Friday 8th May, we woke to the depressing news that the Conservative party led by David Cameron had been re-elected as the UK national government. Depressing unless you’re living in a house worth £2 million or more – and didn’t want to pay higher property tax that is! The Conservatives took 37% of the vote and won a staggering 331 seats (650 seats make up the House of Commons): around 50 more than opinion polls had consistently suggested. Labour, frightened to be true to their socialist roots and offer a real alternative, ran an unprincipled campaign and collected only 232 seats, roughly 50 less than what was expected. The SNP under the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon took an extraordinary 56 out of the 58 seats in Scotland; it is here where progressive ideas of governance are being practiced. And it is to Scotland that the UK government would be wise to look for inspiration and guidance, but shrouded in arrogance and blinded by ideology the Conservatives believe their own rhetoric and are, it seems, deaf to the voices of others.
The election was an opportunity for change, for progressive creative ideas to be embraced and for reactionary, backward looking forces to be overcome. It was an opportunity to be inventive, to reassess the strategies being applied to social issues, the economy and foreign affairs, and to look afresh at what modernity has become, and could be. It was a clash of the new, represented by the smaller parties – The SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru of Wales, and the old, in the colours of UKIP, the Conservatives and to a lesser, but more disappointing degree by Labour. It was a microcosm of the tussle taking place throughout the industrialised world. The fight between those who are desperate for social justice, freedom and fundamental economic/political reform, and the reactionary forces of the world who resist change, lack the imagination and vision to respond to the needs of the time and seek by every means to maintain the unjust status quo – which serves them so well.
At 65% the UK turnout was not bad (71% in Scotland), although it looks like less than 50% of under 25 year olds voted. But why did over 11 million people (of the 46,424,006 that bothered to trek to the polling booth), return to power the right wing Conservatives who see no alternatives to the present economic system of market fundamentalism; are dangerously nationalistic and inward looking; have inflicted appalling government cut backs that have caused hardship to millions of people up and down the country; and threaten to further decimate public services and the welfare state. All of this they justify under the spurious argument of ‘cutting the national deficit’ (the difference between the government’s everyday expenses and its revenues) by economic austerity – an approach to development which the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz has repeatedly condemned.
In his resignation speech Nick Clegg, who was deputy Prime Minister in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition since 2010, said of the election result, “fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost”. He held onto his seat in Sheffield, but stepped down as leader of the Liberal Democrats, who were unjustly crucified by the electorate and lost 48 of their 58 seats.
It had all looked so promising in the lead up. Four weeks before polling day seven party leaders (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru) had been assembled for a ‘leaders debate’. In a positive sign of the times, three of them were women; women who clearly liked one another, spoke common sense and were free, it appeared, from the poison of personal ambition and ideological dogma, which the other four, to a man, reeked of. All three women wanted an end to austerity; were against renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent; wanted investment in public services; commitment to the European Union; a human response to the migrant crisis throughout Europe; and more responsible policies on environmental issues.
They’re progressive outlook seemed to encapsulate many of the ideas of the time: there was little if anything to disagree with in their approach and, particularly amongst those of us hungry for change, an atmosphere of hope began quietly to circulate. Hope that this election would be the end of single party politics in Britain with its unrepresentative first past the post system. That a broad palette of opinions, reflective of the views of the majority would begin to be heard in Westminster, that openness and inclusion would manifest, and that the Tories – the ‘nasty party’ as they are sometimes called – would be ousted, their divisive, materialistic ideology consigned to the past.
But conservatism and fear triumphed, as has happened in other parts of the world – one thinks of Egypt in particular, where so many cried out for change, where two presidents were deposed by popular peaceful protest and where today a repressive, brutal military junta is in power – supported incidentally by the US, which seems to like dictatorships.
Earlier this year a liberal ray of hope was witnessed in Greece, when the ‘radical left and anti-austerity party Syriza‘ swept to power amidst national jubilation. The country has over 25% unemployment (doubled since austerity), 50% for under 25 year olds, and is suffocating under austerity measures imposed by Germany that wants to claw back loans, which should be written off. In Spain the peoples call for fundamental policy change and an end to austerity have translated into votes for the left wing Indignado (Indignant) anti austerity movement, who recently won key seats, The Guardian report, “in municipal and regional elections that saw an anti-poverty activist elected as mayor of Barcelona and the ruling People’s party battered at the ballot box.“
Since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989 a growing movement of collective action and peaceful protest has swept around the world. Freedom, justice, an end to corruption and a new and just political/economic system has been the cry of millions. The Occupy movement, which began in New York in September 2011 and fuelled protests and occupations in 95 cities across 82 countries (most recently emerging in Hong Kong), including 600 communities in America, together with the ‘Arab Spring’, are the two major movements that exemplify what is a global phenomena of unrest, dissatisfaction and anger.
We are living in times of great strain, and worldwide opportunity. Huge numbers of people throughout the world want change; disappointingly, the election result in the UK was a victory for the status quo, for the unimaginative conservative forces of the world: ideologically driven groups that believe in the unjust economic model currently pursued. And, because they and their like have benefitted very well from it, fail to see that it sits at the root of the majority of our problems and must change fundamentally.