Historically, the transfer of power backwards and forwards from the centre-left to the centre-right has largely served to simply nudge the rudders of Government for marginal corrections of course.
The destination never really changed, and any discussions and debates were about the best route to get there – straight ahead through the choppy waters for greatest efficiency, or the longer course around the rocks, outcrops and inlets, slower but reducing the risk of capsizing.
“Safe Passage to the Safe Harbour of Neo-Liberalism!” – the barkers at the quayside would have shouted to prospective passengers. Nobody doubted the benefits of free markets, free trade and minimal government interference. Like a political GPS, the ‘invisible hand’ would take care of all travellers.
But now, for the first time, both major parties are simultaneously rejecting this classic liberal approach leaving voters bewildered and confused as, against the uncertainty of Brexit, the political norms they had assumed would be in place are torn down.
Labour is redrafting Clause 4 in its constitution to herald back ‘common ownership of the means of production’. It is exploring such untested ideas as Universal Basic Income, a Green New Deal and Guaranteed Full Employment. It is proposing the compulsory repurchase of infrastructure, the dismantling of Big Tech and cooperative ownership models to give workers control of the businesses which employ them. Viva la Revolucion!
The Tories, who have arguably benefited most from the post war neo-liberal political orthodoxy, now find themselves and their supporters at odds with a key element of the project – namely a global economy. Today the ERG and other hard-right factions are spouting new ‘Little Englander’ isolationist mantras, decrying the global institutions which hold it all together and advocating for control and oversight of the laissez-faire banking, financial institutions and legal systems. They are excited about introducing new central controls over free movement of people, money and products wrapped up in authoritarian populism. Strength through Unity!
The left is lurching one way, the right the other, and both are in danger of leaving the majority behind. This is now ‘The Brexit General Election’ and the poor voter is looking for surety, a bedrock on which to build confidence and simple answers to complex questions. Instead voters are being presented with new concepts, ones they associate with failed regimes of the past and have shown little appetite to embrace.
The electorate is also much less engaged and enthused than at any previous point.
In polls taken on the eve of the election being called, more than 30% answered ‘none’ when asked ‘which party leader best represented their views’, and 27% chose ‘none of the above’ when asked who would make the best Prime Minister.
While PM Johnson’s ratings are stagnant, Corbyn’s ratings are the lowest for any party leader ever in British political history. It hardly feels like the time to be trying to persuade people to take on new ideas, and in a 5 week election campaign which for better or worse is dominated by a single issue, these new ideas and concepts are losing the fight to be heard, starved of the oxygen of publicity they would need if they were ever to have a chance of taking root.
Voters across the country are going to have to find something worth supporting. In a first past the post system it is unlikely anyone can gain the working majority which being ‘the least unpopular’ candidate can possible ever deliver.
This election was supposed to put an end to the political uncertainty, but it seems very likely we will all be back on the dockside on 13th December, staring at another no-overall control Parliament, desperately still looking for a suitable captain to steer the ship home.
Martin Liptrot is a political and communications associate consultant with DevoConnect. He performs hi-wire PR for businesses and organisations. Contact him at: martin@98RepublicPR.com