by Derek Morrison
Yet more trees have died
Yet more promises are made
Yet more “We really mean it”
As the manifesto waltz is played
“And if we don’t keep our promises
It’s because the circumstances changed
Our manifesto clause made this clear,
As I think we have explained.”
Some manifestos are for gamblers
Inclined to be promiscuously brisk
In creating throw-away promises￼
While assuming low-delivery risk.
But such disposables can become monsters
That come back to party haunt
As Brexit’s David Cameron found
With his low risk referendum jaunt.
But where then the manifesto
Once you are in power?
For you spawn new unpublished visions
That tastes bitter, and turns voters sour
Like pop-up Grammar Schools
That became the thème du jour
Being promoted as the new route
For the clever, but the poor.
British people are yet again being asked to speak
So the manifesto harvest is now at peak
New magnetic promises they blithely spray
Attracting votes from the words they say.
Come What May
So “strong and stable”
But offers only bread and water
From her welfare table.
Whilst Comrade Corbyn
Provides a veritable feast
From taxing the filthy rich
And the corporate beast.
While hopeful Farron
Sounds a loud pro-Europe note
Praying that the ‘Remainers‘
Will rebuild his party vote.
And though the Celtic Sturgeon
Will take no immediate part
She much wants her MP shock troops
Back in Westminster’s heart.
May’s campaign wanted Brexit focus
But it became the old and the ill
For she prescribed a ‘dementia tax’
And the prudent won’t swallow this pill.
Corbyn rejects more austerity
Wants public services rebuilt
And to re-nationalise the system
And to tax some to the hilt.
Farron’s campaign has fingers crossed
That Lib Dem exile will soon end
And the people will have forgiven
That Tories they did befriend.
Canny Sturgeon wins either way
Because she offers only the vision thing
For the fuel driving her party engine
Is vague promises of some future spring.
UKIP’s sting lacks Farage venom
And its purpose is now unclear
It still makes vague dying noises
But its time is drawing near.
But what is it the people want?
Not the manifestos that are fielded
Just austerity and Brexit to go away
And from chaos to be shielded.
For the people now feel insecure
Experiencing a world of increasing mess
With gig economies and zero hours
A new ‘precariat’; a life of stress.
But manifestos can now be forged elsewhere
Like Uber doesn’t need its own taxi fleet
So politics is no longer owned by politicians
For they can now be bypassed, or punished; by tweet.
[To listen to this verse select below]
Deeds not words (Emmeline Pankhurst, 1903)
First, a declaration. Despite the satirical polemic implicit in the verse above, I am immensely grateful to be living in a part of the world and in a political system where it is possible to be critical – or seek to challenge the rhetoric, or deflate the hubris – of those who would represent us. Also, while I attempt to operate an equal opportunities polemic policy that applies to the entire actual (or would-be) political class, I also respect conviction politicians, even though I may fundamentally disagree with their rhetoric or ideology. I have little time, however, for the opportunists who appear constantly to effortlessly slip on whatever temporary ideological mantle they find necessary to attain (or retain) some semblance of influence or power; for that demonstrates, ironically, they are unsuited to being awarded power.
Manifesto was written in May 2017 after the unexpected result of the UK’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, and just after Theresa May the Prime Minister who replaced David Cameron (the architect of the referendum) had announced a snap general election in order to validate her premiership with the electorate. This election was intended, hypothetically, to strengthen her position for negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU. Hopefully, the image spun by her advisers will prove to have some semblance of reality and she will prove to be a leader rather than an opportunist.
By the election on 8 June 2017, voters in England had been recalled to the ballot box 25 months after the last general election and just under one year from the Brexit vote. Even more for Scotland and Northern Ireland. To that add recent elections for local councils and regional mayors and voter fatigue must be imminent. Manifesto was released on 31 May 2017. We need to revisit this verse to reflect on how it went post election.
N.B. For the historical record, the voices heard in the opening sequence overlaying the music were in order of speaking:
- Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, 2016-present
- Leanne Wood – Leader of Plaid Cymru
- Caroline Lucas – Co-leader of the Green Party
- Amber Rudd – Conservative Party & Home Secretary
- Jeremy Corbyn – Leader of the Labour Party
- Paul Nuttal – Leader of UKIP (resigned post 8 June 2017 election)
- Angus Robertson – Deputy Leader of Scottish National Party (SNP) – lost his Moray seat to Conservative Party candidate at 8 June 2017 election
- Tim Farron – Leader of the Liberal Democrats (resigned post 8 June 2017 election)
Voices 2-8 were the opening statements by participants in the 2017 Election Debate at Senate House, University of Cambridge, 31 May 2017. Theresa May (voice 1 – announcing the election), the incumbent Prime Minister had declined to participate in any of these debates with other politicians, preferring instead to submit herself only to one-to-one interviews. Consequently, the line-up for the debate became a rather unbalanced mixture of party leaders and designated deputies.
I chose Land of Hope and Glory as the musical introduction to reflect the rather strange combination of anxiety, determination, patriotism, and quasi-militaristic rhetoric such unsettling times can engender. The music for Land of Hope and Glory was published in 1901 and is actually part of Edward Elgar’s March Number 1 of Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches. To add just a little more irony to Manifesto, in the United States Land of Hope and Glory is better known as just Pomp & Circumstance or the Graduation March and so in Manifesto this most British of tunes was actually courtesy of the United States Air Force Band.
Postscript (short version)
Theresa May called an early election on 8 June 2017 in order to increase her Conservative Party majority to a safer level. Her gamble failed and she actually lost her majority completely forcing her to reach an emergency agreement with the tiny Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. Without this agreement she would have been unable to form a government. Whilst, temporarily securing her political position this decision, however, adds further complexity to both Irish and wider EU politics. Ireland will become the only land border between the UK and the EU and its future form and function will be of critical importance to not just the stability of UK-EU relations but also to the already fraught politics of the island of Ireland where the Northern Ireland Assembly is currently in hiatus.
Jeremy Corbyn proved to be a far more effective and resilient campaigner than Theresa May’s party anticipated, and so he managed to both attract new votes (particularly from the young) and persuade many former Labour voters to return to the fold – particularly those who may have temporarily decamped to UKIP. The Liberal Democrats made a modest recovery, from 8 to 12 seats, but their leader Tim Farron resigned after the election citing conflicts with his religious beliefs and his leadership of a socially liberal party. UKIP failed to gain any seats and its leader Paul Nuttal resigned the day after the election.
There was much upset in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) lost 21 of its 56 seats and so a second Scottish independence referendum will fade into the background (unless Brexit negotiations go very badly). Both former Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson were casualties. While the Conservative Party in England may have suffered greatly, there was a resurgence of the Conservative vote in Scotland led by its charismatic leader Ruth Davidson who took 13 seats from the the Scottish National Party (SNP). Labour in Scotland won 7 seats and the Liberal Democrats 4.
Music by Edward Elgar (1901) March Number 1 of Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches (alias Land of Hope & Glory). In the United States Land of Hope and Glory is better known as just Pomp & Circumstance or the Graduation March and so in Manifesto this most British of tunes was actually courtesy of the United States Air Force Band.
Postscript (long version)
Most of us who read still buy newspapers will tend to thrust them aside once read. For those of us interested in media matters, however, it’s sometimes a useful exercise to keep hold of these ephemera so that we can compare what was said – and sometimes confidently predicted – with what actually happened. The 2016 Brexit referendum and the 8 June 2017 UK general election both provide fertile ground for such comparison. Here is a couple of examples of press commentary preceding the 2017 election.
[Headline] “Voters ready to reward No 10’s gamble with blank cheque – If Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are anywhere near right – and in my experience they usually are – then the projected increase in May’s majority to 60 would still leave her government vulnerable to rebellions by hardline Eurosceptic backbenchers … past form suggests the Tories will increase their lead on June 8, when about 60% are likely to turn out. Most people don’t like to waste their vote and this often means backing what looks like a winner. Neither Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour nor … look worth a side bet on the basis of performances last week. The Labour Party has no direction home … Thrasher projects the number of Labour MPs will fall to 215 … Most UKIP supporters are folding straight into the Tory column … May’s name and face are more prominent on election literature than the party name. Successful candidate in the local elections say the mere mention of her name on the doorstep helped them as the Tories advanced into the near no-go areas in Scotland … Her gamble looks set to pay off. In return, the electorate looks ready to gamble on giving her a blank cheque. Then it will find out what strong and stable government really means.” (Adam Boulton, Sunday Times, 7 May 2017)
However, while local [election] votes are a key indicator of the direction of travel, they do not simply translate across to a general election. In 2015, when local and general elections were held on the same day, between a fifth and a quarter of voters supported different parties. (Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, Elections Centre, Plymouth University undertaking a pre-general- election assessment and the relevance of local election results as predictors (Labour had consistently lost seats in local council elections), Sunday Times, 7 May 2017)
[Headline] “There’s more to victory than beating feeble Corbyn – Mrs May presents a picture of assurance and competence … Mrs May is a successful mainstream leader of a mainstream -centre-right party. The Tories have shown themselves to be both adaptable and formidable as a political force … On Brexit she has skillfully marshalled support across the spectrum … it is also true that something spectacular would have to happen for them not to emerge with a significantly larger majority after June 8 … Complacency will also be the enemy of the Tories when it come to Labour. You write off parties at your peril … A Labour revival will not happen under Mr Corbyn. He will not go quietly and nor will the destructive Momentum movement which props him up … When the leadership changes, Labour will have the basis for an eventual revival. And not before. (Sunday Times, Editorial, 7 May 2017, p18)
“Even after the inevitable thumping victory for her party in next months general election, it would be toxic for her to agree to continue to pay billions towards EU farm subsidies.” (Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times, 7 May 2017 p18)
[Headline] The left’s chapter of history has ended – American Democrats and British Labour supporters have essentially the same problem. Blame the leadership, by all means. But the reality is that the centre-left – whether it calls itself progressive, Labour or social democrat – in in disarray. And it can’t be because all the candidates are terrible. It’s because social democracy is dead … The old coalition between progressive elites and the proletariat is broken. The former are too liberal on immigration, too much in love with multiculturalism. The latter loath both. As David Goodhart shrewdly observed 13 years ago, a re distributive welfare state is viable only in an ethnically homogeneous society. He was vilified for saying it. He had been vindicated by events. (Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford, in Sunday Times, 7 May 2017 p 19)
Now let us look at what actually happened.
The 8 June 2017 election was intended to reinforce Theresa May’s national position and strengthen her Brexit negotiation stance with the EU. In reality it compounded former Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum miscalculation with one of her own. She anticipated an easy triumph over her Labour Party opposition and so a significant boost to her Parliamentary majority. Such expectations turned to dust.
A number of factors appear to have benefited Labour. First, the Conservative campaigning had the result of casting Jeremy Corbyn as the resilient underdog. Second, the snap election seems to have galvanised Corbyn into becoming a more effective campaigner than anticipated. At times he displayed a high level of emotional intelligence which compensated for poor performance and lack of mastery of detail on other occasions. Third, his approach and message, however, appeared to have found a particular resonance with younger voters; a resonance that the more formal Theresa May never attained. Fourth, the publication of the Conservative manifesto also seems to have magnified anxieties about the funding and provision of health and social care and may have helped drive uncommitted voters into the arms of the Labour Party. Fifth, Theresa May’s campaign team appeared to have decided to nurture almost a culture of personality where her supposed ‘strength and stability’ was to be the reassuring message received by an anxious population. At points in their campaign the Conservative Party almost appeared to become secondary to the personality, e.g. see the Conservative campaign bus and other election artefacts (images 1 and 2). By focusing on one personality in this way made her an immediate hostage to fortune – and misfortune.
Consequently, far from being eliminated, although they lost the election the Labour Party regained many seats and eliminated the Conservative majority in the House of Commons forcing Theresa May to establish an urgent agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – and its 10 MPs – so that she could actually form a government. Had she failed to do so then Corbyn’s Labour Party could have attempted a similar arrangement and formed a minority government. For the sake of maintaining political balance I also offer a couple of artefacts that were available from the Labour Party shop (images 3 and 4) although there only appears to be a T-shirt where Jeremy Corbyn ‘stars’.
The 2017 UK election result has, therefore, considerably weakened the Conservative Party. Furthermore, in reaching such a ‘confidence and supply agreement’ (not a formal coalition) with the tiny DUP it also impacts upon Irish and potentially wider European politics. For example, the unstable (currently suspended) Northern Ireland Assembly talks depend on the Westminster government being perceived as neutral which could be somewhat compromised by the DUP agreement (or at least could be spun as such). Also the future form and function of the land border between Northern and Southern Ireland will be a major point of negotiation between the UK and the EU post-Brexit and so goodwill, stability and compromise will be essential. In summary, the 2017 election and Theresa May’s response has added further complexity.
There was other fallout from the 2017 election. While the Conservative Party in England suffered greatly, there was a resurgence of the Conservative vote in Scotland under its rather more charismatic leader Ruth Davidson who took 13 seats from the the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP lost 21 of its 56 seats. Both former Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson lost theirs. Labour in Scotland won 7 seats and the Liberal Democrats 4.
The Liberal Democrats had a modest improvement in their fortunes up from 8 to 12 seats in Parliament. Its leader Tim Farron resigned on 14 June 2017 citing conflict between his religious beliefs and the expectations of being the leader of a socially liberal party.
Paul Nuttal, leader of UKIP, resigned on 9 June 2017 the day following the election after the party failed to acquire a single seat.
Bluebells (Cyberstanza, 30 April 2017)
The Beast of Expectation (Cyberstanza, 9 April 2017)
Disunited Kingdom (Cyberstanza, 2 April 2017)
Fake News (Cyberstanza, 23 March 2017)
In the Hall of the Troll Kings (Cyberstanza, 6 March 2017)