Election Parallels Previous Conservative Error

2017 general electionMacDonald (the eventual Labour Prime Minister) with his heady Utopian internationalism was the perfect voice for the Labour party. For MacDonald read Corbyn,

Is this 2017 or 1923? The parallels are eerily similar. Theresa May should have been a student of history and not geography, or perhaps she should have got a first at Oxford. Another second on her CV doesn’t look good.

But why 1923?

  • it was the third election in three years,

  • it was totally unnecessary,

  • the Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin had a majority of 113 seats when he called the election on the issue of tariff reform and free trade – remarkably similar to our trade issues when we leave the EU,

  • The Labour Party with only 191 seats formed its first government with support from the Liberals,

  • MacDonald (the eventual Labour Prime Minister) with his heady Utopian internationalism was the perfect voice for the Labour party. For MacDonald read Corbyn,

  • BUT the new government only lasted ten months.

So there are parallels but we can’t say that 2017 was an exact repeat of 1923. Now there are other forces in play: the young electorate who voted in greater numbers than ever before, and the new channels of communication: mobile to mobile and computer to computer electronic messaging which like the new phenomenon of telephone canvassing in the eighties opened up a completely new channel to people, mainly young people. I’m learning Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and more. These are the new channels reaching new voters.

Yet when ‘Oxford Illustrated History of Britain’ writes about 1923: ‘…beneath the surface was a pattern of indebtedness…and visible decay which saw the gap in the quality of life between town and country growing wider,’ and ‘In the older industrial communities especially in the north and north-east of England and industrial South Wales… it was a time of mounting despair.’ is history repeating itself?

There was another key factor along with a conundrum.

Called as a snap election by May on 17 April, neither party had much time to prepare, yet the Conservatives seemed less ready than Labour. Seven weeks must rate as one of the shortest elections in recent times.

The Conservative campaign was headed by May in bold letters above a tiny word saying Conservatives. The offering was May, May, May; front, back and sides. She was headlined and her loyal leftenants sidelined.

She failed – U-turn on Dementia Tax, fox hunting, Grammar Schools and her refusal to meet, and debate with, Joe Public.

However, the Conservative party with its wealth and organisation delivered 42.4% of the vote 5.5% more than Cameron – imagine what they could have achieved with a good leader.

By Comparison:

Jeremy Corbyn single handedly captivated the public imagination with hope and true socialist policies: free university tuition, nationalisation of the railways and energy and more money for the health service.

Yet he was the leader of a fractious, disunited party, who had almost completely disowned him, and unrepentant former grandees (Blair, Mandelson and Campbell come to mind) who had to be dragged screaming and kicking to utter even the most mild words of support for Corbyn. And finally, the massed ranks of the Tory National Press – Guardian excepted – vilified Corbyn at every turn. Perhaps, the British like an underdog and their venom misfired; David beat Goliath.

One final thought. The election has removed the threat of a UK break up. Scottish Unionists will be happy with the ebbing tide of the SNP and the DUP in Northern Ireland will exact an extra good deal for the province in exchange for propping up the Tories.

And Brexit?

It wasn’t about Brexit – no one spoke to me about Brexit on the doorstep. It was a General Election – an election about how the country should be run. Foreign policy rarely figures in a General Election any historian can tell you that, but perhaps with her love of geography, May was looking to the map of Europe. She forgot she was living in “This scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars … This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

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