Archive for the 'Election focus 2017' Category

A new kind of democracy: anti-politics and the funnelling of frustration

matt flinders

Matt Flinders

By Matt Flinders, Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield

This post was originally published on The Conversation on 12 June 2017.

“It’s not easy being a professor of politics. Everyone expects me to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen. But I’m just as bamboozled as everyone else by the outcome of the UK’s recent general election.

“Bamboozlement” has become something of a byword for modern democratic events. Think Brexit, think Donald Trump, and now think “Corbyn the conqueror” – the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.

“…the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.”

To some extent, recent events in the UK are symptomatic of a broader international trend that is often (but incorrectly) labelled as anti-political sentiment. But high levels of social frustration and political disengagement among large sections of the public actually veils a desire for a different kind of politics – not the denial or rejection of democratic politics itself.

It is this that explains the growth of populist nationalism (on both the right and left) in Europe and the United States. It also helps explain what happened on June 8 2017.

The success of Jeremy Corbyn and his “New-Old” Labour party was that it tapped into and funnelled the large reservoir of social frustration with politics. Corbyn offered a very different type of politics, both in terms of content (a clear shift to the left of higher taxes and nationalisation) and form (against the clean-cut image of “professional politicians”). Corbyn’s rather chaotic and almost amateurish approach came across as refreshingly honest. Never before have a scruffy beard and an untucked shirt become such electoral assets.

If you are anti-political (against how politics generally works), if you are anti-politician (against politicians who all look and behave the same), and if you are anti-establishment (in terms of believing in the existence of a largely untouchable political elite), then the Labour party under Corbyn positioned itself like a political lightning-rod to channel those frustrations.

This is the key point that many of his opponents failed to understand. The more the media attacked and mocked him, the more Theresa May refused to engage, the more Boris Johnson described the Labour leader as a “benign herbivore” and a “mutton-headed mugwump” the more this seemed to energise and build Corbyn’s support base. It simply confirmed in the minds of the disaffected just how brash and arrogant the political elite had become.

Funnelling frustration and offering a positive message formed the magic formula for the Labour Party’s glorious defeat. It tuned into the populist signal.

The critical element, however, which offers a key to understanding contemporary democracy, was the manner in which the Labour party secured the support of at least three very different segments of the previously disillusioned or disengaged.

The first segment was the traditionally anti-political youth (aged 18-24) who were dismissed as “snowflake voters” who would melt away before getting to the polling booth. The pollsters were wrong. (Again.). Around 72% of younger voters ended up placing their crosses on the ballot paper (up from just 44% in 2015).

Many young people are still angry about the EU referendum vote and joined a second section of the public who were, put simply, anti-hard Brexit. This included remainers and soft-Brexiteers, but the common denominator was deep-seated concern about the increasingly belligerent, nationalist and aggressive tone of the Conservative Party.

This in turn leads to the third and final group – the white working classes, the “left behind”, who rejected mainstream politics and led “the revolt on the right” seen in the popularity of UKIP in 2015. The simple fact seems to be that a large proportion of the “left behind” went back to the left. They chose to support an anti-austerity agenda and investment in public services above the anti-immigrant anti-Europe stance offered by the Conservatives.

The times they are a-changin’

It seems then, in this bamboozling aftermath of June 8, that the public is not anti-political. They are “pro-political” but also “pro-a-different-way-of-doing-politics”. They crave the existence of real policy choices and a positive vision for the future.

As I argue in my new book, What Kind of Democracy is This?, the concept of democracy is in flux, and arguably more fragile than at any point in the last 50 years. Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism (the very opposite of democratic politics). Populists tend to offer simple solutions to complex problems, generally by blaming “the problem” on a specific section of society (immigrants, foreigners, gypsies …), and then arguing that if we “the people” could only get rid of the cumbersome safeguards of democracy, life would be so much easier.

“Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism.”

“Let the people govern” is a phrase often used to veil the imposition of centralised and unaccountable structures. Democracy has to have limits, but populists tend to deny this basic fact.

For many, Brexit, President Trump, and Corbyn’s 40% vote share have come as a series of political surprises. The rules of the political game have changed but nobody seems to know quite what they are anymore.

We need a new language of politics in order to fully grasp what kind of democracy this is. The language of left or right, for or against, in or out is the language of simple binaries or zero sum games. It no longer reflects a changing world of multiple and overlapping loyalties and identities. Most of all we need a language of politics that rejects the dominant politics of pessimism and offers in its place a bold new vision of collective action and self belief – a new politics of optimism to underpin a new kind of democracy.

 

What kind of democracy is this [FC]You can pre-order What kind of democracy is this? by Matt Flinders here for just £15.99.

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Featured image: ‘Jeremy Corbyn campaign in West Kirby‘ by Andy Mlah is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If not a hard Brexit, then what?

janice-morphet

Janice Morphet

Now that a ‘hard’ Brexit seems less likely, Janice Morphet – author of Beyond Brexit? – looks at alternative options for the UK’s relationship with the EU.

“Following the apparent disruption of hard Brexit that has followed the General Election, it is now time to review the other options available to the UK.

It would have been better to review these before the referendum was called and to explain the options to more fully inform the electorate during the campaign. Even after the referendum result, a review of the options would have been helpful rather than the incoming Prime Minister opting for the hardest form of EU/UK relationship without appreciating the paradox that her social welfare agenda could best be achieved using EU values, programmes and policies.

However, better late than never. So what are the real options available rather than those frequently suggested by those politicians less familiar with the EU?

 

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

The most frequently discussed approaches are the potential for the UK to return as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This was set up in 1960 by the UK as an alternative free trade bloc to the EU when the UK realised that it had made a mistake in dismissing membership of the then Common Market. Its members are now Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. While EFTA works as a group on some issues, its members have different relationships with the EU. This might suit the UK, but Norway has already indicated that it may not take the UK back into EFTA membership. How do these relationships work individually?

Continue reading ‘If not a hard Brexit, then what?’

What now for Brexit?

atlas-authors

Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig

Danny Dorling, Dimitris Ballas and Benjamin Hennig – authors of The human atlas of Europe – look at the reasons behind Labour’s success and ask… what now for Brexit?

 

“On June 8th 2017 young people all across the UK turned out to vote for a new conception of politics and a more inclusive, nourishing vision of society (as New Internationalist journalist Chris Brazier put it).

The rise of Labour in the polls in the month before the election was three times greater than any rise ever seen for that party in a month before. The swing in the vote to Labour was greater than that measured at any general election other than the 1945 landslide election. To be fair to Jeremy Corbyn it was actually even greater than that, as that 1945 swing took ten years (from 1935) to occur. In contrast, Labour’s swing in 2017 emerged within just two years of the last election (held in 2015).

Despite the enormous success in the polls and the voting booths it was not enough for Labour to win. The party had started so far behind in 2015 that a completely unprecedented swing would have been needed for outright victory. Labour’s four week surge in the polls would have had to have been not just three times greater than it had ever been before, but five, six or seven times – depending on exactly where that swing had been geographically concentrated. An outright Labour victory in June 2017 was nigh-on impossible in the circumstances, not least of a split Labour party.

But what Labour achieved was enough to put the Conservatives into the demotion zone of now being a minority government.

 

“..greater solidarity is gaining in popularity over division.”

 

Continue reading ‘What now for Brexit?’

Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote

Lisa McKenzie

Lisa Mckenzie

by Lisa Mckenzie, author of Getting By; Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.

“I didn’t vote in this election, which for me was the right choice, and a choice that is seldom given debate to within the national media.

My reasons were this: our political system asks us to vote for members of parliament to represent us in Westminster. I didn’t want any of the people on my ballot paper to represent me.

I also don’t think the system of parliamentary political party politics is truly democratic. It serves the greater good, it compromises what individuals believe in order to serve a middle, a mainstream, and a mediocre. It always has to sacrifice something, and someone, and the sacrifice is usually those with least power. I cannot endorse that.

“…the sacrifice is usually those with least power.”

The Labour Party have annoyed me for a long time (forever actually) but especially over the last two years.

I have been involved in many grass-roots organisations and campaigns and I know how difficult it is to keep people’s confidence up when they are having all kinds of institutional power thrown at them from all spectrums of political ideology.

However over the last two years this situation has become much worse, with the internal fighting of the Labour party. Many Labour supporters as well as politicians have taken sides and instead of being an opposition to the Government that has caused so much misery to the poorest people in the UK, they have opposed each other.

Continue reading ‘Compromise, sacrifice and confusion: why I didn’t vote’

A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?

Bryn Jones and Michael O’Donnell, authors of Alternatives to neoliberalism, argue that a ‘hard Brexit’ under a Tory government would strengthen, not challenge, the neoliberal agenda.

Mike O’Donnell

Bryn Jones

Public sector retrenchment, deregulated markets and corporate takeovers of public and civil society spheres are contested topics in this election. Yet the protagonists do not directly acknowledge that these arise from the disruptive effects of the generation-long, neoliberal system.

Neoliberalism still underlies the current social unrest and political crisis; but its ideological hegemony is under threat. Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes: de-industrialisation, public sector austerity, worsened living standards, insecure and/or poorly paid employment.

“Trump, neo-nationalist populism across Europe and Brexit, all express popular angst caused by neoliberal processes.”

Continue reading ‘A General Election to challenge – or intensify – neoliberalism?’

The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital

A shorter version of this blog was originally published by Prospect magazine.

Matt Flinders

When is a wobble not a wobble?

This might not seem the most obvious question to be asking in the context of the current General Election campaign but that’s exactly what makes it so important. Could it be that Theresa May’s recent backtracking on the costs of social care was nothing of the kind? Instead part of a more subtle game of preparing the public for tough choices that will inevitably have to be taken? Have we just witnessed the political equivalent of a footballer’s fake dive?

Partisan politics aside, there is little doubt that Theresa May is an incredibly astute politician.

She plays the game well and to some extent she has re-written the rulebook. The game of politics is rarely as simple as kicking the ball or scoring goals; more concerned with playing other players off against each other, often within your team, and knowing exactly when to go for the legs instead of the ball. The simple point I am making is that Theresa May has climbed to the summit of the British political system as if it really were a weekend wander with Philip.

“[The manifesto] highlighted the existence of major and increasing inter-generational inequalities…”

Continue reading ‘The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital’

Election focus: Missing the point – education in the #GE2017 manifestos

Stephen Ball, author of the best-selling The education debate (third edition out in August) gives a passionate take on how the party manifestos are missing what should be at the heart of education policy.

Stephen J Ball

“What is most striking when reading the party manifestos for the General Election and listening to the speeches and debates is the absence of education.

There is quite a lot of writing and talking about money – funding – and about structures – grammar schools or a National Education Service – but very little about what its purpose is, about teaching and learning, about what is means to be educated.

To some extent those things are taken for granted, pre-given, closed to debate. Education is about and for the economy. Its about investing “in people to develop their skills and capabilities” (Labour Party) – investing, a key trope of the neoliberal sensibility, sits oddly in the Labour Manifesto.

Over and against that, in a perverse rhetorical reverse,for the Conservatives education is about meritocracy – although clearly no one Labour or Conservative has read Michael Young’s book! – and it’s about tackling “enduring injustices” and “breaking down longstanding divisions” (Conservatives).

How do we go about breaking down these divisions?

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Missing the point – education in the #GE2017 manifestos’


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