In the run up to the election you could have been forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t really much choice between the main parties. The sideshow appeal of UKIP attracted a lot of attention, but that sometimes seemed to be a horrified form of disbelief in some quarters. It almost seemed to become a race to see whether the party would self destruct before the election could even take place, with what seemed like a fresh disaster every other day.
Although they didn’t succeed particularly well in the final results, it’s not to say that they didn’t get an awful lot of popular support, and that can’t be something that has escaped the other parties – can it? UKIP got nearly four million votes and came second in an awful lot of places. You can bet that they will be heavily involved in the European referendum debate. The Tories have no problem embracing Euroscepticism, though you can be sure that David Cameron will continue to publicly twist and turn to ensure he heads the Yes vote so that even if he fails, he can still play the martyr card. Ultimately for the Tories, the referendum will be a lovely distraction from their ongoing dismantling of the state and selling it off to their sponsors.
For Labour, there’s something of an identity crisis, because they don’t seem to really know who they are or what they want. Having bought into the expensive austerity belief, you could be forgiven for thinking the party’s leadership deliberately threw the election so that the “Nasty” Tories could get the blame for things that the Labour leadership were going to do themselves. The problem is that the defeat has led to a leadership competition where until recently all the candidates seemed to be pretty interchangeable – not only with each other but with the leadership of the other parties as well. Jeremy Corbyn’s last-minute inclusion on the ballot has given hope to the left wing of an increasingly right wing party, but there’s already sniping that his success would make the party unelectable. From a party that has lost six out of the last nine general elections, this seems pretty rich.
In the wake of this, and UKIP’s worrying grip on public hearts, there are those who wonder if Labour is not ‘patriotic’ any more – which I suspect hides another call to lurch even more to the right, and further justify austerity within the echo chamber of the millionaires largely in charge of each group. The ‘Blairites’ have not been slow to come back out of the shadows and rail against Labour’s words against fat cats, claiming that the party has become anti-business – but as ever, when I hear that phrase, I wonder what is actually meant by ‘anti-business’. Are they talking about small businesses and self employed people trying to scrape together a living? Are they talking about our industrial base, or the diverse service industries, let alone the international companies that would really rather not pay any tax, thank you very much? I suspect that ‘anti-business’ is largely a euphemism for being critical of the financial sector.
What Tony Blair at least succeeded in doing for Labour was to marry the concepts of aspiration for the individual with aspiration for society – to demonstrate that making wealth was an essential part of then sharing the wealth to uplift everyone. Anyone looking to reinvigorate Labour – and therefore add some variety to British politics that doesn’t revolve around raw nationalism would need to look to add identity to the notions of fairness and aspiration. Everyone wants to succeed and make money, if only because its become so expensive to live. Wanting to make money does not make you a Tory.
UKIP were successful, in part, because they were seen as different from the political establishment – despite being largely composed of people who could not have embodied the establishment any harder if they tried. Perhaps Labour – or the Greens – or anyone else could look to their example and actually have something to stand for, other than ‘not being the Tories’?