From a liberal point of view – General Election June 2017

I stayed up late last night. The election was fascinating. When I finally gave up and went to bed I was feeling quite cheerful. The revival of the Labour vote seemed encouraging. Today, having thought more about the implications of the result, I am less sanguine. So, here’s a cheerful picture of flowers – or you can click on the link and read about the hung Parliament.

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From a liberal point of view – Election June 2017

With almost all the results in, we know that the Conservatives are the largest single party but without an overall majority. At the time of writing, Theresa May is sitting tight. For the short term, it looks as though she will cobble together an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party to enable her to govern. Heaven help us.

It will, perhaps, be less easy for the Conservatives to impose further austerity, but not impossible.

I give one cheer for that. Whether it deserves one cheer depends upon whether the Conservatives make the necessary investment in our public services. We can always hope, but I doubt it. They may even pursue privatisation with greater vigour.

This election was supposed to be about Brexit. Despite this, both main parties were careful to avoid any meaningful debate about Europe, but the issue hasn’t gone away. How will the election result affect the way Theresa May negotiates?

It clearly weakens her position in Brussels. She will, I suspect, consult as little as possible with Parliament over the negotiations. Indeed, her record suggests that she won’t even consult her own party. A tight little cabal of her most loyal colleagues will be her only advisors. Will Brussels offer her a deal that she will be able to sell to her party, Parliament, and the voting public? It doesn’t seem likely to me; what do you think?

She has constantly reiterated that “No deal is better than a bad deal”. If she can’t strike a deal, she will walk away, leaving debts and ill-feeling behind. Economically, we are told that this will be the worst of all results.

So, this election result has almost certainly increased rather than decreased the probability of a hard Brexit. No cheers for that.

Finally, what does our Parliamentary democracy now look like? Well, in most places the minor parties were squeezed. The SNP lost seats, UKIP’s vote share was slashed, the Libdem vote share was reduced nationally (although there were a few swings against the trend enabling them to increase their number of MPs), and the Green Party, despite a strong campaign and brilliant leadership from Caroline Lucas, lost vote share just about everywhere.

Two party politics is back. And, as a liberal who values diversity, I give no cheers at all for that.



From a liberal point of view – Turkeys WILL vote for Christmas

I’d be grateful if you would give a few minutes quiet reflection to the question below, and possibly even write down your answer. It’s quite important.

Why are you going to vote in the onrushing General Election? Not how. Why?

Have you considered it carefully? Are you ready?

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I believe that most of you will have answered with something that depends on emotion or personal value judgements, because, ultimately, how we vote comes down to how we see ourselves and the society we live in.

Most people reading this post will have a liberal outlook. We love our values of tolerance, diversity, rationality, and I’m as passionate about them as anybody. But they are personal value judgements, not absolutes. It’s perfectly possible to have a functioning society with autocratic rule and persecution of minorities. You and I wouldn’t like this, but it would work. North Korea is a case in point.

When people vote Conservative on June 8th it will be because they want to.

This is a paradox, because most people are not likely to benefit from a Conservative victory.

Now, it may be that they simply don’t realise the damage that is being done to the NHS and to schools by Conservative policies. It certainly won’t hurt to remind them of this, preferably with local examples. But what are the positive reasons for them to put a cross in the box for a Conservative candidate?

In short, why are turkeys going to vote for Christmas?

The answer, I think, lies in a sense of belonging, of group identity.

Time after time, on the television news, we have heard ordinary people – voters – say (about Brexit), “We’re going to take back control of Britain”. This sense of group national identity is being fostered assiduously by the Conservative Party and the right wing press. They will control migration “to protect British jobs”. They will restrict asylum to a handful of children “to protect the British public against terrorism”. The subliminal message throughout is “You’re in my gang. I’ll take care of you.”

We need an equally compelling emotional narrative if we are to convince these voters. I confess I do not have one. Our vision of a just and caring society needs to be set down persuasively so that people don’t feel threatened or bullied by it, but rather feel cherished and valued.

That is for the future. For this election we can only concentrate on turning out the liberal vote, and building electoral alliances where we can.

Good luck, friends!

From a liberal point of view – April 2017

Six weeks today, we in the UK vote in a General Election.

Let us leave aside the reasons why it was called (which are incoherent), and the reasons why the opposition MPs voted in favour of it (which are incomprehensible). Let us consider instead some information that may influence how we vote.

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What are our liberal values in the context of this election? The hallmark of a liberal society is that it accords equal respect to every member. An absolute pre-requisite is that the society looks after its weak members. People should not go hungry. They should have good accommodation. They should receive good healthcare promptly.

One measure of whether people are going hungry is the number of people requiring help from a food bank. A major provider of such help is the Trussel Trust Foundation. They provide 3-day emergency packs for people who cannot afford to buy food. They report figures showing a dramatic and continuing rise in the need for these packs.

Period 3-day emergency packs provided during the year
2008 – 9 25,899
2009 – 10 40,898
2010 – 11 61,468
2011 – 12 128,697
2012 – 13 346,992
2013 – 14 913,138
2014 – 15 1,084,604
2015 – 16 1,109,309

You can find the data here.

How about adequate accommodation? Homeless Link is an agency that works with government and other providers to help reduce homelessness. They have reported the following statistics.

Calendar year People sleeping rough Households in temporary accommodation
2010 1,768 48,000
2011 2,181 49,000
2012 2,309 53,000
2013 2,414 56,000
2014 2,744 63,000
2015 3,569 69,000
2016 n/a 76,000

The data for temporary accommodation was taken from a graph, and has been rounded to the nearest thousand. You can find the data here.

The King’s Fund reports quarterly on the performance of the NHS. This data is from their latest report:

  • The target time for Ambulance Trusts to respond to Red 1 emergency calls is 8 minutes. When this was introduced in June 2012, it was missed 24% of the time. This has now risen to 33% of the time.
  • A&E Departments have a target that no-one should wait more than 4 hours from arrival to admission, or transfer, or discharge (as appropriate). During 2009 – 10 this was missed less than 2% of the time. It’s now being missed 10% of the time.
  • The target for waiting time after diagnosis is that fewer than 8% of patients should wait longer than 18 weeks before the start of treatment. In 2012, this target was being met comfortably; fewer than 6% of patients waited longer than the target time. The latest report notes that the target has now been missed for ten consecutive months, and exceeds 10%.

You can find the data here.

I haven’t ‘cherry-picked’ these numbers. The data are largely from government bodies. There are many more statistics saying the same thing.

They’re saying this.

Over the period during which we have had a Conservative government, more people have gone hungry; more people have gone homeless; and people have found it harder to obtain care from the NHS.

We are one of the richest nations in the world; our government has been steadily and knowingly providing less help for those who need it most; and this is having an impact on the lives of millions of people.

Today, now, we have people who don’t have enough to eat, don’t have anywhere to sleep, who are dying because they’re not receiving medical help in time.

So, back to this election.

I would normally vote Green. I’m a Green party member. However, if this Conservative government remains in power, the data above suggest that life for the poorest will become even worse.

Consequently, if it starts to look as though a particular candidate can challenge the current Conservative MP in my constituency, then I shall vote for that candidate. It goes against the grain for me; I would far rather vote Green; but the stakes are just too high.