Local Elections: Both Main Parties Deserve a Damn Good Thrashing

The long campaign for 3rd May’s local elections has begun. Taking a cue from the exchange at PMQs between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, it will be a dull one: the detail of local government is Byzantine, and both parties deal in partial statistics.

Do not expect enlightenment in the campaign.

Were we honest, we would admit most of this will fly over the heads not only of voters but political observers. While voters see bin collections reduced, or care bills for elderly relatives increased way beyond inflation due to council shortages, they will also have national matters in their heads. The tradition is that the governing party gets a damn good thrashing.

This is British tradition I would like to embrace - and extend. This government deserves the contempt of voters at the polls.

Labour made an impact within days of its 1997 victory. May has no equivalent

Any domestic agenda has shrivelled in the shade as the government has flown close to the sun of Hard Brexit.

Whatever her original intent, May has failed. Where were her 100 days? What bills has she passed that have changed the direction of the country? We do not have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt to see what a new government can achieve. Labour made an impact within days of its 1997 victory. May has no equivalent.

Instead, we have drift: an NHS that lacks the cash to survive winter increases in demand; the refusal to reform the Universal Credit so that it does not leave those in need close to homelessness; rough sleeping on the rise and a minister unable to give a reason for it.

In their central mission, this government has been unable to match its rhetoric. While they have received good headlines for the draft deal on a transition period, the negotiation has achieved this by offering concession after concession. Brexiter rhetoric of taking back is as empty as an alcoholic’s brandy bottle.

2017 is a good year to bash the government at polls. The new tradition should be to bash the opposition too.

As a former Home Secretary, May can handle national securities issues with aplomb. What voters have some right to expect is that the chief opposition party does too.

Corbyn’s failure to appropriate blame for the attack deserves condemnation. Wild conspiracy make it worse. He has even suggested that the chief suspect) be given a sample to check whether it is from the stockpile: Corbyn is to international relations what Inspector Clouseau is to criminal investigation.

Individually, one can take lines and find good in them - yes, he condemned Putin’s human rights abuses; yes, he correctly drew attention to Russian money that now rests in British banks; yes, ultimately, there are questions the Tories must answer on Russian-linked fundraising. Over all, he revealed that facts are subservient to ideology in the face of an unprecedented chemical weapons attack on British soil.

Instead of prodding him in the correct direction, Corbynistas indulged in cock-eyed conspiracies about the size of a hat. It is not just antisemitism supporters will pretend does not exist in Labour.

Corbyn himself, through his spokesman Seumas Milne, tried a spurious connection with security errors before the Iraq War - frankly a comparison that does not stand up to any intelligent scrutiny.

Godwin’s law is the rule that whoever reduces an argument to a cry of “Hitler!” is the one who loses. We need a further law that recognises whenever the far left cried “Weapons of Mass Destruction!” it has lost the argument. And the plot.

Right side of history? My arse, to quote Mr Royal.

In the same sense that being anti-austerity is not a positive policy prescription, Brexit is not a policy it is a spasm. There is a gap in what will replace our membership of the EU. Only slogans. Neither Corbyn nor May are addressing how a post-Brexit country will form the partnerships it needs to negotiate with the powerbloc that is China. If May has zilch to say here, Corbyn has slightly less.  

Corbyn is failing to provide leadership. His attempt at a compromise Brexit policy failed, perhaps because of its obvious tensions. It was then followed by an wrong-headed attack on the Single Market in a defiantly pro-Brexit speech.

He may talk about protecting workers but by leaving the Single Market, his policy means any future government of left or right, can get rid of them. Their positions are no longer identical, but Hard Brexit is Hard Brexit, whoever deals it.

Only democratic disruption of the two-party stranglehold can bring British politics to sense

One looks at right-wing Brexiters and wonders how extreme would they be without the shackles of power; then one looks at Corbyn allies such as John McDonnell and Chris Williamson, and wonders what would happen were they to roam unbound around the corridors of power. Pessimists might say that things cannot get any worse. Optimists realise: yes, they can.

It is not enough to bash May’s Tories and pretend Corbyn’s Labour looks fit for government. Voters must tell them both to change course. This is too urgent a time for tribalism when we need independent thinking.

Caroline Lucas has been more coherent than Corbyn on the threat Putin poses; Vince Cable consistently recognises the dangers that Brexit threaten to jobs, workers’ rights and investment. Their parties are on the ballot paper in May too. Only democratic disruption of the two-party stranglehold can bring British politics to sense.

May and Corbyn are not the best Britain can do. They are failed second-raters whom we should be putting on the political scrap heap. Britain needs solutions for the future not the politics of nostalgia both offer.

The only way we can do that is with our vote. Because politicians are not the only ones who can fail a democracy. Voters can too.         

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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