Despite winning a majority in the Commons off a campaign that focused on the economy and his opponent’s inability to win a bacon sarnie, prime minister David Cameron has lost little time in interpreting his victory as a chance to form the most right-wing government since Margaret Thatcher of milk-snatching fame left the premiership in 1990.
Aside from telling Theresa “Jackboot” May to enact the Snoopers’ Charter and bringing Michael Gove back in from the cold as the human rights abolition secretary, DVD Dave has also appointed Caroline Dinenage as equalities minister.
All that in mind, it must have been jolly inconvenient for our heroine to wake up on Sunday and find out International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (Idaho) was taken place. Whilst many of these celebratory days are little more than an excuse for various pressure groups to engage in public onanism, they do allow governments to comment on what they have been doing within their field.
So what did Dinenage say?
“I’m proud that the UK has just been named the most progressive country in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights for the fifth year running, but far too many LGB&T people around the world continue to experience discrimination. We need to tackle that and to create a fairer society for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Much has been written about the possibility of the Scottish National Party pushing for another referendum on independence should they augment their recent surge in Westminster seats with a victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections next year.
This is despite reports that the Scots could lose out financially if they claimed fiscal autonomy for themselves because of tumbling oil prices. Perhaps for that reason many of them are sceptical that Scotland will become independent before the next general election (currently scheduled for 2020) – though the English are not so sure.
Figures from a recent Survation poll, which included people from across Britain, show that a third of Scots think their country will be independent by the end of this parliament. Though this gives unionists cause for optimism the English seems to view divorce as more likely, with 43 percent predicting Scotland will break away within the next five years.
“It’s interesting that Scotland is split pretty much down the middle on whether independence will happen, even within a decade, while more people in England think it’s already lost,” says Sunder Katwala, director of the think-tank British Future, which commissioned the online survey of 4,000.
Long-term pessimism of the fate of the United Kingdom, which has existed for more than 300 years, is more rife than the short-term kind. Almost three-quarters of both English and Scots predict that this may be the last united British generation, with both groups expecting dissolution of the Union within 25 years.
“That’s a long-term challenge for unionism and an opportunity for Nicola Sturgeon to play the long game,” Katwala added. “Up to a third of that 72% will be ‘No’ voters who are resigned to independence, and her task will be to convince them that it’s all going to be alright.”
Labour’s contest over the leadership and future direction of the party is highlighting that age-old split between what the party wants to achieve and what the country wants from them.
Following Chuka Umunna’s surprise departure, which despite rumours of a major Sunday newspaper scoop appears to have been based on a sharp rise in media scrutiny over his family, the field is now left open to former Labour ministers Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, as well as rising stars Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh.
Yet already questions are being asked as to whether the internal politics of the party are likely to hamper its electoral chances the next time the country goes to the polls. A survey conducted by the pollster YouGov on behalf of The Sunday Times has revealed that while the public want Labour to move to the centre, the party membership is not so sure.
In a question that directly asks where the next leader should take Labour, 40% say closer to the centre and only 21% say further to the left.
The views of Labour voters are more equivocal:
Labour voters are unsure – 30% choose the left, 35% the centre and 10% where they are now.
Last time the Reds voted for a chief the unions managed to swing it for Ed Miliband, whose perceived incompetence and attacks on predatory capitalism are credited for Labour’s thrashing at the polls.
As many have warned, Labour’s new voting rules may have inadvertently handed even greater powers to the unions, who can enlist their members for free for the leadership ballot. Whilst last time they made up for a third of the vote in an electoral college system, this time under One Member One Vote they could have half the voting power.
If that happens we could have, as former prime minister Tony Blair correctly said of this election, a contest “in which traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.
At the start of this year the former British prime minister Tony Blair forecast the General Election would be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.
It was a prediction that proved, unlike the polls that most pundits (including me) believed, to be bang on. Not only did the Tories surge to a majority against all expectation, the Liberal Democrats were massacred in the polls whilst Labour’s usual haul of Scottish seats were siphoned off to the Scottish National Party. The Right consolidated; The Left fractured.
Event if Blair’s cliché looks good so far, it is his legacy at the turn of the millennium that complicates things. Provided one accepts he is leftwing, Blair remains the most successful politician of the Left for the last century, having managed the singular feat for Labour of winning three elections on the trot.
Unsurprisingly his example is causing a rupture in the party that has lost two general elections since he left in 2007. Indeed the incoming list of Labour candidates are being judged largely on whether they follow Blair or the recently departed leader Ed Miliband, himself a disciple of Gordon Brown, the last Labour prime minister.
Who ultimately triumphs in the contest – which includes former health secretary Andy Burnham, former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, and newcomers from the 2010 intake such as Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall – is less important than what philosophy they represent: New Labour or Old.
It is a dilemma echoed in a similar contest taking place within the Liberal Democrats. Long seen as a “none of the above” option for ambivalent voters, the party forfeited this role by agreeing to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Now returned to opposition, it will have to compete with the SNP, the Greens and the UK Independence Party for the protest vote it once owned.
Whilst the former leader Nick Clegg provides a model of how the Liberal Democrats can effect change in government, the other wing of the party was alienated by collaboration with the hated Tories, whom many Liberal Democrat voters explicitly wanted to keep out of power when they cast their ballot.
Even if the Liberal Democrats and Labour are founded on different visions of the Left, they are both stuck between centrist and extremist competition. A turn to the left could lose them even more of the centrist voters who turned Conservative at this election, whilst a turn to the centre could see their ranks depleted by the Greens and the SNP.
This is one reason why many of the prospective Labour leaders have spoken of bringing together a broad coalition of sensibilities under a new direction. “Our challenge is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour,” Burnham said as he launched his campaign online.
The trouble is that civil war is a speciality of the Left. Ideology weighs more on the minds of idealists than it does the pragmatists that are more common on the Right. Indeed the protean nature of conservatism is what has ensured the longevity of the Tories over the last 200 years, and played a part in sealing their victory last week.
Blair’s talent was to provide a plausible promise of change that could gather voters from the centre whilst inspiring the party faithful. Plenty has changed since he last occupied Downing Street, but the fundamental arithmetic remains. Unless the Left wants a traditional exile for the next generation, it would do well to remember that.
Indeed a Change.org petition created last year demanding Parliament “allow the north of England to secede from the UK and join Scotland” has been recirculated on Twitter under the hashtag #TakeUsWithYouScotland –no doubt a reaction to the triumphant Tory majority victory at the polls last week.
Under the plans outlined by one Stu Dent, England would be hewn in two between Sheffield and Nottingham, leaving the cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle in a new country, presumably called Greater Scotland.
Despite the love-in between the Jocks and the Northerners, many on Twitter were incensed to find their own neck of the woods lumped in with the slimy Southern English Tories. Some begged to be annexed by the mighty Scottish Nationalist administration in Holyrood, Edinburgh, and pretty soon things got out of hand:
Whilst the above image does betray a naive understanding of the Democratic Unionist Party’s politics in Northern Ireland, it does point to a wider truth: For many on the Left London is an enemy rather than an ally to getting the politics they want.
Looks like Giddy’s reforms can’t come fast enough…