A very rainy dayMay 8, 2015 in the United Kingdom
8th May 2015 - pissing it down in Wigan. Absolutely pissing it down. How could it not be? Five more years of David Cameron and the Conservative party.
There was a four percent swing to Lisa Nandy, the Labour incumbent, in Wigan, but elsewhere it was different. It was different in Scotland and it was different in socially conservative England.
Scotland has been maturing as a nation for a long time, and the trend towards support for independence has been growing naturally and steadily for several decades. But it was events that unfolded during and immediately after the 2014 referendum that has led to the huge swing towards the SNP in this general election.
David Cameron, the Prime Minster to have granted the referendum, should’ve been the man expected to run the pro-union campaign. Yet he couldn’t. He had no authority in Scotland, and so had to rely on Labour - in particular Gordon Brown and Alaistar Darling - to put in the hard yards for the Unionist, 'better together' campaign that he himself should have been leading.
They won - but only just. 45% to 55% was a lot closer than they had predicted it was going to be. And, in the last few weeks running up to the referendum vote, they were forced on to the defensive and made a raft of devolution promises to the Scots.
Scared and desperate, in the final week of the campaign, Cameron had finally got involved and resorted to a bit of faux, PR emotion. He sat on a stool and said, 'don't break up the UK just to give the effing Tories a kick. I love this country much more than I love my party.'
Then, a few days later, just hours after the result had been announced, he went on to make the most partisan speech it was possible to make in such a situation. 'English votes for English laws . . . must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.'
He had calculated that the referendum had been won, that the Scots had been dealt with, and therefore it would be as good a time as any to start the 2015 General Election campaign. Come up with a soundbite - 'English votes for English laws' - and force Labour to come up with a counter soundbite. It was perfectly possible (and Cameron knew it) to explain why English votes for English laws would be disastrous for the Union. But, critically, it wasn’t possible to explain why in a five second soundbite. And if you couldn't explain it in a soundbite, you lost the PR game, and you lost the argument. As such, David Cameron was able to win votes in socially conservative England by being the patron of English nationalism. In England, Labour had been painted in to a corner for defending the Union.
Simultaneously, with the same EVEL message, Cameron was disenfranchising the Scots. If the Conservatives had had any real representation in Scotland this would’ve hurt then. But they didn’t. Labour did, and it was their proximity to the Conservative party during the Better Together campaign that was the start of their Scottish downfall.
Meanwhile the rest of the General Election campaign had begun in earnest. Aside from driving a deliberate wedge between Scotland and England, Cameron campaigned – exclusively negatively – against the last Labour government’s economic record. 'Don't let them bankrupt the country again,' Cameron kept repeatedly saying in reference to the two men - the very two men, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling – who had just saved the union on his behalf.
It worked. Cameron not only won, but increased his vote share and secured a small majority. Labour held most of the seats that they had won in England in 2010, and made small gains elsewhere in England, but the huge wipe-out in Scotland could never be offset by winning the marginals. The gains that the Conservatives made came almost entirely from the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote.
The upshot of all of this is that a vote for left-of-centre 2010 Nick Clegg and his party has facilitated what will end up being a decade long spell of Tory rule. Clegg could justify his party being in coalition with the Tories on the basis that, ‘they added heart to the Tory brain’. But the capitulation of his party in 2015 has given the Tories their majority and the freedom to rule alone for the next five years. All of the contributions the Liberal Democrats made in the last parliament, in either pursuing Liberal policies or restraining reactionary Tory policies (say on the environment, or their opposition to the snoopers charter) will be legislated away in the next few months, and we might as well have had a Tory majority government from 2010-2015 for all it matters now.
The Queen granted Cameron the right to form a new Government, and minutes later he was stood outside Downing Street, saying, ‘we must ensure that we bring our country together. As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom.’ As well as, ‘I have always believed in governing with respect.’ His bid to get re-elected was based on pitting Scotland against England, and a few choice slogans won’t affect much now. With 56 SNP MP’s of a possible 59 Scottish MPs (including the Shetland Islands, who are at heart Danish) it is almost certain that Scotland will secede from the Union. David Cameron can state as much as he likes that he is going to rule as a ‘one nation’ Conservative, but he has absolutely no mandate in Scotland. Not only does he not have a mandate, the platform he sought to get elected on was fundamentally rejected by the Scots with a huge majority. The SNP are about as explicitly anti Tory as you can get.
But it wasn’t just the Scots that rejected the Conservatives. So, too, did the old, industrial northern towns and cities: Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Bolton, Wigan, Doncaster, Bradford, Blackburn, Huddersfield. It has always been the case that the north has opposed Tory rule, and as a result had to endure the brunt of it. Soon, though, without the solidarity of the like minded Scotland, the north of England will have a permanent Tory government that it didn’t vote for. And we know where that leads. The future doesn’t look remotely ‘one nation’, and I see nothing in the Tory manifesto that resembles the ‘good life’ they keep promising.
The Tories will cut funding to primary and secondary schools.
The Tories will cut 12bn from the welfare budget, most probably from Child Benefit - taking it away from all but the first two children (because big families are bad and made up of benefit scroungers).
The Tories will repeal the hunting ban, and chasing after foxes on horseback and watching them get torn to pieces by a pack of dogs will once again become legal.
The Tories will champion nepotism and inherited wealth by increasing the inheritance tax threshold to one million pounds. Meanwhile, middle class families with relatives suffering from alzheimer's or Dementia will have to sell their sub-million pound home in order to afford nursing home care – because the Tories don’t believe that the state should fund it.
The Tories won't spend a penny on infrastructure, and things will get worse on what is already the most outdated and overpriced rail network in Europe.
The Tories will do nothing about the overinflated price of housing, and young people will continue to struggle to get a foot on the ladder. Those who rent will be made to cough up evermore of their income and hand it over to buy to let landlords.
The Tories will have a pointless referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, and Britain will become ever more diminished on the world stage. Over the past five years, I can’t think of a single country that the UK has strengthened ties with; I can think of many which it has senselessly strained ties with.
The Tories will get their ‘Bill of Rights,’ and the UK will withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.
The Tories will freeze all building of onshore wind turbines; instead we will get fracking.
The Tories will introduce a Snoopers charter.
Under the Tories both exports and productivity will continue to languish, and inequality will widen further still.
You can get on a train at Glasgow, and five hours later be stepping off at London, Euston. Yet the average person in Glasgow has a life expectancy 13 years less than that of someone living in Chelsea. It is a small country, but clearly very, very unequal. Even in Germany – a country that has only been unified for 25 years – the inequality rates between the regions are nothing compared to what they are in Britian.
Speaking of Germany, it is still a month before I start my new life there, but I already I feel vindicated in my decision to leave. It is so frustrating to live in a country that you know is underperforming on so many levels, and is doing so because of Conservative ideology. In the UK, there is a whole lot of unrealised potential, a lot what could so easily be right but isn’t. Alas, I don’t think things will get better in the next five years, I think things will get a lot worse.Read more