Plan B Politics

As Stephen Bush’s piece last week highlighted, there are a finite number of messages a political party can run on. Typically, these positions don’t change between elections because they are so simple: “things would work better with us in charge”. 2017, however, was a turning point for both parties.

When Jeremy Corbyn rose to victory in Labour’s leadership election in 2015, he did so on the back of a promise of a new type of politics. Many chose him because he offered something the other three candidates seemingly did not, and that was hope. Corbyn famously asserted he would bring a new straight talking, honest politics into the Labour party, something he really hasn’t done. He was meant to be the politician who could finally energise the dwindling youth vote and bring non-voters out into the voting booths for the first time.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Labour had returned from a near 20-point deficit in the polls to force a hung parliament. A dismal campaign from Theresa May gave Corbyn the wind in his sails, and policies such as the abolishment of tuition fees had on the face of it galvanised the youth to an astonishing spike in turnout. However, as we now know, this wasn’t exactly the case.

Recently, the British Electoral Survey found that turnout did not increase among 18- to 24-year-olds at the 2017 election, although it did increase in areas with larger numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds. The noteworthy changes were actually found in the 25-44 age group, where turnout increased significantly and swung in great numbers towards Labour. The groups of voters Corbyn aimed to bring out in force did not turn up, and despite a successful campaign, Labour’s Plan A had failed.

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What is it that Divides Us?

Jo Cox gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3rd June 2015. Describing her constituency, globalisation, and immigration, Jo inspirationally said that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. After her death just a week before the EU referendum, the hashtag and movement #MoreInCommon went global and ever since has been used as a means of attempting to heal the conflicts and divides in society.

Of course, it’s true in many ways. We are all the same. But there’s no doubt that we should be worried about the growing divisions festering around us all. Traditionally, the big divides were that of political party identification, this has since been replaced by simply: Remain or Leave. It’s understandable why; despite both party leaders playing down the issue, it will define us and our country for generations to come. The referendum formalised a deep cultural divide stemming across many factions. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, and towns against cities.

In the past, it was class that was the main predictor of a person’s likely voting behaviour. This has significantly narrowed, with both support for Labour among the middle class and support for the Conservatives among the working class rising by 12 points between 2015 and 2017. The big divide in voting behaviour is now age. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18-to-24-year olds Labour led by 35%, but among over 65’s the Tories held a 36-point lead. In the referendum three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-olds voted Remain, but two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

Education was also a big factor in both votes. In the 2017 election the Tories led by 22% among people with ‘low educational qualifications’, but those with ‘high-level educational qualifications’ plucked for Labour by 17% more. In the referendum, those with GCSE or lower qualifications voted 70:30 to Leave, but those with a degree voted 68:32 in favour of Remain. There’s also another reason for these stark contrasts: the direction and leadership of the two main political parties under current leadership. May’s Conservatives have lurched to the right, and Corbyn’s Labour to the left, and people are being forced to choose a side.

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A Year in Review

What a year it’s been – both for me, and this blog. When asked to describe 2017, people will think Brexit and the election, and despite watching the news in horror for most of the year, this has at least been good for my blog. I definitely haven’t had a shortage of items to write about. At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of posting a piece a week, and I’ve kept to that without it (in my opinion) being detrimental to the quality.

So, what’s happened this year in my personal life? Not much to be honest. After the host of changes in 2016 which included graduating, new job, moving into my own flat, 2017 has been quiet. I’ve had a good year at work where I’ve had a raise, took on some side projects, and feel I’m getting closer to a promotion. Outside of work I’ve been involved in a lot of my own projects which I’m excited for, but currently I, unfortunately, do not have the time to knuckle down on them as much as I’d like.

2017 is also a year where my mental health has been relatively kind to me. Bar some low points in the autumn I’ve been fairly in control throughout the year, and I hope that can continue into the new year. One disappointment personally is that I am still very single. I obviously do not want to rush into a relationship for the sake of it, but I have been single for a long time now and am extremely sick of it. So, what are some of my highlights of the year…

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Don’t Hold Your Breath on Another Snap Election

Many are pondering the simple question, when will the next UK general election take place? Due to the chaotic times at hand, many believe another early election is inevitable, and could well be next year. It’s easy to see why. The Tories have the slimmest of majorities being propped up by the DUP, Theresa May’s leadership is as strong and stable as a wet tissue, and she has enemies within her party waiting to pounce and drive her out of Downing Street.

However, I can tell you now there will not be an election in 2018, the reasons of which are plentiful. The first of which is Brexit. This week we moved onto the second stage of negotiations with the EU, which essentially considers the future relationship after we leave. This is where things get tricky, and it will take up most of the remaining 15 months before we leave. Expect very little time to be wasted on domestic policy until then, and there is no definitely no time to waste on another campaign and visit to the polls, no one in Westminster will want to risk it.

Another issue is no one in Westminster particularly is interested in even entertaining the thought of another election just yet. The Tories, first, do not want to risk the slim majority they currently hold, and their leader does not want to risk the house she lives in. The Tories also do not want to take a risk on their leader whom despite still being slightly more popular than Corbyn, would currently lose an election with Labour’s current slender poll lead.

The Tories will first want to find a successor to May, but not whilst she remains a useful tool. On the 2nd June, May told the 1922 committee “I’ll serve as long as you want me”, and that is quite literal. When the Tories decide it’s time to go, she will go. The party has no other leader ready to step in, and none of the candidates wants to take any of the flak from Brexit. Boris is pushing himself out of the picture, Damian Green might yet have to resign, Davis is beaten from Brexit, Rudd has a very dangerous majority, and Hammond is as out of touch as it comes.

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The First Brexit Budget

The big story of the past week was, of course, the Budget, not Philip Hammond’s most wonderful time of the year. After his disastrous first budget which featured the quickest U-turn in history, he was trying to play it safe, and it worked. It barely made the news, and all his rivals looking to get him out of the job will have to postpone their plans for sabotage. It was a budget that was meant to appease as many individuals and parties as possible whether it be Theresa May, Brexiteers, or even young people, and it was the first of many Brexit budgets.

It was described by Robert Peston as the most boring budget of all he has covered, and on the surface, he’s correct, but there were some very un-boring and worrying undertones. The big announcements were the stamp duty charge changes, including abolishment for house purchases of under 300k, the changes to Universal credit, the extra funding for the NHS, and the extra money for Brexit preparation in case of a no deal situation. But the big story was the OBR forecasts, and the rather bleak economic outlook we have ahead of us.

Hammond announced stagnant GDP growth forecasts for the next five years: 1.4%, 1.3%, 1.3%, 1.5%, 1.6%, this compared to the 2.5% long-term growth rate forecast just two years ago before Brexit. This is the first time in modern history that economic growth is predicted to fall below 2% in every forecast year. Borrowing is continuing to grow, and the UK national debt continues to rise, almost double what it was when the Tories took over from Labour in 2010. The Tories continue to blame this mess on the previous Labour government, but the truth is that all of this is on them.

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Towns are Corbyn’s Key to No 10

The UK and its citizens are divided across the spectrum. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, but perhaps the biggest divide is between the towns and the cities. For years governments have seen and tried to use cities as engines of economic growth, and hoped that their increased prosperity would fund and carry along surroundings towns.

Towns have been left behind, especially when it comes to politics, and definitely when it comes to the Labour Party. Labour was a party founded on the working class focusing on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, but in recent years has become a party of the middle class, of ‘socialism fans’ as it were. Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever. That’s not to say that town equals working class and city is equivalent to the middle and upper classes, but there is a strong correlation between the two.

Labour is currently stockpiling member support and votes in strongholds and major cities like London and Manchester, and this was as evident as ever in the election. The general election in June saw a 10.2% swing from Conservatives to Labour in cities but was just a 4.1% swing in towns. Labour made twice the gains among younger, middle-class voters in cities than older, working-class voters in towns, and gained the most ground in seats with increased capital. This is not just a recent trend, as the Tories have made a net gain of 13% over Labour in towns since 2005.

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No ‘Bregret’ Just Yet

Despite us having another 18 months of negotiations ahead of us, there were talks this week of whether the wheels had come off Brexit due to polling released by YouGov. The results not only had everyone questioning just where Brexit was heading (like anyone knew anyway), but even whether leaving the EU was a done deal due to changing public opinion.

So, what were the headlines? After 16 months, a record high 47% of those polled said they thought Britain was wrong to leave the EU, coupled with a record low 42% saying we were right to do so, a 9% net shift on the first 6 months of the year. 76% felt current negotiations are going either “quite badly” or “very badly”, compared to just 12% who believe talks have been positive. Almost half of the respondents believe a deal is likely, whereas 37% believe the opposite, and again almost half think a likely no-deal scenario would be “bad” for Britain. 48% believe the EU will come off better, whilst only a fifth think the UK will come out on top.

Theresa May’s handling of Brexit is also under fire, with nearly twice as many disapproving of her performance as approving (49% to 27%), a slight decline from last month, when the figures were 42% and 30%. 51% say that negotiations are proving more difficult than expected; a sentiment shared by both Remainers and Leavers despite ignoring such warnings during the referendum. Finally, more voters say that they have become more pessimistic about Brexit (34%) since the referendum than more optimistic (23%), highlighting the shift in toplines.

It’s hardly surprising we are seeing these results. Both the government and opposition have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other from one day to the next. Because of this, the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU seems to be increasing with every stage of talks. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. There’s a lack of investment as businesses are cautious about the future, real earnings are declining due to the depreciation of the pound, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week).

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