A Tory party bad enough to lose, the return of two-party politics and measuring #GE2017 success the right way – Progress director Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word
The Tories have been bad enough to lose a general election since their first few days in office. Pulling £6bn from the economy was one of the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition’s first decisions. To panic such a fragile recovery at that time has had such tragic consequences. It was made for political, not economic, reasons and started a trend that saw the government preside over increasing VAT, deep, deep cuts to public services and missing each of their own deficit reduction (let alone debt) targets. George Osborne might be a master at dividing Labour from its members and would-be supporters, but his economics left much to be improved upon.
The public finances are in a terrible state and the public realm is paying the price. Cuts are really biting the communities least capable of fighting back. Local government – arguably worse hit – has responded well under great local leadership, largely but not exclusively, provided by Labour politicians. However, the National Health Service – still recovering from the disastrous Health and Social Care Act – is visibly stretched and struggling. Imagine what another five years of Tory Britain will do for this country’s most loved collective institution.
The bit of the Tory manifesto that galls me personally is the cuts to schools. You do not get a second chance at giving our kids the best first start in life. Education is the key to opportunity, social mobility and much of the life chances that follow. Even primary schools are now asking parents to chip in for basics to plug the holes in school budgets. Teachers – still browbeaten by Michael Gove – are personally footing the bill for class room resources and are too often feeding kids they worry are malnourished and vulnerable. If they are promising such terrible cuts in an election, imagine what they will do if re-elected.
It is so sad because it did not have to be this way.
A return to two-party politics
Theresa May called this election because she saw she had the upper hand and sought to press her advantage. Matthew Doyle laid bare the terrain of the election: ‘Support in the polls for Theresa May can only go down and support in the polls for Jeremy Corbyn can only go up,’ he told Sky News in late April 2017. He was right (again). The focus on the two main party leaders has meant the ‘odds and sods’ have fallen away. England and Wales has returned to two-party politics not seen for a generation.
This election is about the most simple and starkest of choices. They are only two contenders for the keys to Number 10.
Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, rallies and television debates or May who has barely turned up.
Measures of success
There are various reports of what might be considered a success this time next week. Mine would always be ‘has the campaign brought about a Labour government?’. If anyone thinks that goal was not possible in this election, they are simply wrong – the Tory record and arrogant campaign with an utterly floored candidate for prime minister is all the proof you need.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey, before a supposed reread of the manifesto, suggested 200 seats – a loss of 32 seats on 2015 (when we also lost seats) – would be some kind of triumph. He is obviously wrong. His equivalent at Unison Dave Prentis tweeted a retort: ‘Success = a Labour government. That’s what care workers, nurses and teaching assistants need.’
The measure for success is – obviously – winning. At the very least, the measure of progress is in a net increase of seats. Only winning more seats than Labour managed at the last election puts us in a better position for the subsequent election. The rest is for the birds.
Despite this, sources close to the leadership, are now arguing that improving on Ed Miliband’s pathetic 30.4 per cent would be some kind of Neil Kinnock-style ‘making progress with the electorate’. Even in normal times you cannot take vote share in isolation – Miliband increased on Gordon Brown’s 2010 vote share yet lost Scotland and made a paltry net gain of two seats from the Tories. Hardly progress.
The Tories are bad enough to lose. Let Britain now go to the polls.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell