreigners coming over here” and putting a squeeze on British people’s jobs and homes. Resources are limited, this logic said, and so we should save them for British people. Simple.
Yet that same narrative of scarcity is exactly what led many UKIP voters and Brexiteers to vote for Corbyn. It’s been estimated in various reports that between one third and one half of UKIPers voted Labour. That was part of the canniness of the Corbyn campaign – to keep the pro-Brexit vote by promising Brexit would go ahead – but to nuance it in such a way as to make it a “pro-jobs Brexit“.
This, was perfectly congruous with Corbyn’s other policies: more money for the NHS, the police, public services, universities, teachers. All of these said that austerity would soon be over, thank God, and we could get back to normal.
The renationalisation of former public assets to prevent corporations from profiteering and living off of taxpayers’ money as they do now is perhaps best legitimised by the current obscene situation in which Government-subsidised private railways pay dividends to shareholders.
That taxpayers’ money is paid directly to private, wealthy individuals is one of the absurdities of Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite privatisation. It is a policy known as redistribution and is hated by the Tories when funds actually go to the needy.
So, yes, Corbyn inspired the youth vote. He is an absolutely brilliant campaigner, and he drew on the skills and energy built up and honed over the last 40 years. Yes, Momentum ran a brilliant social media campaign. Yes, in the heat and necessity of the moment, Blairite New Labour fossils abated their criticisms, secretly believing in their hearts that if they held their noses just a little while longer, the stink of what they perceive as unreconstructed Marxist policies would finally clear and the Party would wake up, Rip Van Winklesque, to a new reality.
What those Blairite lickspittle reactionaries (just like their close relatives, Theresa May and Co.) didn’t see and haven’t seen from the beginning, is the seething rage at austerity that has built up ever since the Credit Crunch first withered the country. No high-ranking bankers were jailed for fraud. Instead the poor were made to pay for the mistakes of the rich. Meanwhile the rich got tax breaks as a reward.
That rage, that anger, that sense of injustice is at the heart of the reaction against the established order that was expressed through Brexit and the current rise of a proper, leftist Labour.
I encourage the Tories to continue austerity and, indeed, to deepen it.
Within it lies the key to their own destruction.