General Election 2017: Brexit’s Democratic Dividend

27 Jun

One irony of Britain’s general election result is that the Labour Party’s electoral advance demonstrates just how wrong the left has been about British politics since last year’s EU referendum.

Most of the British left was horrified by the Leave vote, seeing it as a permanent victory for UKIP, the Tory right and racism. Left-wing commentators claimed no longer to recognize their own country and openly compared the atmosphere to the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the early 1930s. We pointed out at the time that this reaction was absurd and an excuse for the left’s failure to represent working class interests. The Eurosceptic right had not suggested anything on a par with the Nazis, and in any case it had nothing to offer politically. Sure enough the Tory right and UKIP promptly imploded after the referendum. A year later the general election has produced a weakened Conservative government, stripped of its majority, and a resurgent Labour Party under a left-wing leader. UKIP has all but disappeared electorally while a record 52 MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds have been elected, including an increase in the number of Muslim MPs from eight to 13. The new parliament also contains a new record of 45 out LGBT MPs. Not only is post-referendum Britain not anything remotely like Weimar Germany, but as we hoped the referendum vote has had some positive effects for democracy in Britain.

As we argued last summer, the referendum saw a significant protest vote against the political void that had opened up between the governing class and the population. This void stands where the political process of representing ordinary people’s interests used to be. It is a void that is embodied above all in the distant and unaccountable form of government that is the European Union.  The shock of the referendum result was that this political void could no longer be ignored, but instead had to be addressed.

When the two major parties returned to the ballot box this year, they had significantly realigned their priorities. With both formally backing Brexit, debate focused on other issues. And both parties looked to the past for inspiration. The Conservative manifesto stuck to their sound finances mantra but otherwise shifted their tone markedly by trying (ineffectually) to evoke the postwar one-nation Toryism. Corbyn’s Labour Party finally buried Blairite fiscal policy and returned to Old Labour’s higher taxes to finance higher spending on public services.

In this contest between antiquated political platforms, it turned out that the Labour Party was in the stronger position. The electorate once again showed that it could not be taken for granted politically. While Brexit remains popular and May got the most support, the electorate denied the prime minister her anticipated overall majority and instead strengthened Labour’s position.

Meanwhile in Scotland the electorate delivered a bloody nose to the dominant Scottish National Party (SNP) by significantly boosting the unionist parties. It transpires that many Scots voted to Remain not out of such fanatical attachment to the EU that they now crave a second independence referendum just to stay in it – but rather because they feared the UK’s breakup. The remarkable revival of Tory fortunes in Scotland reflects their solid unionist credentials and staunch anti-SNP position. Again contrary to predictions, the fallout of the referendum has therefore strengthened the Union with Scotland.

A proper accounting for the effects of last year’s Leave vote would, therefore, find no place for the triumph of the far right. Rather it would include the killing off of austerity as government policy, the strengthening of the Union and a strengthening of parliament’s influence.  In all these ways democracy has been boosted by last year’s Leave vote. The sharp increase in turnout in the recent general election, especially among a generation turned off politics by New Labour, speaks to the return of politics after a long winter of depoliticized technocracy. The electorate has shown it can no longer be taken for granted and the shaken political elite has been forced to try to reconnect with the voters.

Peter Ramsay

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3 Responses to “General Election 2017: Brexit’s Democratic Dividend”

  1. The Gonch July 1, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    There are about 5-10 different assertions in this, with no more evidence than ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’.

    Sigh, for example…

    “hey had significantly realigned their priorities.” Would this include the Prime Minister saying the election was called to strengthen her hand at Brexit negotiations?

    By the way this “…antiquated political platforms,” doesn’t match this ” instead strengthened Labour’s position”

    “While Brexit remains popular” evidence for this?

    “It transpires that many Scots voted to Remain not out of such fanatical attachment to the EU that they now crave a second independence referendum just to stay in it – but rather because they feared the UK’s breakup” How do you know? Is this demonstrated by any actual factual information. Can we really transposed votes accross Scotland has having one cause (ditto the rest of the UK).

    “A proper accounting for the effects of last year’s Leave vote would, therefore, find no place for the triumph of the far right” apart from at the time!

    ” killing off of austerity as” The Sun article is not evidence of this.

    “a strengthening of parliament’s influence” yet to be seen.

    “especially among a generation turned off politics by New Labour”. Define ‘turned off’. Surely if we are going to play your game of ‘obvious points made without causal evidence’ this would be better worded as “commentators such as ourselves should not just assume voting is political engagement”. Also, many who voted would not have been able to vote in the past, so perhaps it is not ‘the young’ that we need to think about but this specific generation.

    By the way “…antiquated political platforms,” doesn’t match this ” instead strengthened Labour’s position” and “As we argued last summer” should really read “as we, and many others…”

    “forced to try to reconnect with the voters” what’s your evidence of this, so far?

    • The Gonch July 1, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

      p.s. allowing for all my rubbish typo’s above, I have one key question that I would love this blog to answer…

      What’s your definition of ‘the left’? I ask becuuse on this blog it’s just a big blob that never is defined. One definition might be the ‘Corbyn wing of the Labour Party’, so to say “how wrong the left has been…” really doesn’t make any sense.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. General Election 2017: Corbynmania in Perspective | thecurrentmoment - June 28, 2017

    […] proper reckoning with the election result needs to start from the position that the EU referendum was never a hard-right victory in the first place. It then needs to be remembered that Corbyn still lost the election. Labour won only 262 seats, on […]

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