Well Done! We've Reclaimed Democracy. Now Let's Exploit the Uncertainty
Minutes after the news broke on Thursday night of the exit poll showing a hung parliament, there came one of the time-honoured traditions of election broadcasting: the financial markets experts. Look, they said, the pound has fallen, government bond yields will rise, and stock markets may drop because of the political uncertainty. Terrible news, obviously.
The fact that that is seen as a useful contribution is a testament to the way that the debate over economics has changed since the advent of neoliberal governments: anything that upsets the financial markets must be bad news.
But the electorate did more than just thumb their nose at the financial markets, they have also rejected the cacophonous chorus from the media. The right-wing press attacked Corbyn rather than praising the Conservatives with The Sun leading the pack with a particularly unpleasant front page urging readers not to “chuck Britain in the Cor-bin”. The Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and even the Financial Times echoed the call to vote Tory. But to no avail: the Tories took 42% of the popular vote and Labour 40%.
Take all those factors together and it looks rather like a return to grassroots democracy.
One of the most positive outcomes of this unwanted election is the return of uncertainty. The people have decided to put everything back on the table: austerity versus fiscal stimulus; hard Brexit versus soft Brexit versus no Brexit; grammar schools versus investment in comprehensive schools; £8 billion extra NHS funding or £30 billion.
Whether Theresa May succeeds in forming a government supported by Northern Ireland’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party, or whether she fails so triggering another election, the voters are going to have a much greater say on these key, divisive issues.
By partnering with the DUP, May will be propped up by a party on the hard right fringe of British politics that has evidently failed to make power-sharing work in Belfast, let alone Westminster. And they reject rights to abortion and same sex marriage and deny climate change. Just worth mentioning.
a weak and wobbly prime minister will find that she is hounded by popular opposition and mass protest
But chief among these issues is the Brexit — the one on which May called the poll to strengthen her negotiating hand in Brussels but which hardly featured in the campaign. The voters rejected the hard Brexit stand she took, with the UKIP vote collapsing and the Labour vote increasing in Remain areas. The Tory vote did rise in Leave areas but clearly not by enough to give her the 200-seat majority dreamed off just seven weeks ago.
Her statement on the steps of Downing Street that she will “deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union” shows she has a tin ear when it comes to the wishes of the electorate.
There is now a huge opportunity for people unhappy with the idea of leaving the single market and customs union and of pulling out of talks in a “no deal is better than a bad deal” scenario to make their voices heard.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, which won 13 seats from an EU-friendly electorate, has already called on May to pursue an “open Brexit” that “puts economic growth first.”
People should not stomach one unelected hard Brexit government being replaced by another, especially one propped by a party whose policy runs counter to the majority Remain vote in Northern Ireland.
Organisations such as Open Britain that campaigned for anti-Brexit candidates of al parties in the General Election, and Britain for Europe will be able to mobilise people angry at having a hard Brexit deal imposed on them.
Continental Europeans are aware of this grassroots pressure. A German television company has produced a documentary looking at the campaign by Open Britain in support of the ultimately successful campaign by the strongly pro-European Labour candidate Tulip Siddiq in Hampstead and Kilburn (the film is here but be warned, it’s in German).
Whether its education policy, NHS funding, social care, university tuition fees, Brexit, or even fox hunting, a weak and wobbly prime minister will find that she is hounded by popular opposition and mass protest at every step. So she should — that is how democracy should work.
If we continue to stand up and be counted, then Britain will benefit from what Abraham Lincoln described as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and not one controlled by billionaires, press barons, and multinational corporations.
About the author
Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.
Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.
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