Britain in political chaos

I’m still recovering from the night of the election results.  I had my iPad tuned into BBC1, propped up beside my bed all night.  I drifted in and out of sleep and each time I awoke, it was to yet more dramatic and unexpected (until the exit poll announcements) dramas.

Our old home in Edinburgh, Labour when we lived there, remains in the hands of the SNP, but chinks in the SNP stranglehold of Scotland emerged as the night progressed, with Alex Salmond and Alex Robertson both losing their seats. One or two constituencies returned to the Labour fold, but the big story was the Conservatives going from 0 to 13 seats.

In Richmond, where I grew up, the last few heady months with a Liberal MP came to an end as the unpleasant Zac Goldsmith won back the seat with a majority of 45. More exciting, in Kensington, where I spent my early childhood, Labour just got in, with a lead of 20 votes.  An unimaginable but satisfying result.  And in Brighton, where I had the right to vote until last July, Caroline Lucas the Green candidate deservedly increased her big majority.

Overall the map is depressingly blue; only the big conurbations (and university towns) stand out in red. There does look to be a close relationship between the Brexit and general election voting, at least in England.

The big difference is that the young came out, not just to vote but to be active in the election campaign. This is exciting and promising for the future provided they continue to participate.

But what of the immediate future?  For me the time bomb is the Brexit negotiations.  It makes me anxious and depressed as I see no way out of a Tory-led negotiating team, and in even more disarray and unprepared than before. What can be done between now and the start of the Brexit negotiations? I fear, nothing.

Any idea of Labour having the right to form a government is surely a pipedream.  The Conservatives (318) and their unpleasant stablemates, the DUP (10)make a majority of 328.  Labour (262), even backed up by the Liberals (12), Greens (1), SNP (35) Plaid Cymru (4) and northern Ireland Independent (1), can only scrape 314.

I suppose much depends on whether Theresa May is booted out. God forbid that she should be replaced by Boris Johnson, as hinted in the Tory press. So, not good times ahead.  I dream of some magical solution like a temporary national coalition government (as during the war) to work exclusively on a soft Brexit deal. But the most we can hope for is a cross party informal coalition by those who – in the absence of any hope of abolishing Brexit – push together for as reasonable a deal as possible.

This should start with an immediate announcement of protection of the position of EU citizens in the UK, a government commitment to continue to meet the health bill of British citizens in Europe (assuming the EU announce existing citizens could remain where they live), and adecision to come to an early agreement on both the UK bill to the EU and a settlement of the Irish border issue.

Then comes the more contentious issues.  I fear I preferred the Liberal position on Brexit to Labour’s – but look at how that led to Nick Clegg falling on his sword.  Labour has been ambivalent or unspecific about its exact position on freedom of movement, and therefore continued membership of the single market and customs union.  I hope we can get as close as we can to maintaining the status quo! We also need to ensure that Britain continues to be beholden to the European Court of Justice and to stay in EU education and research projects such as Erasmus.

All this means not only Labour getting its act together, but working with not only the opposition alliances but also with Conservative remainers, particularly powerful figures like Ruth Davidson. One reason for Labour’s remarkable turn around in fortunes was the arrival of young activists and voters.  This could continue to tell against the Tories unless they change policies and attitudes before the next general election. Let’s hope they realise – and fast – that they have to listen and accommodate.

Oh well.  I can dream on.


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