Conservative Party Policy Renewal: 1000 Ways To Die Trying

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Rather than attempting to forge a compelling, coherent vision for Britain rooted in conservative values, our dithering Prime Minister is soliciting a thousand disjointed policy suggestions from every vested interest and armchair crank in the nation. This is not leadership.

Having been on the road since 14 March of this year, I confess that I presently find myself semi-detached from the day-to-day granular developments in British politics. I note the headlines and observe the main spectacles as they occur – this week it seems to be another Cabinet showdown about Brexit and the planned “Rite of Spring” style frenzied celebration of the NHS on its 70th birthday, complete with the worshipping of false idols at Westminster Abbey and perhaps enough human sacrifices to make even the mass murderers at Gosport Hospital seethe with envy – but otherwise have been forced to tune out the smaller procedural stories which, taken together, give the truest indication of where we are heading.

It is dispiriting, therefore, to tune back in this week and discover that the Conservative Party remains every bit as ideologically lost, rudderless and without leadership as it was when I flew from Heathrow Airport nearly four months ago, particularly since the fractious nature of British politics could see any more Tory missteps usher in a Corbynite Labour government and a chaotic, uncontrolled Brexit – two economic calamities both alike in indignity, one slow-burning and the other all too immediate.

At this point, I can scarcely bring myself to repeat the warnings that this blog has been making with increasing alarm (and clarity) for the past six years – that chasing Labour to the left and disowning/apologising for small government conservative principles is political folly, and that the period of discontinuity in which we now find ourselves – where the old political settlement neither adequately addresses our contemporary problems nor commands widespread public support – requires coherent vision and ambitious policymaking from our political elites, not more of the same old demos-phobic technocracy.

At this point I have warned of the urgent need for new Conservative policymaking which neither seeks to mimic statist Labour paternalism or reheat individualist 1980s Thatcherism, and have cheered on those few brave efforts to seed the Tory Party with new ideas – most notably George Freeman MP’s “Big Tent” initiative.

But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Conservative Party cannot save itself, that much of the heavy lifting will have to be done by people not beholden to the existing party power structure (and quite possibly outside of politics altogether), just as it took external voices to commandeer a 1970s Tory Party still stubbornly clinging to a failed socialist post-war settlement. Unfortunately, it has also become equally clear that the required external voices are not at all welcome, that “conservative reform” is seen by those in power as little more than a cosmetic exercise whereby people within the existing Tory ecosystem sit around reciting platitudes at one another.

Until this week. Now, it seems, Theresa May has decided to go in an altogether different direction. From the Telegraph:

Theresa May has launched an appeal for MPs, peers and party members to submit 1,000 policy ideas to form the basis of the Conservative party’s bid to win the next general election.

The Prime Minister has announced she has set up a new Conservative Policy Commission in the biggest overhaul of the party’s policy thinking in more than a decade, personally appealing to Brexit voters in particular to offer up their own ideas.

The new Commission, chaired by Chris Skidmore MP, has been charged with developing the ideas in time for the Tory party conference next year.

The next general election is expected in 2022 but the relatively short timetable means Mrs May will be presented with a ready-made policy platform if she chooses to call an early election in the months after Britain quits the European Union next year.

So from having almost taken a perverse pride in her government’s lack of direction or urgency for change, Theresa May is now seeking the oddly specific number of 1000 new policy ideas, even deigning to consider contributions from (relatively) ordinary people.

And how is this new Policy Commission intended to work?

Each task force will be asked to answer 20 policy questions set by Mr Skidmore with 10 separate policy ideas, to give the party 1,000 new ideas for consideration in the final policy report.

[..] Evidence will be gathered at meetings in towns and cities in every region around the country, with an interim report ready for summer next year and the final document published at the party’s 2019 conference.

The long-sickening optimist within me would like to think that some good might emerge from this exercise, even though a policy review seeking only answers to highly specific, pre-ordained questions is unlikely to produce many truly radical or disruptive ideas. However, the realist within me – whose low expectations have been repeatedly vindicated – suspects that this is nothing more than a Tony Blair-style cosmetic New Labour performance spectacle, that the task forces themselves will somehow end up stuffed full of the same Westminster bubble-dwellers you always see at London think tank events, and that if any genuinely bold policy emerges from the mess it will be met with polite interest and then disappeared down the memory hole.

But worse than that, by announcing this initiative Theresa May is veering from one extreme to another – from having solicited policy and strategic advice from only a small and insular circle of loyal sycophants to encouraging everyone in the land to start shouting ideas or promoting their personal pet projects at the same time. Rather than stepping back and attempting to forge a compelling, coherent vision for Britain rooted in conservative values, our dithering Prime Minister is now soliciting disjointed contributions from every vested interest and armchair crank in the nation. This is not leadership.

Back in November of 2017 I attempted to outline the approach which a Conservative government should be taking toward necessary policy renewal, beginning by quoting the influential 1977 Stepping Stones Report:

We must know what a Tory government will have to achieve, before thinking about the way in which it must win office, because simply “winning a majority” on the wrong terms may not give it the authority it needs for success.

In normal times a majority is enough. The task of government is to steer a basically healthy socio-economic system past hazards which are primarily external, while ensuring that the system’s fabric is maintained and making improvements to it here and there.

But once the system itself starts to show signs of fatigue, instability, disintegration, then we start to talk of discontinuity. In discontinuity, solutions can only be found by breaking constraints which we had assumed were unbreakable. It is not enough to settle for policies which cannot save us, on the grounds that they are the only ones which are politically possible or administratively convenient.

I then laid out a case arguing that we find ourselves in a similar moment of political discontinuity today, with new challenges producing the same frustrations and political sclerosis we witnessed during the national decline of the 1970s. For all his flaws, Jeremy Corbyn recognises that we are in a period of discontinuity and is promoting radical left-wing policies in tune with the moment. By contrast, the Conservatives seem terrified to articulate any kind of bold vision at all, and risk being correctly perceived as the party of the status quo.

Hence my final recommendation:

We need a new Stepping Stones Report for our times. We need a comprehensive and dispassionate analysis of the problems we face as a country, and understand where and how they are linked together. Having diagnosed these problems (which in the case of many politicians many involve some painful introspection) we must decide where we want to go as a country – what we realistically want Brexit Britain to look like in 2020, 2025, 2030 and beyond – and then devise a programme of mutually supporting, politically feasible policies to get us there, and a way of framing and communicating this programme that can unite a sufficient amount of our fractured country to earn an electoral mandate.

It may be noted that many of the issues we face today – globalisation, automation, migration, terrorism – span national borders and can not be solved by any one country alone. This is not a concession to angry Remainers who naively view the European Union as the ultimate platform for all international cooperation, but it is a statement of fact. This means that for the first time in decades – since the Second World War, really – Britain must lift its eyes above our own domestic concerns and seek to use our position on the world stage to promote and coordinate the adoption of the new solutions we devise. Having voted for Brexit and upended our politics, embracing the discontinuity which most other countries still ignore, we are the canaries in the coal mine and other nations will look to us to see how they might navigate the same issues. For once, rather than lowering our national ambitions and ducking a challenge we must rise to the occasion.

I still believe that this idea, or some variant of it, is the only surefire way for Britain to identify, acknowledge and overcome our present challenges. In principle, a Conservative Policy Commission could be a good idea, particularly one which pays particular attention to the aspirations and concerns of those areas of the country which voted to leave the European Union. But demanding 1000 fresh ideas and then frantically sorting through them, trying to weld together a new draft manifesto in time for the 2019 Tory party conference, is not going to result in anything coherent or sufficiently inspirational to make people positively want to vote Conservative. At best it looks gimmicky, and at worst it serves as a Trojan horse for multitudes of self-serving vested interest policy to find an unwitting champion in government.

Put simply, you cannot solicit 1000 random ideas and successfully pick through them in order to arrive at a compelling programme for government. What’s needed is an earnest attempt to identify, describe and measure the challenges, threats and opportunities facing Britain – be it automation, outsourcing, migration, productivity, education or national security – and then identify the linkages and interdependencies between them. Only on the strength of this bedrock of analysis can new policy ideas be properly evaluated to determine whether they are both politically feasible and adequate to the challenge at hand.

Any such approach would require something between the traditional insular elitism of the political class and the slap-happy populism of Theresa May’s latest initiative, inviting unfiltered ideas without any clear basis on which to evaluate them. Strong government involves making trade-offs and necessary compromises in pursuit of a greater good; Theresa May’s proposed policy commission risks being nothing more than retail politics at its worst, promising all things to all people and disappointing everybody in the process.

I wish that things looked more optimistic for the Conservative Party and for the country, but from my current perch here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I see only a weak and dithering prime minister who thinks that conservative policy renewal is little more than a cosmetic exercise, or even worse, a political game to be played. All those Conservative activists working diligently to come up with new ideas are not well served by a CCHQ and leadership which bypasses their efforts and seeks an arbitrary 1000 new ideas simply because someone in 10 Downing Street thought that it would make a good headline.

Here in the United States, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump in part because her campaign was never able to satisfactorily or compellingly explain why she wanted to be president beyond the personal satisfaction of having her hands on the levers of power. In Britain, the Conservative Party has been in power for the better part of a decade, most of it without offering voters any kind of positive vision (let alone a granular strategy) for strengthening the country. With Jeremy Corbyn now offering a clear contrast and a very different vision for Britain, the Tories no longer have the luxury of being dull, dismal and technocratic.

Neither the Conservative Party nor the country needs 1000 wacky new policy ideas at this difficult juncture, or any other quick-fix solution proposed by Theresa May. Right now we simply need one leadership-supported policy renewal initiative which might plausibly deserve to be called “strategic”, and a leader who aspires to something more than just remaining in office.

This really shouldn’t be asking too much. At one time, strategic thinking and purposeful leadership were baseline expectations, not wistful pipe-dreams. We have fallen a long way in a relatively short span of time.

I close with this pertinent warning from the Stepping Stones report:

In discontinuity, conventional wisdom cannot get us out of the problems. Indeed, innovation is almost certainly the best way through discontinuity. Almost any vision, any programme, is better than confusion and uncertainty, for it can at least be modified in the light of experience, once it has broken the paralysing spell of past failure and present pessimism.

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The Battle For British Conservatism: Stop Using Brexit As A Proxy War

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With Theresa May and the Tories technically in office but barely in power, it is more important than ever for conservatives to have a no-holds-barred debate about what they really stand for and what vision for Britain they want the Conservative Party to advance. In addition to my own past and future ruminations on this subject, Semi-Partisan Politics will seek to include the best thinking and writing on the subject from elsewhere, beginning with this incisive contribution from blogger The Sparrow.

The Daily Mail reports that judges may prevent Britain deporting immigrants sleeping rough on the streets of London. A legal challenge is being brought against a Home Office policy which deports immigrants sleeping rough, on the basis that by failing to support themselves after moving to the UK their rights under freedom of movement are forfeit.

Leaving aside the merits of either side of that argument, the story is emblematic of a schism within conservatism. On one side sit social conservatives, who believe that tradition, established cultural norms and a sense of continuity with the past are of value. On the other, free marketeers believe that the greatest good can be achieved by permitting the market to develop solutions to people’s needs, with minimal government interference.

To illustrate, consider a social conservative and a free market conservative take on this story. The free marketeer might say: let them sleep rough – winter will drive them into rentals, the market will find a solution at a suitable price point for them, and in the meantime who am I to criticise someone seeking to reduce his overheads while getting started in a new country?

The social conservative, though, might say: no, that’s not how we do things in this country. It’s not the done thing to save money on housing by creating a tent city in Central London. Mass rough sleeping is squalid, threatening, unhealthy and potentially dangerous. If they cannot live as we live, then they should not be permitted to stay here fouling up the city for people who are doing the right thing.

The social conservative is willing to use the power of social and moral pressure, and if necessary the state, to enforce social norms some of which may run counter to the needs or pressures of the market. From the free-market conservative point of view, the social conservative risks impeding the fluidity of the market, restraining its marvellous problem-solving powers, and does so in the name of social values that may be arbitrary, often seem to have little basis in reason, and yet are clung to with a devotion quite at odds with the free market view of man as a rational actor.

Conversely, the free-market conservative may consider disrupting established social norms or ways of life to be a price worth paying for allowing market forces to flow and find equilibrium. From the social conservative point of view, this might be viewed as a kind of crass vandalism, that reduces all of life to its commercial or economic value and remains wilfully blind to those aspects of life that cannot readily be assigned a number.

For the most part, in party political terms, the natural home of both social conservatives and free marketeers has for some time been the Conservative Party. But these two types of conservative are at odds with one another, or at least not obviously in alignment, on most of the hot-button issues currently in play: from globalisation, immigration, multiculturalism and housebuilding to social questions such as gender issues and the rise of Islam. I am not seeing any sort of intra-conservative debate that recognises the existence of such an ideological fault line. (If I just need a better reading list, I would be grateful to anyone who can improve mine.)

For a number of years, these two kinds of conservatives have maintained a truce and semblance of unity based on the fact that both sides can agree – for different and sometimes contradictory reasons – that state spending should be restrained and ideally reduced. The remainder of Tory policies have been hashed out between the two sides as various kinds of compromise  – or, as in the case of Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP versus George Osborne at the Treasury, an increasingly bitter turf war. But trying to sweep it under the carpet is not good enough any more. When one of the few clear positive points of agreement is ‘government should spend less on stuff’ is it any wonder the Conservatives are so easily caricatured by the Left as heartless stealers of the meagre crumbs from the tables of the poor?

Besides, if Osborne vs Duncan Smith was a minor skirmish in the ongoing tussle between social and free market conservatism, the Brexit vote has triggered conservative ideological Armageddon. Conservatives from both sides of the schism wanted to leave the European Union for profoundly different reasons, and in the narratives of – say – Daniel Hannan and Andrea Leadsom you can see the two sides, both passionate and both in search of entirely different and in many ways mutually contradictory outcomes.

Enough of this fudge. The Conservatives need to have it out. One might ask the free market conservatives: how much social and cultural disruption is acceptable in the name of opening up markets? If (say) robotisation decimates employment across entire sectors, are we cool with that? And if so, and you still call yourself a conservative, what precisely do you consider yourself to be conserving?

To the social conservatives, one might ask: to what extent is it important and necessary to restrain markets in order to preserve social goods? Is it worth – for example – deploying protectionist measures to shore up industries that are part of the fabric of the country and culture, even if in doing so we actually damp down innovation and growth overall? Or: you may talk about clamping down on immigration, out of a concern that the native culture is at risk of being overwhelmed. But the Tories have always been for pragmatism over woolly idealism; how then can you call yourself a Tory when you are pushing for a poorer and less dynamic country, all in the name of something nebulous called ‘a way of life’?

What is worth conserving? Do we care about traditions? Does that extend to traditional social or moral views? How much social disruption is acceptable in the name of the markets? When it happens, who bears it, and is that distribution of social cost politically sustainable? Conservatives need to be having these arguments out in the open. And don’t give me that guff about preserving unity while in government. Backstabbing one another over Brexit and cribbing policy from Ed Miliband is not preserving unity.

Social and free market conservatives have rubbed along well enough for some time, mostly by horse-trading or ignoring one another. But Brexit has ended that: there’s suddenly just too much at stake. The ideological fudge has become a bitter paralysis, and it is actively harming the national interest.

So for the Tories the choice is stark. Carry on treating our departure from the EU as party political psychodrama or, y’know, actually debate the principles informing your vision. Air the differences that have been swept under the rug for so long. A good healthy argument might even result in some fresh ideas, and God knows the Tories could do with a few of those.

The Sparrow is a former left-winger who let the side down badly by voting for David Cameron and Brexit and is now politically on the lam. She blogs about identity politics and the crisis in contemporary political culture at sparrowsandnightingales.wordpress.com.

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Winter Is Coming For Conservatives Unless We Wake Up To The Socialist Threat

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The hard Left is on the march, and all the anti-Corbyn negative ads in the world will not save an ideologically bankrupt Conservative Party which cannot clearly articulate an appealing and realistic vision for Britain

Look at this email, which pinged into the inboxes of Momentum members and supporters today.

The socialists are on manoeuvres. They haven’t wasted their summer sipping limoncello on the Amalfi Coast or plotting Oxford Union-style leadership coups with their Cabinet chums. No, having drawn blood from the Conservative Party and reduced the British prime minister to a laughing stock in the June general election, Momentum and other hard-left elements of the Labour Party sense that their long-awaited victory is nearly at hand. And they are training for the battle to come.

I wrote the other day about how the Conservative Party is fiddling while the country burns and Momentum creeps up behind them. This isn’t a laughing matter. Momentum are organising, deploying the latest in voter outreach strategies imported from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in America, and – shock, horror – daring to have conversations with traditionally Tory voters rather than engaging in fruitless navel-gazing introspection as the Conservative Party is currently doing.

Much was written during the election campaign about how much slicker and better financed the Tory online campaign was than its Labour counterpart. The Conservatives spent over £1 million on negative ads on Facebook alone. But it was not an effective campaign. It was soulless, clinical and relentlessly negative. All of which might have been forgivable if it had been properly targeted. But it wasn’t. Instead, CCHQ-produced messages designed to energise the existing Tory base were thrown relentlessly in the faces of swing voters, who did not respond to shrill warnings about Corbyn’s impending socialist takeover.

As with literally everything else about the Conservative Party, the online and voter outreach campaigns were hideously overcentralised and clearly managed by some of the same gormless nepotism beneficiaries who infested Theresa May’s pre-election Cabinet.

And still this might have been survivable if the Labour Party was as terminally dysfunctional as nearly every Westminster-based journalist was confidently reporting prior to the release of the exit poll. But it wasn’t, and still isn’t. Centrist doubters sat on much of their criticism for the duration of the campaign, and following the stronger-than-expected result came crawling meekly back to the leader they once openly undermined.

A vindicated Jeremy Corbyn is bolstered in his position. And the socialist hard-left of the Labour Party has benefited from this injection of confidence, immediately pivoting toward the next general election, where they believe they can dislodge this tired and pointless Tory government and turn the clock back to 1979.

I wrote the other day about how Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard, are holding group training sessions to teach their activists the latest in voter engagement techniques, with even doddery old folk less familiar with the latest technology being inducted into the organisation’s Slack group so that they can communicate in real-time on their smartphones. And now, today’s Momentum bulletin shows that the organisation also intends to revolutionise its social media campaign activities, potentially turning each of their members into a YouTuber capable of creating viral internet videos in support of the Labour Party.

Bear in mind: while the Tories vastly outspent Labour in the online campaign war, their dismal content failed to articulate any positive vision of conservatism and probably alienated half the people who viewed it. Meanwhile, Momentum’s videos were viewed 50 million times, and by a third of all the Facebook users in Britain. That level of penetration and engagement, on a shoestring budget, is incredible.

But you can’t just put it down to a superior grasp of online campaigning by the hard Left. People watched Momentum videos and kept coming back for more because they liked what they were seeing and hearing, or were at least open to the message. They did not respond warmly to the Conservatives, who engaged nearly exclusively in fearmongering and robotic negative messaging about their opponents, but many of them did respond to the side who took enough pride in their political values and had sufficient confidence and faith in those values to make a bold public case for More Socialism. And still Momentum is not satisfied. Still they seek to improve their messaging and hone their campaigning ability.

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Fellow conservatives, you need to wake up and hear this message while there is still time:

The hard, Corbynite Left are gunning for us. Hard.

Unlike conservatives, they have worked out exactly what their values are.

They are not ashamed of those values, and do not apologise for them.

They are hard at work translating those values into policy.

They are proud to proclaim those values and policies in messaging which appeals to the electorate, while we sound defensive and almost ashamed of our own policies and record.

They are convinced that they are on the right side of history, while we seem to have lost faith in the principles of free market capitalism and individual liberty.

They make an unashamedly moral case for their worldview while we seem content to sit at the back and pick holes in their sums, looking like soulless technocratic bean-counters.

They have a thriving youth movement. Ours was disbanded because of a bullying scandal, and because it was basically a giant Ponzi scheme with risible promises of future candidacies dangled in front of naive young activists.

Their activists dominate university campuses, their leftist dogma reigning supreme in the lecture hall and students’ union alike, while conservatives are an endangered minority who often face ostracisation or even official censure for speaking out.

They have a national party with strong and growing constituency branches, while we have a decaying national party with withering constituency branches, ruled from Westminster by proven mediocrities.

They have a party leader who can pack a 3000-seat theatre with excited and motivated activists, while we have a party leader who was too cowardly to even debate during the election campaign, and who is so robotic that she short-circuits if she goes out in the rain without an umbrella.

But here’s the good news – this is a fight that we can win.

Regressive leftist policies of redistribution and nationalisation have brought poverty and misery in their wake everywhere that they have been tried, while the free market that we support has lifted more people out of poverty, subsistence and despair than any other economic system devised by man. There is a reason that the Left has gone very quiet about Venezuela, once their favourite case study of socialism in action.

The traditional Left/Right political divide is being augmented (if not replaced) by the Anywheres vs Somewheres dichotomy (or “open vs closed”, to use the more patronising terms). The Labour Party is marching away from its working class base of Somewheres because their self-serving parliamentary caucus is in thrall to the self-entitled demands of other Anywheres like themselves. This gives us conservatives a huge opportunity to steal their votes – after all, we stand for country, community and patriotism, the very values that the metro-left openly despises.

But we will only win this fight if we get our heads out of the sand, stop manoeuvring for status or creating stupid memes on Facebook and learn instead to boldly and unapologetically articulate conservative principles in the public sphere, without apology. Not the craven, Labour-copying principles of Theresa May’s authoritarian government. Not the paternalistic statism of Nick Timothy and the Joseph Chamberlain afficionados. Rather, we need to re-embrace the timeless principles of individual liberty, patriotism, respect for institutions, strong national defence and flourishing civic society over paternalist statism, which always come through for us when we actually have the confidence to articulate them.

And we don’t have much time. In this unpredictable age, with no majority and a number of difficult things to push through Parliament, Theresa May’s government could conceivably be toppled at any moment. Momentum and the hard Left is ready for the fight. We are not.

To use a topical Game of Thrones analogy, when the White Walkers are massing and threatening to breach the wall, it’s no good squabbling over which lacklustre, uncharismatic Cabinet minister should next occupy the Iron Throne. Now is the time to find some ideological dragonglass and fashion it into a viable electoral weapon before we are swept away by the Army of the Socialist Undead and Britain succumbs to another long winter of discontent.

Momentum have given us fair warning. They are not being secretive about their strategy and tactics. So we conservatives will have only ourselves to blame if we find ourselves undone by them.

 

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General Election 2017: Results & Analysis Live Blog

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Live Blog: General Election 2017 Results & Analysis

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9 June – 05:15

INTERMISSION

My brain has temporarily ceased to function, so I am going to get a few hours’ sleep. I’ll resume when Theresa May emerges to make her walk of shame plea for forgiveness “victory” speech, and continue live blogging throughout the day. Thanks for joining, and stay tuned!

9 June – 04:48

The state of play

The Tories no longer expect to outperform the exit poll, which is quite bleakly funny considering how they were all pouring scorn on the poll’s dismal prediction just a few hours ago:

This has just been an unmitigated disaster for the Conservatives. But it is a disaster which Theresa May fully owns. It was her arrogance which prompted this general election – called with almost no consultation with cabinet members or MPs. It was her aloofness which saw the publication of an atrocious Tory manifesto which plagiarised freely from leftist Labour Party doctrine, discarding Thatcherism and embracing a larger role for the state in every aspect of our lives. It was her sheer ineptitude which led to such an awfully prosecuted campaign.

But more than all of that, it was Theresa May’s absolutely stunning lack of a positive, vision for Britain which led to this dire electoral performance.

Theresa May has defaced her own party, both ideologically and in terms of the MPs who have lost their seats. Ministers have lost their seats. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary – the Home Secretary! – squeaked through in Hastings with a majority of just 346, on the third recount. This is an humiliation.

But none of this should detract from the job that Jeremy Corbyn did guiding his party to near level pegging with the Tories in terms of national vote share, increasing Labour’s number of seats by more than thirty and consolidating his position as party leader. Remarkably, one can watch the news networks recalibrating their expectations of Corbyn in real time as the morning wears on. Whereas 24 hours ago nearly everybody expected Corbyn to lead the Labour Party to glorious defeat, now the talking heads are suggesting that he should be booted from the leadership for failing to win an eminently “winnable” election. What nonsense. Like him or loathe him, Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of conviction politics found traction.

Even formerly antagonistic centrist MPs are now forming an orderly queue to bend the knee to their emboldened leader:

On the BBC Chuka Umunna has just said he would consider serving in the shadow cabinet (or cabinet?) if offered a job by Jeremy Corbyn. Umunna, who was shadow business secretary under Ed Miliband, is on the opposite wing of the party to Corbyn, and has not been a vocal supporter of his.

But all night Labour figures previously sceptical about Corbyn have been lining up in the broadcast studios to pay tribute to him. And they have done it quite sincerely even if, in some cases, perhaps reluctantly. Corbyn’s achievement really has been striking.

On the plus side for those of us who supported Flexcit and a phased withdrawal from the European Union with continued transitional access to the EEA, the kneecapping of the Tories makes a more reasoned form of Brexit somewhat more likely. It may enrage those absolutists who have convinced themselves that sovereignty = reverting to WTO rules, consequences be damned, but it would be the right thing to do. Quite why Theresa May staked her “Brexit means Brexit” position on such extreme ground is mystifying – it certainly did nothing to endear her to Conservative Remainers, many of whom seem to have deserted the party in key constituencies.

While the final breakdown of the new parliament – and the composition of then next government – remains to be seen, this much we know: Theresa May is a zombie prime minister. ITV News reports that she is currently huddled with her closest advisers (still excluding ministers and the wider party from her deliberation processes, even now) and writing a speech, while it remains 50/50 as to whether she will announce her departure or not. We will know soon enough.

But as things stand, the prime minister’s arrogance and incompetence have grievously harmed the Conservative Party and plunged Britain into chaos at the worst possible time. This is an appalling legacy.

9 June – 04:15

Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian live blog reports that John McDonnell is stirring up some mischief:

In his victory speech at his count John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said he expected Boris Johnson to launch a leadership challenge immediately.

To be fair, he probably won’t need much encouragement.

9 June – 03:54

One of the things I love about British parliamentary elections is the fact that all candidates, from the most powerful minister to the lowliest of fringe or independent candidates, have to stand next to each other on the stage as their results are read out by the constituency returning officer.

And what humiliation could be more appropriate for Theresa May than having to share a stage with Elmo and “Lord Buckethead”?

Buckethead for prime minister!

Theresa May - election count - Lord Buckethead

9 June – 03:41

Whatever Theresa May says about her future, her cabinet ministers clearly have some forceful ideas of their own.

James Forsyth in the Spectator live blog:

So, what happens to Theresa May? Her gamble in calling an early election has backfired on her spectacularly. Her authority is now shot, even if she can find a way to stay in Number 10.

But will her party remove her? Some ministers are clearly keen to, there has been chatter about possible unity tickets and the like. However, some senior Tories think that the ‘national interest’ and the proximity of the start of the Brexit negotiations means that May should be allowed to carry on as PM, but with a whole new approach to government.

I am told ‘Do not underestimate the fury in the parliamentary party. They are absolutely spitting’. Certainly, the Tories will be reluctant to go into any second election with her as leader.

I don’t see how she stays. She betrayed conservatism with one of the worst Tory manifestos in recent decades. Her leadership style is exclusionary and reliant on a small cadre of advisers who have now been conspicuously shown to be utterly useless. She is a wooden campaigner with zero charisma in an age when the public are clearly crying out for some kind of inspirational politics. And now she has been humiliated, her authority utterly blasted away.

Do we want a puppet prime minister, reliant on the forebearance of other powerful cabinet members who pull the strings in the background? Surely not. There is no way that May can now stand alongside Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron or Donald Trump and project authority. Rather another unelected prime minister with charisma than the shredded remnants of the May premiership.

9 June – 03:28

Theresa May in denial

And now we have Theresa May’s speech at her count in Maidenhead. One might have expected a degree of contrition for squandering a huge lead in the polls and leading her party off the cliff. But no – the prime minister breathed defiance, insisting that the country needed “stability” (which of course she provides in such copious amounts) and that she would therefore plan to remain in 10 Downing Street if the votes come in as expected:

As we look ahead and wait to see what the final results will be, I know that the country needs a period of stability. And whatever the results are the Conservative party will ensure that we fulfil our duty in ensuring that stability so that we can all, as one country, go forward together.

Notably, though, Theresa May didn’t use the word “I” when saying that the Tories would plan to remain in government. Her conspicuous use of the words “we” and “the Conservative Party” suggest that she realises deep down that her hours in Downing Street are now extremely numbered.

9 June – 03:22

For whom the bell tolls

Jeremy Corbyn used his victory speech at his count in Islington to push our malfunctioning prime minister, already teetering on the brink, over the edge.

Corbyn said:

“The prime minister called the election because she wanted a mandate. Well the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence. I would have thought that is enough for her to go actually.”

Corbyn and nearly every Conservative MP, activist and supporter. She has led the party to abject, ignominious defeat. RESIGN.

9 June – 03:14

The people have spoken. But what did we say?

A common platitude uttered by winning and losing politicians in the United States is to declare that “the American people have spoken”. It’s supposed to indicate that politicians should gracefully accept the verdict and allow the victor to have a chance to enact their agenda.

But if the British people have spoken, what on earth did they say?

Apparently we punished the Tories for their awful campaign and wooden, inept leader. Except in Scotland, where the Tories are picking up seats and may make the difference between the Tories remaining in government or moving across to the opposition benches.

Apparently we voted against Theresa May’s vision of “hard Brexit” with the possibility of crashing out of the EU with no deal. Except key architects of the establishment Brexit campaign like Boris Johnson were returned to parliament, while Jeremy Corbyn – who was ambivalent about EU membership at best, and who made only lacklustre efforts to help the Remain campaign – is set to be the night’s biggest winner.

Apparently we are rewarding politicians with principle and political courage like Jeremy Corbyn. Except politicians who made difficult decisions in the national interest, like Nick Clegg, have been cruelly punished.

The British people showed us by their treatment of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 that they dislike coalitions (or at least that they will ruthlessly punish any minority party to enter into coalition with the Tories) and yet we look set to return a split of MPs which almost cries out for some kind of coalition or intra-party cooperation.

In short, there is no clear message, either in terms of the individual winners or losers, or the likely composition of the next parliament. We apparently shouted very loudly, but it is far from clear what we actually said – and it is almost certain that half of us will be squealing with self-righteous outrage when the next government (in whatever shape) is formed.

9 June – 02:35

What’s happening in Scotland?

The story in Scotland seems entirely different to what has been happening south of the border. The SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, has lost his seat, while the Tories are picking up seats in Scotland – one of the only forecasts that actually seems to be coming true for them.

Given the Tories’ astonishing weakness across swathes of England, it could be that various gains in Scotland (of all places) are the only thing which keeps them afloat with a chance of remaining in government.

9 June – 02:23

Corbyn triumphant

Jeremy Corbyn looks triumphant as he arrives at his Islington count to huge roars of approval and a prolonged ovation from local party activists. This is just surreal. This blog has always been mindful of Jeremy Corbyn’s authenticity and the danger that his conviction politics posed when the conservative opposition was so rootless and bland, but I still didn’t envisage an outcome where Labour was in celebratory mode on election night, with at least an outside chance of taking 10 Downing Street.

Tom Watson gave quite a punchy victory speech, in which he skewered Theresa May by her own logic:

We still don’t know what the final result of this election is. It is too early to say. But it looks likely to be a very bad result for Theresa May.

She said: “It is a fact that if we lose just six seats, we will lose our majority and Jeremy Corbyn will become prime minister”. We do not yet know the final result, but we intend to hold her to that …

The next few hours – maybe the next few days – look very uncertain. But one thing we can be sure of is that Theresa May’s authority has evaporated. She is a damaged Prime Minister whose reputation may never recover.

One thing is for certain: people want hope. And when they’re offered it, they vote for it.

Theresa May can’t possibly remain as PM. She has strengthened Corbyn and given hard-left 1970s socialism a foothold back in our politics – an unforgivable crime.

9 June – 02:00

We need to talk about the youth vote

One thing seems absolutely crystal clear to me: the Conservative Party can no longer allow itself to glibly write off almost the entire youth vote and cede youth politics to the various parties of the left.

In some ways, Jeremy Corbyn seemed like a most implausible politician to court the youth vote – an old, grey haired career politician with absolutely zero interest in doing anything fashionable, sartorially or politically. But my god, he is an authentic conviction politician. And if your average voter hates overgroomed, telegenic bland politico-bots then young people clearly hate them even more. Canned soundbites don’t work on social media-savvy young people, if they work on anyone. And yet the Conservatives went into battle – largely thanks to the “genius” Lynton Crosby – with an arsenal made up almost exclusively of glib, canned soundbites in place of anything remotely authentic.

Not that authenticity alone is enough. Right wing politics are clearly hugely toxic to many young people, who would sooner die than admit to voting Conservative. The Tories are too closely associated with grey, uninspiring “austerity”, even though austerity is largely a myth. The Tory brand, fair or unfair, is still toxic to many people. And the parties of the left have perfectly tapped into the consumerist politics of Me Me Me by promising to firehose endless sums of money into the gaping, insatiable mouth of Britain’s public services.

It seems painfully apparent to me that we need a prominent, national vessel for the development and promotion conservative policies (and personalities) separate from the Conservative Party, which simply cannot be trusted to make the case for its own worldview. I wrote ages ago, back in 2015, that we need a British CPAC – a well funded and media savvy conservative campaign group which exists outside the dusty, dysfunctional Tories.

CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, and while it has had its share of controversies it serves an important role in nurturing small-C conservative talent, seeding new ideas and generally providing an opportunity for advancement and self-promotion outside the structures of the Republican Party. It also plays a role in youth outreach, as do other organisations like Ron Paul’s Young Americans for Liberty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

Look at the people who might be considered contenders to take over from Theresa May when she is rightly consigned to the dustbin of conservative political history. Do you see the youth vote ever breaking in significant numbers for Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon? Maybe Boris Johnson might win a few, but he is widely hated by starry-eyed young Europhiles for “taking away their future”.

No, the future Conservative leader who stands even a chance of fighting the parties of the left for the youth vote must come up from outside the existing party structure, if they are to emerge at all. They must articulate a message of conservatism as being pro-freedom, pro-opportunity, pro-dynamism. Some compromises must be made, with the party finally addressing issues which screw the younger generation and force them into the waiting arms of the Labour Party – a serious housebuilding programme (not council houses, but houses for private sale and rent) for example. The end of universal benefits being lavished upon rich, self-entitled pensioners who don’t need them.

The Tories need a leader who can make self-sufficiency and freedom seem cool rather than callous, admirable rather than shameful, particularly to younger voters. I don’t see anybody on the Conservative front bench who stands a chance of doing that. Maybe James Cleverly from the backbenches, if he was able to step up?

But one thing is clear: the Tories can no longer be relied upon to keep the torch of conservatism lit. Theresa May half extinguished it with her statist manifesto, half stolen from the Labour Party, and her inept campaigning and toxicity among young people provided the coup-de-grace.

We need an external repository for conservative principle, now.

9 June – 01:29

The men in grey suits prepare to make their move:

9 June – 01:24

Jeremy Corbyn emerges

This sounds suspiciously like a tentative victory speech:

I’d like to thank all our members and supporters who have worked so hard on this campaign, from door knocking to social media, and to everyone who voted for a manifesto which offers real change for our country. Whatever the final result, we have already changed the face of British politics.

Regardless of what happens with the formation of the next government, all of those restive Labour shadow cabinet members and backbenchers are now going to have to bend the knee:

9 June – 01:20

Credit to Jeremy Corbyn, ctd.

Peter Hain now on the BBC giving credit to Jeremy Corbyn, much as this blog has done, for having fought a passionate and principled campaign which actually generated grassroots enthusiasm rather than making people cringe (like Theresa May’s Conservative campaign).

9 June – 01:06

A recipe for instability

Robert Peston is counting the days until the next general election, which he thinks will be sooner rather than later?

And who can disagree? Assuming a minority government of either stripe (or a majority Tory government with a miniscule majority, riven by infighting and beset by external shocks), it will be immensely vulnerable to no-confidence votes or having its budgets voted down at any time. Assuming a fractious Progressive Alliance, the restive Tories will have ample opportunity to destabilise such a government and try to quickly win back power.

Either way, Brenda from Bristol is likely to be pretty angry.

9 June – 00:59

What about the UKIP vote?

The received wisdom was that voters abandoning UKIP would flow back to the Conservatives, primarily because that’s where most of them came from in the first place, steadily abandoning the Tories in 2010 and 2015 until David Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum stopped the bleeding.

Early results and the exit poll show this analysis to be wildly misjudged. From the Spectator:

The UKIP collapse in Broxbourne – where their vote is down 15.7% – has boosted Labour (10.5% gain) more than the Tories (6.1%). The constituency went two-thirds for Leave in the referendum.

This goes against the expectations of most pundits, myself included, who assumed that the UKIP vote would wash straight back to the Tories, where it came from. But instead of this reversion to normality, it seems that these voters have moved to the left while hanging out with UKIP, and have increasingly moved to the Labour Party instead. UKIP has essentially laundered a load of voters and turned them from wavering conservatives into tentative Corbynites – which is quite stunning really.

9 June – 00:49

More Conservative anger

The Telegraph’s live blog catalogues more of the bubbling fury at Tory HQ:

Theresa May is facing a mounting backlash over her “catastrophic” election campaign after an exit poll suggested that her snap election gamble had failed to pay off.

[..] Senior Conservatives said this morning that she had made “fundamental strategic errors” and said that her closest aides should be “banished” from Downing Street.

They complained that the campaign had been centred around a “cult of personality” and “central control”, adding: “It has completely blown up in our face”.

One senior Tory told The Telegraph: “This is bad, it’s worse than bad. Her advisers should walk out of the door now never to return, regardless of the final result.

Yep. Let’s not forget the role of the SpAdocracy in this calamity.

 

9 June – 00:37

Credit to Jeremy Corbyn, ctd.

Andrew Neil agrees with me. We shouldn’t let Theresa May’s magnificent, luminescent incompetence detract from the equally important story of Jeremy Corbyn’s shrewd, principled (yes – you don’t have to agree with the principles but you must acknowledge their existence) and dogged campaigning.

He worked hard for this result, battling a regicidal parliamentary party and a furiously oppositional media. Almost nobody saw it coming. Fair play.

9 June – 00:30

Signs from Ipswich that Ben Gummer, nepotism beneficiary extraordinaire, barely closeted Europhile and – most famously – architect of the Conservative Party’s dismal “Blue Labour” manifesto, is in danger of losing his seat. Good. Anybody who had any hand in Theresa May’s lurch toward the statist centre-left needs to die a lonely death in the political wilderness.

9 June – 00:14

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, has just predicted on BBC News that Labour will form the next government.

Who would have seriously suspected that she could even make such a speculative boast (with a straight face) this time 24 hours ago?

God help us all.

9 June – 00:05

Dissent among the Conservative cabinet is already bubbling to the surface.

James Forsyth reports:

Tory Cabinet Ministers are complaining that they unilaterally disarmed in this campaign. That just as Labour was offering young voters free tuition fees to fire up their youth base, the Tories were alarming their elderly base with the so-called ‘dementia tax’.

More:

Tory Cabinet Ministers are still in shock at the exit poll result. The mood is that even if May gets a majority of 12, her ‘authority will be shot’ and—at the very least—her governing style will have to change drastically. There is some very early talk of leadership options too. I am told that ‘the men in grey suits are livid’.

Oh, she’s gone. And this is only the start of what will be some of the bitterest post-election recriminations ever.

8 June – 23:55

Credit where credit is due to Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum

As much as the story of this general election may be Theresa May’s miraculous ability to snatch defeat (or something perilously close to it) from the jaws of victory, we should not forget that this remarkable turn of events is also a reflection of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party – in impossibly difficult circumstances, undermined by the Labour centrists and doubters at every turn.

The fact that Labour clearly have not collapsed as earlier polls suggested shows the continued importance of real world physical campaigning, having a candidate who actually inspires enthusiasm and draws crowds of people who want to hear him speak (rather than groups of sign-waving party activists bussed in from far afield) and who – shock horror – actually has core values and the courage to articulate them.

You can disagree with Jeremy Corbyn all you want – I certainly do. But the man has political courage. He stands by his loopy, outdated (and sometimes downright offensive) views and keeps on plugging away trying to sell them to the people. He spent years in the political wilderness as a result, until fortunes changed and his unlikely leadership bid caught fire back in 2015. He doesn’t bend, flatter and shapeshift in an attempt to get into the public’s good graces. He rarely compromises on his core beliefs – Brendan O’Neill made a valid critique that Corbyn abandoned his euroscepticism to vote for Remain, but his position as leader was directly at stake and he did everything he could to signal his insincerity to the electorate – and it seems that people actually respond quite well to that kind of consistency.

As much as Theresa May did everything humanly possible to throw this election away, we should not ignore the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has apparently massively outperformed the low expectations that many pundits set for him.

8 June – 23:33

A Brexit perspective

We need to look at things from the all-important perspective of Brexit, and what effect a hung parliament, progressive alliance government, weak Tory majority or minority government will have on Brexit negotiations.

From my perspective, this is potentially one significant silver lining in this cloud. Anything that forces a more realistic assessment of Britain’s need for a comprehensive Brexit deal (and avoiding a “no deal” cliff edge) is a good thing. Theresa May’s government showed no signs of acknowledging this basic reality, or awareness of the impact that crashing out of the EEA to WTO rules would actually have. For all their faults, the likes of Labour’s Keir Starmer do at least seem to be functionally aware of non-tariff barriers and the serious threat they pose to Britain if we do not exit the EU in a sensible, planned way. Anything that amplifies the voices of reason when it comes to securing a mutually beneficial Brexit deal is clearly a good thing.

Unfortunately, the slim ray of hope that this inconclusive election result might lead to a more intelligent form of Brexit is clouded by the fact that a weak Tory government or Progressive Alliance would wreak havoc with domestic policy, dramatically expand the state, throw fiscal rectitude out the window and potentially even seek to subvert Brexit altogether.

Pick your poison.

8 June – 23:24

George Osborne twists the knife

Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian live blog quotes ex-Chancellor and current Evening Standard editor George Osborne:

I worked very well with Theresa May and I think she has intelligence and integrity.

Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government then she I doubt will survive in the long term as Conservative party leader.

But you know we are all talking about a poll. So I’m nervous of making certain statements but look, the problem she will have if it’s anything like that number, she’s got Irish unionists … that does not get you necessarily to 326 and the Liberal Democrats on 14 here … are so unlikely to go into coalition with the Conservatives this time round, not least because they’ve made commitments to things like a second European referendum.

So I look at those numbers, I helped put together the Coalition in 2010 and you could make the numbers quite easily add up if you could get the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to come together. I look at these numbers, you can’t make them add up.

The best case scenario (assuming the margin of error falls entirely in her favour) has the Tories ending up with about the same number of seats they currently have. This would mean that they dragged the country through the hassle and disruption of a general election campaign only to effectively tread water.

Theresa May will have resigned by sundown tomorrow, and her departure from frontline Conservative politics cannot come soon enough.

8 June – 23:12

1945 all over again?

As my mind reels from the exit poll and the increasing likelihood that Theresa May has presided over a self-inflicted calamity of historic proportions, I keep thinking back to the post-war election of 1945. Churchill guided the country through the war and saved us from existential threat only for the Conservatives to lose the peace to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, opening the doorway for the socialist post-war consensus.

Similarly, we prevailed in the battle for Brexit but look in serious jeopardy of losing the post-referendum peace to Jeremy Corbyn’s resurgent socialism. In 1945, this fateful choice led to 34 years of slow and painful national decline. We can only hope and prey that the ramifications of this election – whatever the final result may be – are not as painful or long-lasting.

8 June – 23:05

Still waiting for the shock to wear off while we wait for some contestable seat results to come in. Labour increased their majority in Newcastle Central, a safe seat. The Tories were never going to win, but if they can’t even make inroads…

8 June – 22:57

A couple of silver linings in this Force 5 tornado funnel cloud of doom: oleaginous pro-EU cheerleader Anna Soubry is forecast to lose her seat, as is the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

From the Spectator:

In what might be one of the biggest upsets of the night, the BBC forecasts that Angus Robertson, the SNP’s group leader in Westminster has a 99 per cent chance of losing his seat in Moray to the Conservatives.

8 June – 22:50

So if/when Theresa May falls on her sword (or is pushed into it), who on earth could take over? It’s hardly as though the Conservative front benches are brimming over with plausible heavyweight talent? Or rather, what heavyweight talent there is – Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon – tend to be as dour and uninspiring as she is. If Jeremy Corbyn can outmanoeuvre Theresa May then he can certainly do so to her grey haired male backing dancers.

So…Boris Johnson? Michael Gove? No.

Amber Rudd? Maybe, assuming she doesn’t lose her seat.

We need new blood to step up. James Cleverly? Kwasi Kwarteng? Priti Patel?

8 June – 22:40

The thing is, Theresa May has done nothing to ingratiate herself with the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Her leadership style has been closed and insular. As Home Secretary she nurtured feuds with other cabinet members, and as PM she has been unwilling to delegate and trust many of her cabinet colleagues with the kind of autonomy that a strong, confident leader might otherwise extend.

The upshot – almost nobody will leap to her defence when the long knives are drawn…

8 June – 22:33

Yes, Ruth Davidson would make an infinitely better UK Conservative leader (and prime minister) than Theresa May. Mind you, so would my left shoe…

8 June – 22:29

Dan Hodges is right. I can’t find the words to express my anger and contempt for Theresa May. The only possible excuse for her shameful jettisoning of core conservative small government principles was that it might be a clever way of triangulating and winning a whole additional tranche of centrist votes. Well, the exit poll suggests that it didn’t exactly work out very well. She betrayed conservative principles and her ineptitude has actually put Britain at risk of a Corbyn-led Labour government.

8 June – 22:24

Menzies Campbell on the BBC, talking down the prospect of LibDem participation in a progressive alliance, if the astonishing exit poll results are confirmed or exceeded from a left-wing perspective. I’m frankly stunned that we are even considering this dystopian possibility.

I think that if the numbers add up for them, the parties of the left have to go for it. Surely they do? Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens (and to a lesser extent the LibDems) have spent the past two years shrieking about how the Evil Tories are perpetuating a holocaust of the sick, disabled and generically “vulnerable”. Surely if the Evil Tor-ees are as evil as the parties of the left have continually implied, they have a solemn duty to club together to stop it, no matter what political damage it may do to them in the long term? Or will they leave the “vulnerable” to their fate with a minority Conservative administration?

8 June – 22:18

Calmer voices than mine are preaching caution:

8 June – 22:17

Already warning signs that Conservative MPs are imperilled and in danger of losing their seats. This is incredible. This tweet pretty much sums up the mood in the Hooper household right now:

 

8 June – 22:15

Putting my non-partisan hat on, this exit poll is enormously encouraging to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. If it carries through to the results, it will show that there is indeed public demand for authentic politicians who actually have consistent principles and stand through them through good times and bad, popularity and unpopularity. It will show that there is tremendous public appetite for authenticity and conviction politics – all those things that we were so confidently told were old fashioned and passé.

8 June – 22:12

So the Conservatives are in denial, with senior sources telling Andrew Marr that it simply cannot be true. Theresa May had better bloody well hope so, otherwise she needs to be taken out back by the 1922 Committee and…politically disposed of.

8 June – 22:09

Whoever thought that the moments after the release of the exit poll would see John McDonnell frantically trying to tamp down expectations on the BBC election show. Wow. This is a disaster – *if* it carries through to actual results.

A hung parliament is the absolute last thing that Britain needs at this difficult time. Theresa May’s policies may be misguided in a myriad of ways, but the idea of a minority Conservative administration or a shaky left-wing coalition trying to implement domestic policy, respond to the twin terror attacks in London and Manchester *and* negotiate Brexit? Absolutely untenable.

8 June – 22:04

If – IF – this exit poll is correct, then Theresa May is a dead woman walking. She needs to go, almost immediately. I don’t care that we will be back to whiny lefties droning on about an “unelected prime minister”. Anything would be better than this walking catastrophe of a failed prime minister, a useless campaigner, a tone deaf speaker, a political coward and someone who tried to subvert the party’s best Thatcherite traditions (or what’s left of them) with her own brand of nasty authoritarianism.

This is absolutely unacceptable for the Tories, if carried through to actual results. Theresa May was facing off against Jeremy Corbyn. JEREMY FREAKING CORBYN! And she can’t muster a landslide against somebody who has spoken warmly of terrorist organisations and wants to implement hard left socialist policies consigned to the dustbin of history in 1979. What? No, this is ridiculous.

No. This is unacceptable. If this exit poll carries true, Theresa May needs to go. It doesn’t matter who replaces her. My left shoe could do a better job, and would sound better on the stump. Unacceptable.

8 June – 21:55

POLLS CLOSED – EXIT POLL RELEASED

Conservatives largest party

No overall majority predicted

Con 314, down 17 – my goodness me

266 Labour, up 34

SNP 34 – yeah, not buying that one

8 June – 21:55

Ready for the exit poll

Ten minutes before the exit poll was released for the 2015 general election, David Cameron was mentally rehearsing his concession speech while the messianic Ed Miliband was daring to hope that he might become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. We all know how that turned out.

In 2017, there are probably no such expectations within Labour high command that the party might be returned to power. When it comes to the horde of Labour-supporting youngsters and Momentum zealots, it is a different matter, of course – cocooned safely in their self-affirming left wing bubble, once again many of these left-wing activists are about to collide hard with reality.

It is almost unimaginable that the exit poll will show anything other than a projected result which sees Theresa May return to 10 Downing Street as prime minister. The real question is the majority of Conservative MPs she brings back to Parliament with her, and whether the Tories’ electoral performance can possibly be good enough to make up for the incompetent, error-strewn campaign presided over by May. She will need a very solid performance indeed, otherwise Conservative knives will begin to sharpen…

8 June – 20:55

A local update from Hampstead & Kilburn

We are now in that strange hinterland where the television news is legally required to frantically pretend that there is no general election taking place, so as not to influence the vote. As I took the opportunity to make dinner, once again I was interrupted by a Conservative Party canvasser, another enthusiastic young man sent to check that I had followed through on my pledge to vote Tory.

I reassured him that I had indeed voted Conservative (but spared him my anti-Theresa May diatribe) and we then spoke about the state of the race here in this ultra-marginal northwest London constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn.

Apparently it is very close indeed, and the campaign is uncertain which way it is going to break (though just how privy a canvasser would be to the latest campaign intelligence is disputable). I was told that the Tories are indeed picking up much of the ex-UKIP vote (UKIP are not running a candidate in the constituency this time) as expected, but that they are also haemorrhaging a number of votes to the Liberal Democrats, specifically angry pro-EU people who have not reconciled themselves to Brexit. And this despite the fact that local Tory candidate Claire-Louise Leyland was an ardent Remainer and campaigned for Stronger In (though she now supports the prime minister’s agenda).

This seems to be in line with my earlier analysis of the state of the race here in Hampstead & Kilburn. With the polls indicating that the Tories should pick up seats nationally, the specific dynamics of the local race in this strongly pro-EU constituency may mean that Tulip Siddiq is able to hang on to the seat for Labour in the face of a strong Conservative headwind.

The Tory canvasser also had a very dim opinion of Theresa May’s leadership and campaigning ability. Almost unprompted by me, he said “oh my god, she’s terrible, isn’t she?!”. Quite. He also thought that a majority of 60 or 70 would be “amazing”, suggesting that expectations have been lowered inside the party as well as to the media.

One thing is certain, though – if the ground troops are openly questioning the leadership of their general on the doorstep then Theresa May should be very worried about her long-term position unless she pulls off a very strong performance tonight.

8 June – 19:40

The conspiracy-minded fringe is now on the Left

Fringe conspiracy theories have typically been associated with the political Right – one thinks of figures such as Alex Jones, David Icke and so on. But increasingly we are seeing paranoid conspiracy theorising emanating from a segment of the political Left which simply cannot understand why its brand of shrill, hectoring, illiberal, identity politics-soaked campaigning is not more popular with the electorate.

One thing is for sure – when the exit poll is released and when the final vote is tallied in the last constituency to report, there will be a stubborn band of left wing zealots who simply refuse to accept the result as a repudiation of their agenda, but rather as evidence of a sinister conspiracy by the Evil Tories.

One of the most disturbing trends has been the number of fringe lunatics on social media openly speculating that the awful Islamist terror attacks in Manchester and London were in fact “false flags” planned (or at least allowed to happen) by the Conservatives in order to shore up support for Theresa May’s government.

Here is one such crackpot:

I’m not doubting that it’s likely Radical-Islamists who carried out the terror attack in Manchester, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the figures in the Tory government might have known the possibility of a potential attack, but for reasons of political expediency did nothing to prevent it from happening. We know prior to 7/7 bombing the security services had kept tabs on members of the terrorist cell which carried out the attack, it’s now a matter of record that the Bush administration had been briefed in the summer of a 2001 there was highly likely to be a terrorist act in the autumn of that year involving aircraft, so tell me again if I’m being fucking ridiculous in suggesting Theresa May might have had prior warning of the Manchester terror attack but did nothing to prevent it from happening to bolster her chances in the General Election because I know that’s what you’re thinking!

I find it a very suspicious coincidence that when Labour are closing the gap in the opinion polls, despite the Tory press being chockfull of accusations attempting to smear Jeremy Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser, when the Tories are launching attack upon Jeremy Corbyn & Labour being weak on terrorism & national security, there’s suddenly a horrific terrorist attack which enables Theresa May to play the strong leader in a crisis etc, it’s quite possible that the Manchester terror attack is to Theresa May what the Falklands were to Margret Thatcher.

And of course it is perfectly fine to engage in such disgusting speculation, because after all, the Evil Tor-ees kill people all the time as a result of their heartless refusal to firehose endless sums of money at the welfare state:

There of course will be Tory supporters who’ll will be thinking absolutely appalling I accuse Theresa May & the Tory government of allowing peeps (including children) to be killed to win an election, as if the Tories haven’t killed thousands of peeps with disabilities to give their wealthy chums tax cuts, as if successive government haven’t sent young soldiers off to wars for oil & profit, so I really don’t think the establishment would have any qualms killing a few children to win them an election which for them has a great deal riding on it.

And for every one unhinged blogger who openly deals in fringe conspiracy theorising such as this, I’ll wager that there are ten more left-wing activists who nod along with the sentiment if not the details – who believe that the Tories do in fact deliberately want to kill or harm innocent people through their policies (rather than simply believing that the path to self-sufficiency and prosperity doesn’t run through big government and mass dependency on welfare).

This is going to become a real problem for the British political Left. Their uncontrolled fury at the world, at their countrymen who fail to see eye to eye with them, is making them ever more extreme in their actions (vandalising war memorials, physically harassing politicians) and in their public rhetoric. Worse still, the prestige left wing media are starting to indulge in the same unhinged behaviour.

The country at large sees this. The people are watching, taking note and recoiling in disgust. The Left needs to disown these people and exorcise them from their political parties, groups and organisations if they want to maintain even a shred of credibility following this general election.

8 June – 19:15

Getting out the Tory vote

It looks as though the vaunted (and feared) Conservative online / social media marketing effort is humming along quite nicely as they try to get out their vote. Interestingly, the ads showing on Facebook today still make prominent mention of Theresa May over the Conservative Party – it had previously been speculated that the Tories might dial down their focus on the prime minister given her awful, uninspiring election campaign.

Conservative Party - Theresa May - facebook ads general election

8 June – 18:55

An unlikely Tory recruit

In 2015, Brendan O’Neill declined to vote and penned an eloquent defence of his decision. But now in 2017, O’Neill – a fierce and determined critic of the “middle class clerisy” who have infected and taken over the Labour Party – is going a step further and casting his vote for the Conservative Party.

O’Neill explains in Coffee House:

Today, for the first time in my life, I voted Tory. And somewhat disappointingly I haven’t sprouted horns yet. I haven’t been overcome by an urge to pour champagne on homeless people’s heads or to close down my local library and guffaw at any rosy-cheeked child who pleads: ‘But I want books, mister.’ I don’t feel evil. Maybe that stuff comes later. Maybe it takes a few days before you turn into a living, breathing Momentum meme, screaming ‘Screw the poor!’ as you ping your red braces.

In fact I feel good. It always feels good to vote, of course, to hold the fate of the political class in your hands. Election Day is such a wonderful if fleeting reminder of where power ought to lie in a democracy: with us, the crowd, whether we’re clever or thick, good or bad, old or young. I love this feeling, and the undoubted terror it temporarily induces in those who rule over us. But it also feels good to have lost my Tory-voting virginity. For one simple reason: I believe in democracy and press freedom, above everything else, and only the Tories have committed themselves to defending those two things.

And concludes:

In recent years, nothing has better summed up the left’s vicious turn against the plebs it once claimed to like than its disgust with Brexit and its fear of a free, raucous press. In its Brexitphobia, we see its deep discomfort with the whole idea of democracy, with allowing even ‘low information’ people a say in politics. And in its constant, shrill state of fury with the allegedly dangerous red-tops we see its fear of the reading public and what they might start to think if they have access to all sorts of strange, outré opinions. The left’s abandonment of democracy and press freedom really signals the death of this once great movement. Well, I still believe in those two things, and so today, happily, I voted for the only party that says it believes in them too.

O’Neill, recall, is editor of radical left-leaning magazine Spiked Online. And while it’s fair to say that Brendan O’Neill doesn’t represent a particularly large or influential wing of the Labour coalition, the fact that left-libertarians are crossing the floor to vote for Theresa May’s Conservatives (of all parties!) is a damning indictment of the direction of the Labour Party since 1997.

For how much longer can Labour stand in general opposition to Brexit, free speech and the interests of their one-time working class base without provoking a reaction even more extreme than the Corbynite takeover?

8 June – 18:15

How about those LibDems?

Remember when this was going to be the year of the Great LibDem Comeback, when the “voiceless” 48% stood up as one to assert their status as Citizens of the World and Proud Europeans, and rewarded the Liberal Democrats for their strident anti-Brexit stance? Well, it doesn’t seem to be amounting to much.

The day before polls opened, LibDem leader Tim Farron could be found shoring up the vote of Foreign Affairs spokesman and Carshalton incumbent MP, Tom Brake:

Clearly the Liberal Democrats are not on the march up and down the country if Farron is fighting a rearguard effort to cling on to a marginal seat (majority 1510) rather than barnstorming around the country putting the fear of God into marginal Labour and Tory seats.

But how badly would the LibDems have to do for Tim Farron’s leadership to be in danger? While you don’t hear many grumblings in public, I can’t help but wonder whether the LibDem membership (and what’s left of the parliamentary party) might not secretly relish the opportunity to get rid of a leader whose awkward traditional Christian beliefs on the subject of abortion (historically) and homosexuality (potentially still today, though Farron equivocates) have cost the party some bad press and lost momentum.

Of course, this would be hugely unfair. The real reason that Tim Farron should go is that he makes the name “Liberal Democrat” into a laughing stock by often being neither liberal nor democratic – see his eagerness to hold another vote on the terms of our departure from the EU, purely in the hope that this will present an opportunity to thwart the whole thing. By contrast, the fact that Tim Farron holds private religious beliefs which he has no interest or intention of legislating or foisting upon anyone else is surely the calling card of a true liberal – and bizarrely the main root of his unpopularity. Go figure.

8 June – 17:30

No, it doesn’t have to be like this

Let me just slip in this promotion before people start bemoaning our electoral system and the paucity of real democratic choice available to people – a shout out for the Harrogate Agenda.

Their six demands:

1. Recognition of our sovereignty – the people, not the government
2. Real local democracy – devolving power to the counties
3. Separation of powers – separating the executive from the legislature
4. The people’s consent – no treaty ratification without approval
5. No taxation or spending without consent
6. A constitutional convention

This blog has been a long-time supporter. If you find yourself dissatisfied beyond the usual partisan grievances as the results roll in tonight, give the Harrogate Agenda your consideration.

Brexit – in whatever form it ultimately comes – should not and must not be the ultimate end point of this journey. Leaving the EU will not renew our democracy – it merely makes the renewal of our democracy possible. But from that point onward, we must seize the opportunity to reshape our democratic institutions, recover power for ourselves and hold public servants to better account. We need to be more active citizens, not passive consumers who sit about, petulantly demanding More Stuff from the government. This seems as good an opening as any.

8 June – 16:00

The intolerant, illiberal Left do their thing

There have been numerous disturbing reports of left-wing activists buying up all of the copies of right-leaning newspapers from their local shops and newsagents, and then publicly burning them so as to deprive other people of the opportunity to read their pro-Tory headlines, editorials and endorsements.

Brendan O’Neill’s response is absolutely correct:

This is a new low. Members of the Twitterati are boasting about buying up all the tabloids from their local newsagents and either binning them or burning them. Why? To protect the allegedly gullible plebs who read these papers from their anti-Labour editorials in the hope of stopping them from slavishly tramping to the polling station to vote Tory. They are using money and fire to try to deprive the lower orders of political reading material on Election Day. This is one of the foulest acts yet by the Twitterati. Hot tip: when you’re burning literature, you’ve lost the fucking plot.

Even the New Statesman realises that this fascistic action is counterproductive:

Let’s leave aside the obvious similarities between burning newspapers and certain German rituals of the late 30s (Sorry Godwin’s law), there’s another reason this tactic stinks.

Sure, you can accuse the right-wing press of smearing Jeremy Corbyn, cheerleading for the Tories and doing everything they can to stop progressive politics advancing. But trying to deny people the ability to read these newspapers doesn’t just suggest censorship, it is censorship. It’s actively taking away people’s access to information they want. And if anyone thinks they are protecting the poor befuddled Sun or Mail readers from the noxious views contained in those pages, they should probably consider quite how patronising that is.

If we really want people to break free of misplaced right-wing views, to lift the veil placed over their eyes by the right wing press, then we should probably be talking to them.

Talking to conservative voters as intelligent peers rather than hateful or ignorant dupes. What a novel idea.

But if the Left’s violent wing are already burning things before voting has even closed, we should all be concerned about a repeat of the 2015 riots and vandalism. These people do not take defeat well.

8 June – 14:30

Welcome!

Welcome to this semi-partisan live blog of the 2017 general election results. Updates will probably be sparse until later in the evening, picking up pace as we approach poll closing time and the release of the exit poll at 10PM. I’ll keep going for as long as things remain interesting and there are still issues and arguments to dissect, advance and rebut.

Please feel free to share your thoughts using the Comments feature, by emailing me at semipartisansam@gmail.com or engaging with me on Twitter @SamHooper.

For an overall summary of my take on this dismal election campaign as it progressed, see these recent posts in particular:

Theresa May Calls a General Election: First Reaction

Stop Applauding “Election Fatigued” Brenda From Bristol

Will The Snap General Election Damage Trust In Politicians?

2017 General Election Campaign: The Last Stand For Conviction Politics?

The SpAdocracy And Theresa May’s Flawed Plans For Social Care

The British Left’s Cunning Plan To Reach Working Class Voters: Insult Them

Labour’s Cynical, Disingenuous National Debt Hysteria

Voters Know Left Wing Policies Are Individually Alluring But Collectively Foolish

Labour And The Left Simply Do Not Get Patriotism

Is It Time For The Conservatives To Get Over Thatcher?

General Election 2017: The Unbearable Light-weightedness of British Politics

General Election 2017: We Get The Politicians We Deserve

General Election 2017: An Unpredictable Race in Hampstead & Kilburn

General Election 2017: Decision Time

Regular readers will know that I have struggled to summon any kind of enthusiasm for this general election given the circumstances and the state of the main parties – particularly the current state of conservatism – but I’m sure that the election bug will finally bite at some point this evening, and then we will be up and away.

Thanks for joining, and stay posted!

 

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General Election 2017: Decision Time

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The most depressing choice since I became eligible to vote

I feel a little bit sorry for the poor, eager young Conservative Party canvasser who buzzed our door just as we were sitting down to dinner on the eve of polling day for the snap general election of 2017.

Would I be voting for Theresa May and her team, he enquired after I scampered downstairs to speak with him.

Would I?

Must I?

Can I really?

Yes, I will be voting Conservative in my northwest London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, a tight two-way marginal. It will bring me absolutely zero pleasure to do so, and I expect nothing good whatsoever to come from my vote, or a Tory victory here. This is purely an exercise in damage limitation, and even then you could almost still flip a coin.

I told the canvasser as much, and sent him away with a flea in his ear about the fact that I will grudgingly, despairingly vote for Ed Miliband in drag Theresa May over Jeremy Corbyn given the lack of any better option, but that I will be gunning for May’s Coke Zero Conservative administration and watching our somewhat nondescript local candidate like a hawk (should she prevail) as soon as this wretched business is over with.

I analysed the dynamics of the local race in Hampstead & Kilburn soon after the snap general election was called, and I think that the analysis still holds up – though as with most pundits I am probably guilty of giving too much credence to signs of a LibDem revival. What should be an easy gain for the Conservatives with any national swing in their direction is complicated here by the Brexit factor, and the fact that Labour incumbent Tulip Siddiq was staunchly pro-Remain and has pitched herself as saviour of the many “citizens of the world” who live within the constituency. Hampstead & Kilburn voted 75% to 25% against Brexit, and unlike some areas of the country I sense no diminution of that zeal. EU flags still flutter from the windows of several flats along the high street.

The dynamics of the national race are much harder to discern, with polls all over the place and many pundits hedging their bets. We will know soon enough, so I see little point in exposing myself to ridicule by venturing a prediction of my own, but if I had to make one I would expect to see a solid but uninspiring Tory majority, well short of the fabled 100 seat level. Labour’s electoral floor was always higher than some of the more excitable commentators were willing to acknowledge, and after a terrible campaign the Tory majority will likely be dull, workmanlike, unimpressive and find its efficacy increasingly questionable, much like our prime minister.

I have already surveyed the utterly depressing vacuity of this general election campaign several times on the blog – most recently here and here – and have little to add to this gloomy assessment. Obviously the heinous terror attacks in Manchester and London finally succeeded in changing the tone of the race and pushing national security up the agenda. But as with every other subject, discussing which party was best placed to protect Britain from further Islamist terror attacks only served to highlight the ineptitude of both main parties – the Conservatives for having presided over a drop in armed police numbers at a time when events in mainland Europe cried out for large increases, and Labour for their leadership being utterly compromised when it comes to terror apologetics and support for odious, murderous foreign regimes.

Ultimately, we get the political leadership that we deserve, now as much as ever. If you watched any of the televised election debates, watched any of the party political broadcasts, read any of the party manifestos or read any of the campaign literature it cannot have escaped your notice that the vast majority of this campaign has been devoted – particularly among the Left – to bribing the people with the eternal promise of More Free Stuff, always paid for by someone else.

Until terrorism shook us out of our complacency, public services were king in this miserable election campaign. Who could be trusted to spend more on them. Who would better defend Our Blessed NHS. Which party leader would most debase themselves by promising not to be a world leader but a mere comptroller of public services, a glorified parish councillor whose job is to make our every petty complaint their overriding personal concern.

The closest that anybody has come to painting an optimistic vision of Britain’s future is Jeremy Corbyn, and his policies would take us careening straight back to the Winter of Discontent. Theresa May sounded like a malfunctioning android for much of the campaign (strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and…) which actually turned out to be better than what came next, because when the Manchester and London terror attacks finally jolted the prime minister’s operating system out of it’s infinite loop she started evoking a stark, dystopian portrait of a country where civil rights are burned in sacrifice for the chimerical illusion of perfect safety, while the state perches over the shoulder of every citizen as a perpetually watchful, auxiliary parent.

No party has properly got to grips with the challenge of Brexit, specifically the need to ensure that we do not crash out of the EEA with no deal and find ourselves paralysed by a million non tariff barriers that even now many ministers and journalists are cheerfully pretending do not exist.

No party has yet arrived at a sensible, proportional response to the attacks on our country by Islamist terrorists – Labour scored some opportunistic points at the expense of the Tories for presiding over a fall in total police numbers but cannot be taken seriously thanks to the views of their senior leadership, while the Tories under Theresa May have made a few encouraging sounds about finally confronting the Islamist ideology and its roots in Britain’s Muslim communities but then pivoted dramatically to draconian talk about squashing civil liberties in the name of safety.

But most importantly, not a single political party – not even the minor ones or the nationalists – have asked anything of us, the British people. Apparently our job as citizens is just to sit back and petulantly demand More Things while politicians scurry around making false promises to deliver them to us. Nobody has called us to anything resembling a higher purpose or a common endeavour – something which matters more than ever as we confront an Islamist terror threat which emanates from non-assimilated communities who presently feel little connection to the country which gives them life and liberty.

It has become fashionable among political commentators to drone on about how the new division in politics is not between left-wing and right-wing, small government or big government, but rather between globalist and nationalist, those who want to keep vesting power in the current international or supranational institutions and those who believe that the status quo is not working, either for them or for the country as a whole. And while I would quibble with the idea that the left/right dichotomy is no longer important or relevant, of course there is a superficial truth to the globalist/nationalist idea which makes it easy to analyse the likes of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

(Perhaps one of the reasons I resist this new way of framing the debate is because it cuts people like me totally out of the picture – people who are open to the world, comfortable with globalisation and immigration but who recoil from the antidemocratic EU and efforts to foist supranational government on an ignorant or unwilling population by stealth. Voting for Brexit was perhaps the most profoundly liberal thing I have done in my life, and to see that most unexpected victory portrayed to the world by self-assured New York Times reporters as some kind of reactionary hankering for lost empire is immensely frustrating, as being slandered and misrepresented with little ability to correct the record nearly always is).

But British politics is currently so debased, so superficial, that we are not even really having this newfangled globalist/nationalist conversation in a serious way. Brexit, ostensibly the reason for having a snap general election in the first place, has been largely drowned out of the debate, first by the aforementioned tedious obsession with public services and what each one of us can get out of government, and then by the twin terror attacks and the pivot toward national security. And in place of this discussion we are wallowing almost exclusively in the politics of Me Me Me.

What will government do for me? What can this candidate offer me that the other candidate won’t? How will this manifesto affect my mortgage rate, my benefits, my private school fees, my inheritance, my commute, my GP waiting times, my ability to access WiFi on the slow train from Crewe to Stoke. It has all just been so desperately small and parochial.

Or as I put it the other day:

Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe from terror. Just gonna need your Facebook password, please. No, vote for me, I’ll keep the economy strong because we all know the only point of a strong economy is to raise more tax to spend on the NHS. Liar! You want to destroy Our Precious NHS! You want people to die in the streets when they get sick, just like they do in America. No, we are now the true party of the NHS! Anything for Our NHS, oh god, anything and everything, my very life for Our Blessed NHS.

Oi! Look over here, free university tuition! Yeah, it’s subsidised by the taxes of other people who never went to university and whose earning power has not been boosted through having a degree, but still. Fairness! Young people are the future! No, no, no, it’s all about the environment. That evil party wants to build an experimental nuclear fusion plant in your grandmother’s basement, and frack for oil in the middle of Lake Windermere. But we will bulldoze nasty, Brexit-supporting Stoke-on-Trent and replace it with a massive solar panel field. Much better.

No, look over here! We will bring back British Rail; remember how great British Rail was? Who needs Pret when you’ve got a trusty British Rail egg and cress sandwich? Nice and warm, of course, just like the good old days. Let’s have car-commuting taxpayers in Gainsborough subsidise the travel of London-based city commuters, because fairness. British Rail? Scoff. I’ll see your British Rail and raise you British Leyland! Woohoo – nationalisation, baby! For the Common Good.

All immigrants are a godsend, to the last man. If it weren’t for immigrants, your inflamed appendix would have been dug out by a native-born, chain-smoking school dropout with a can of special brew in his spare hand, and don’t you forget it. No, of course we should have a sensible, measured conversation about immigration. It’s just that I’ll stand here and shriek into the TV cameras that you’re an evil, divisive racist if you disagree with me. But please, go ahead. No no, we should listen patiently to people’s concerns and then carefully explain to them why they are wrong. People love that.

Oh, you? No dear, you don’t have to do anything. We, the politicians, are here to promise you stuff, to pander to your every passing whim. If I’m prime minister, I will make it my overriding personal concern to fix the broken chairs at your GP surgery waiting room – I’ll come round and do it myself, I’ve got some tools in the shed – and make sure that New British Rail adds free wifi to your single-carriage metro train between Stoke and Crewe. Seriously, no worries. I’ll call the boss at 6AM every day until it happens. NATO summit? Geopolitics? Statecraft? Boring! Why be a statesman when I can be a glorified town councillor for 65 million insatiable people? I’m on the case for you, and your every last petty concern. I’ll read foreign policy briefings when I’m on the can, that stuff doesn’t matter.

Heavens no, of course we don’t need to properly empower local politicians to make decisions in the local interest, raising and spending taxes independently of Westminster. For I am running to be Comptroller of British Public Services, and my sole job, my only care in the world is to make your passage through life as easy and painless as possible. You and 65 million of your fellow citizens. The buck stops with me, because public services are everything. After all, Britain didn’t do anything of value or renown on the world stage until we starting implementing the Beveridge Report. Not a damn thing. And now we’ve jacked up the size of the state so much and you have to deal with it so bloody frequently that we’d darn well better make sure you come skipping away happy from every last interaction – too many bad experiences for you are political suicide for us.

I just can’t get inspired by any of this transactional nonsense. Thanks partly to Brexit, but also to the general populist rejection of the former centrist status quo, we are living in momentous times. But our politics refuses to catch up with the moment, to acknowledge this break from the past and the need for bold new thinking, not tinkering around the edges and having the same tired old debate about Saving Our NHS.

I’m sometimes accused of being too down on politicians in general, of setting my bar of approval so high that everybody is doomed to disappoint. I think my critics are a little harsh. Who can seriously survey the British political scene and rejoice at the options before us as we go to the polls on June 8?

Who can take comfort from the fact that a Conservative leader facing a terminally dysfunctional opposition decided, inexplicably, to move panderingly to the Left rather than boldly to the transformative Right?

Who can take comfort from the fact that one of the few Labour politicians with anything approaching conviction is simultaneously rendered unelectable by those very same convictions and principles, disturbing as many of them are? Or the fact that the Labour Party has drifted so far away from its one-time roots that many activists now despise their patriotic, pro-Brexit former working class base?

Who can take comfort from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have decided to demonstrate their liberal credentials by standing in proud, unrepentant and implacable opposition to the greatest electoral mandate in British history?

Who can take comfort from the fact that Scottish Nationalists, despite having lost an independence referendum less than three years ago and pledged not to hold another in a generation, have decided to keep on trying ad infinitum to break up our United Kingdom, or that the people of Scotland look set to return a massive contingent of their dubious MPs to Westminster despite that party’s utterly appalling record in Holyrood government?

The only people who can possibly be mustering any enthusiasm for this election are the naive young lefties who truly believe that Theresa May is orchestrating a holocaust of the sick and disabled and that Saint Jeremy Corbyn is coming to cleanse us of our sins, or equally idealistic young Toryboys who hope that sharing enough “strong and stable” infographics on social media might one day lead to a job as an MP’s bag carrier.

I have nothing original to close with as I get ready to head to the polls, so I will recycle the conclusion of another piece I recently wrote:

Yes, I’ll vote Tory this time. But Lord knows I’ll feel unclean and deeply depressed while doing so, with zero expectation that it will result in anything positive for the country and with considerably more admiration for the man I hope to see defeated than the woman I barely want to win.

Britain, we can do better than this. Probably not much better realistically, at least right now – because as a society we have fallen and been infantilised to such a worrying degree – but still we can do better than these paltry political party leaders. They’re all just so very…small.

Somebody, anybody else, please step up soon. Deep down, as a nation we want more than is being offered to us by Jeremy Corbyn, his provincial Mini Me’s and a confused Tory leader who thinks the path to victory involves dismantling – rather than building upon – the legacy of our greatest post-war prime minister.

Step forward, find the spirit of public service and call us to action, too. Ask us to set our sights beyond our own narrow interests, beyond our bank balances, our bin collections, our next step on the property ladder, the feelings of our intersectional identity groups, the fate of our free mobile roaming calls in Tuscany. Help give us a new purpose, a common purpose, a higher purpose.

Set us a challenge.

 

I will be live blogging the election results and aftermath here on Semi-Partisan Politics from Thursday evening through to the next day. It promises to be a very depressing and underwhelming event. Do please join me.

 

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