Theresa May is tarred with having been the cause of the Conservative’s near-disastrous election result. Having been voted to lead her party less than a year ago, following a Brexit vote she opposed, everyone now seem to be blaming the debacle on her lack of judgement, wooden personality and absence of charisma.
Some blame her for going to the polls unnecessarily early. Yet it was not so long ago that this seemed a stroke of Machiavellian genius: she faced a Labour Party in open revolt against a leader whose crypto-communism and consorting with terrorists would surely doom his party to a crushing defeat and a decade in the wilderness. The early campaign seemed to confirm these prognostications. Labour fought on a platform that few in the mainstream media could support. The platform was a children’s wish list which included.
- Lots of free stuff like electricity price caps, child care and higher education and no extra taxation except on that noxious 5 per cent super rich.
- Interest free loans for homeowner property improvements
- 60 per cent zero carbon/ renewables by 2030 and a ban of fracking for gas.
- Higher wages for teachers and child care workers
- Nationalisation of water and energy networks; and
- A £250 billion infrastructure fund.
During the campaign several of Jeremy Corbyn’s key personnel demonstrated a total lack of awareness of the policy – the hapless shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, was a vacuum of policy ignorance and a treasure trove of asinine quotes (“You can’t defend the indefensible – anything you say sounds self-serving and hypocritical”). Yet there was a huge swing to Labour and Ms Abbott increased her own majority by 11,000.
Theresa May is criticised for trying to slip in a few policies under which people would need to pay more of their own way (including for respite care). Those reproaching her for this may be correct, but only because they are part of the school which sees as inevitable a limitless ratcheting up of communal versus individual payments.
However, Mrs May also played the tooth fairy, with more spending on education, raising the lower thresholds for income tax, and a cap on energy prices (ironically, the Democratic Unionist Party was alone in not seeing the electricity supply industry as an overflowing tank of revenues with which to buy votes). The Conservatives had some vague notions of a balanced budget some time in the next decade; and they also had tougher immigration policies (they always do — and they always fail to implement them).
So, what does voters’ refusal to endorse Theresa May and their increased support for Labour (and in Northern Ireland the terrorist Sinn Féin party) tell us?
It would be encouraging to fall back on blaming the Conservatives’ poor campaigning and vigorous campaigning by Mr Corbyn. But the more plausible answer is that people voted for those who would provide them more of what they want. One part of this is the amplified government spending and regulatory gifting which has increasingly undermined fiscal policy over the past century. People’s wants, as economists often proclaim, are insatiable, and those wants being met without having to earn them are especially valuable. The mob will flock to politicians who give them things and it will care little about how these gifts came to be afforded – after all, the popular media is full of stories featuring rich people with fancy lifestyles, and there is an assumption that such affluence can be harvested for the gift-receivers without that reaping affecting the size of the magic pudding. In past centuries, revolts of taxpayers against the government acted as a check on its size, but the balance of power has now shifted to the recipients of taxpayers’ wealth.
Another part of the answer may be Mr Corbyn’s softer approach to terror and immigration. From afar this is difficult to comprehend, especially as the London bombings came part way through the campaign. But for many, appeasement is the preferred approach to combatting terror. Like LGBTQIwerty folk for Islam and the US counter-demonstrators who, only this weekend, outnumbered demonstrators against Sharia Law, many feel that if we are less aggressive against Islamic preferences and more understanding of the bombers’ perspective we will see an abatement of the harm they inflict. Supporting this are commentators blaming militant Islamic terror on the West for fighting what are depicted as proxy wars against Islam in Libya, Iraq and Israel. Appeasement is the first step toward capitulation, as painted in the France of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission.
Such accounts for the election debacle in the UK are profoundly pessimistic about the drivers of policy — and far less comfortable to accept than attributing the result to the poor salesmanship of Ms May’s dismal campaign. If voters show little of the collective “common sense” that political leaders, especially those winning elections, attribute to them, democratic market-based societies will be progressively degraded.
This was the fear of political philosophers from Aristotle to the America revolutionaries, with the latter attempting to limit by constitutional provisions the potential damage majority coalitions could cause. But from the beginning of the twentieth century the rise of the taxing and regulatory state has rarely been checked. Where the size of government has been wound back, this has been following a cataclysm, like the Second World War, or an economic disaster caused by a particularly rapid and wealth-crushing advance towards socialism, as the UK saw in the pre-Thatcher years and Australia in the 1970s and the Whitlam government.
Even then, as Argentina and Venezuela show, a correction is not inevitable, so ensconced are the winners from the looting of the losers.
The sovereignty of the electorate is having a perverse effect on our freedoms and wealth, and some means is needed to revitalise the constitutional restraints on government. If Boris Johnson replaces Ms May, the UK will have a Donald Trump of sorts, a man who at least believes in the political good sense in reducing the size of government. That would be a start, but some more permanent means of sustaining this is required in democracies with the will to survive.