I didn’t stay up to watch the nightmare unfold last night. The exit polls filled me with such shock, outrage, and disgust that I knew my blood pressure wouldn’t be able to cope with it. After eleven o’clock there was no way I was going to spend any more time in the company of Michael Gove and Andrew Neil and the endlessly cheery and upbeat BBC journalists with their gimmicky nausea-inducing BBC graphics showing the House of Commons filled with virtual reality politicians.
I have never been impressed by Miliband either before the campaign or during it, but the things that this government has done – and which it promises to do – have been so brutal, so dishonest and so horrendous, that I believed that even an electorate that too often seems all too willing to believe anything and accept anything could not give the Tories a mandate. Regardless of the coming Labour meltdown in Scotland, I thought there would be a close result overall, possibly a narrow Labour victory and most likely a hung parliament that would have stymied the Tories and forced Miliband into some kind of progressive, anti-austerity coalition.
After all, you don’t need to be particularly radical to think that proposals like abolishing non-dom status or imposing an energy freeze might appeal even to people whose political passions are as lukewarm as the Labour Party leadership’s, especially when compared with the prospect of five more years of a government poised to introduce the most savage cuts to social welfare since the 1930s. But nope, even those little social democratic sweeties couldn’t bring the electorate round. Instead British – I mean English – voters chose to reward one of the most vicious rightwing governments in British history with a narrow majority.
It’s a result that was made possible by a sheeplike, frightened and rancorous population that appears increasingly disposed to believe all the lies that it is told by its vile newspapers. It is an irrational, stupid and fearful vote by an electorate that doesn’t even recognize its own self-interest, let alone the interests of others, that has abandoned any commitment to even the most elementary principles of social justice; that didn’t couldn’t even see that Miliband’s tepid, focus-group-manufactured One Nation ‘fairness’ was still preferable to the dismal social cruelty that the government has already inflicted and which is certain to intensify in the next five years.
In doing so the English have demonstrated extraordinary political cowardice. Lacking the gumption to challenge the powerful, they have preferred to elect a government that victimizes the powerless. This is a population that prefers to doff the cap than bite the hand that it thinks feeds; that expresses its digusts with politicians by voting in the worst of them; that drapes itself in the Union Jack and doffs its collective hat to its masters in the hope that it can be like them; that would rather blame the Scots who want to fight austerity than fight it themselves.
I know that this vote doesn’t represent majority opinion either in England or in the UK as a whole; the British voting system ensures that few votes ever do. But the Tories have so far picked up some 30 percent of the vote share. Equally alarmingly, UKip have gained more than 3 million votes even though they have so far only won one seat, and they even managed to increase their vote share in Wales by ten percent.
So we are witnessing an extraordinary disaster for the majority of the population that is not and never will be Conservative, and a catastrophe for the Labour Party in particular. Now as Ed Miliband prepares to depart, the Blairites are sharpening their knives, and there are rumours that David Miliband is flying back to the country. So Miliband will be replaced by Miliband, and they wonder why so few people were convinced by Labour.
Miliband has said that his party was ‘overwhelmed’ by a ‘surge of nationalism’ in Scotland. This is rubbish. Labour could still have won even without the seats it lost to the SNP. Miliband’s pseudo-explanation doesn’t explain why that ‘surge’ took place, or what it was in the SNP’s ‘nationalism’ that led so many former Labour voters in Scotland to regard Labour as ‘Red Tories.’
Even in Gordon Brown’s constituency, the SNP won with with a 10,000 swing. So much for the big clunking fist who ‘saved the union.’ Labour’s fate was clearly sealed in Scotland long before the election, through years of taking its electorate for granted and through its alliance with the Tories over the referendum campaign. But even during this campaign Nicola Sturgeon continually put forward the idea of a ‘progressive anti-austerity alliance’ on both sides of the border, which Miliband continually rejected.
What a coward and what a fool. Instead he tried to convince the electorate that Labour was the party of social justice, even as he remained committed to an austerity programme of unspecified cuts that was essentially a ‘softer’ version of what the Tories were already planning. He tried to please all the people and ended up pleasing very few of them. He didn’t convince left-leaning voters that he would ‘change the way the country is run’ and he didn’t convince those who already believe in Tory economic ‘competence’ that he could run it more efficiently.
In the end the head boy failed to become PM. He failed to offer a convincing, compelling and inspiring vision of the future to counter the Tories’ crude but effective choice between ‘stability’ and ‘chaos’ or the notion that Labour would damage the fledgling ‘recovery’ that is already faltering. This message was rammed relentlessly home by the rightwing press and even by the Independent, which declared itself in favour of Tory/Lib Dem ‘stability.
The Cameron/Crosby team didn’t just convince a timid electorate that the status quo was better than the future that Labour was offering; they also appealed directly to English nationalism, with a ‘Vote Labour – Get Sturgeon/Salmond’ mantra that will inevitably have traction in a country that always believes it is being unfairly treated and taken advantage of by foreigners of some kind or another, even if those ‘foreigners’ are Scots.
Whatever you think of the SNP’s ability to deliver on its social democratic credentials, its appeal to the Scots electorate is clearly based on very different premises than the beligerent, rancorous, flagwaving, royal baby worshipping, foreigner-hating nativism that is driving English nationalism in its current manifestation.
In Scotland, ‘nationalism’ produced a movement in which a 20-year-old student can overturn a Labour majority of 16,000 in Paisley and Renfrewshire South. In her victory speech Mhairi Black promised that she would fight to end austerity cuts that are hurting communities ‘ both north and south of the border.’
God only knows what might have happened if we had had more people of her age and with her passion and commitment down here in darkest England. Black, and the voters who elected her, have been inspired by a new and postive vision of Scotland’s collective future to take a gigantic leap into the political unknown. Here we have only the rancid pseudo-rebellion of Ukip, and a population that is too terrified of its own shadow to abandon a spurious ‘stability’ which promises nothing but the demise of many of the things that it claims to hold dear.
Ironically, voters who may have seen a Tory mandate as a vote for the Union may have helped to bring its fragmentation closer, since it is difficult to imagine how a government like this can keep the Scots on board, when Cameron and his gang of millionaires set about imposing the next swathe of cuts in a country where they no longer hold any mandate at all.
There were some consolations in this debacle; the well-deserved humiliation of the Lib Dems, whose opportunism and ambition for power did so much to make this outcome possible, by keeping in place a government that should never have made it out of 2010. There will hopefully, be the defeat of Nigel Farage in South Thanet.
But these are small crumbs of schadenfreude that cannot compensate for the monumental disaster for progressive politics that took place yesterday. Maybe something positive will come from it. But right now I can’t think what it can be. And I feel ashamed of my country and disgusted with it.