My take on the election, and what lies ahead
Like many, I was shocked and saddened by the result of the election on Thursday. That the Tories secured power for another five years was deeply saddening. That they did so without the need to form a coalition spoke volumes, both about the country and the opposition.
There is less to distinguish between the two major parties (Labour and the Conservatives, for the avoidance of doubt) now than there was in the 1980s, and indeed the 1990s. While I feel that the current Conservative administration has drifted right, so has Labour.
That said, I feel that Labour’s principles are in the right place. And while they didn’t articulate them particularly strongly in the campaign that they so resoundingly lost, I feel that they still hold true.
To me, the important tenets of Labour’s offering are as follows:
- Hard work pays
- If you fall upon hard times, then there will be a safety net
- The key services on which we rely – education and health in particular – are of high quality and are provided free of charge.
I also think that Labour values society at large alongside the economy. Whether this is more a component of Labour’s offering or a figment of my imagination, I’m not sure.
My feeling is that the Tories agree on the proposition that hard work should pay. I get the impression that the safety net is of less importance than it is to Labour. And I worry that health in particular will become a service that is dependent on ability to pay. As for society, I think that the Tories’ view is that a healthy economy leads to a healthy society. While there is a link, I don’t subscribe to it being as directly correlated as they seem to believe.
I have been lucky in my career and life to date. I have earned well, and have not had to rely on benefits. Touch wood, my personal exposure to the NHS has been the occasional check-up by my GP. I am lucky enough to be able to afford health insurance, which I invest in, and my daughter goes to a private school.
My feeling is that the Tories are catering for people like myself, people with options. But their policies don’t cater well for those less well off, those less able to afford options.
In the last administration, the bedroom tax was a dreadful introduction, one that hit many of the poorest people in society. And the Tories’ much more aggressive approach to disability living allowance, while it didn’t affect me one jot, hit many many people very hard. I feel that despite their talk of investment in the period immediately prior to the recent election, the NHS will become more privatised over the coming years, and a platform will be set up for a tiered healthcare system. Again, those who cannot afford options will lose out.
In the end, democracy won. In total, 11,334,920 people voted for the Tories, 21% more than voted for Labour. They won 331 of the 650 seats, and they secured a mandate for power. But my worry is that as a society, we have become more insular, more self-focused. And in becoming so, our voting has changed accordingly. If we as individuals are better off under a Tory government, then that is what we vote for. To hell with the rest.
That’s not exclusively the case. (There are many that vote for the Tories because they don’t agree with the picture I’ve painted above. And there are many that vote Labour despite knowing that they may be worse off financially as a result.) But I fear that it’s a growing trend.
In redefining itself, Labour has its task cut out. It needs to convince the electorate that a benefits system has its place, that it is there to protect the most vulnerable and not to line the pockets of people without the appetite to work. It needs to redefine and embrace the important tenets of society. It needs to hammer home the importance of key services without a direct cost to the individual (beyond tax). And at the same time it needs to demonstrate its ability to embrace the economic drivers that are here to stay.
It also needs a strong figurehead who can rally the party and convince the people. I wonder who that might be.