June 8, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
I am an unashamed centrist. I vote for what works. It gets me into ‘trouble’ with people who have far more convinced views, meaning I have been variously called Genghis Khan and Karl Marx, but that’s fine. It’s a badge of pride for me. As a politics teacher, I feel it is good for my students that I don’t have a particularly partizan view of the political world. In the six general elections I have voted in, I have voted for all three mainstream political parties, plus some minor parties in other elections where the election system means each vote matters. I have voted for different reasons, from the economy to war to social justice to wanting change to wanting the status quo. This election, my choice is extremely limited. Because effectively there is nothing for the centrist.
Whilst personally that is perhaps not a great thing, in that the vote I cast, given I believe in using my vote to vote for one of the candidates who can actually win under first-past-the-post (so in my constituency it is Labour or Conservative), I actually think this is a very good thing for the country as a whole. There is a proper choice on offer at this election. There are competing visions of the future being presented, and I want to write this for people who have not just my choice but other choices too. You may be in a constituency where it’s just the big two parties that can win, or where the Lib Dems have a chance, or where the Greens are involved or UKIP. Whoever you are, I would like to set out what you are, in my opinion, really voting for, and then let you decide.
To be clear, I am talking about what more seats for your party will mean nationally, not locally. You may each have particular local issues that might influence your vote, such as the Heathrow 3rd runway or a factory being shut down. This is about the national manifestos.
Conservatives – In one sense I feel sorry for the Conservatives. They are the party in power. They are the party that has to compromise. They are the party that is likely to be held accountable for their promises.
BUT, If you vote Conservatives you are getting more of the same. The clue is in the name. Yes, Theresa May’s manifesto promises more government intervention to try and ‘help’ the ‘just about managing’, but so many other policies don’t help them. Unlike the Labour manifesto, the Tory manifesto is rather incoherent in terms of setting a vision and following it through. This is partly because of her Prime Ministerial style, which appears to be to consult with her two closest advisers and no-one else.
Yes, a bigger majority in theory helps May with her Brexit negotiations, in that she can say to EU leaders that what they offer will be ratified as she can get it through the House of Commons, but that deal may not be to your taste, and sometimes strong opposition is a good thing.
May pulled off a very rare thing, which was a u-turn on a manifesto policy on social care. The policy itself was ‘brave’ to say the least, effectively asking people to run down the value of their estate to £100,000, with no cap on what someone would have to spend. May ended up performing a u-turn, whilst denying she was doing so – not ideal for a so-called hard negotiator for Brexit.
She has proven to be a terrible campaigner, unable to show warmth, prickly when challenged, and IF the Conservatives lose this election, or don’t add to their majority, a lot will be down to her. As Rachel Sylvester said in the Times – whereas Barack Obama was the audacity of hope, May’s campaign has been the cowardice of fear.
Ultimately, you vote Conservative if you trust them to lead this country through one of the most difficult and uncertain periods in our history. Yes, you are theoretically voting for more austerity, more cuts and more stories about the suffering of the most vulnerable, but you are also voting for a country to live ‘within its means’, which may mean less national debt problems in the future.
Labour – Then again, she is up against one of the most battle-hardened campaigners in politics. After two successful leadership campaigns, and with 40 years experience at political rallies, Jeremy Corbyn knows how to play to the crowd. Play to the crowd he has.
His manifesto presents a vision of a very different country. One where people pay more taxes, and the Government spends more, and as long as you believe the Government is better at deciding what to spend our hard-earned cash on, then you might vote for Labour.
One thing Jeremy Corbyn has asked no-one to do is to make a hard choice. His answer to inter-generational inequality is to just throw money at the younger generation without taking any from the older generation. His answer to solving educational inequality (giving more money to rural schools by taking from urban schools) is to throw more money at the rural schools without taking anything from urban schools. His answer to the need for an economy to create growth to fund the update of public services and infrastructure is to borrow £250bn at what Labour argue are low interest rates, but won’t be if the money markets know Labour need to borrow that much.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the accusation that Corbyn is needing a ‘magic money tree’ is fair. Many of their policies will be funded by corporation tax rises and income tax rises for people earning over £80,000. This may or may not work, as it depends on the change in peoples’ and companies’ incentives to work and provide jobs if more tax is taken from them. There is also a financial transaction tax, which if designed properly can raise a lot of money.
What I do like about all this is that there is no tinkering around the edges – Corbyn presents a proper vision of a country that runs differently, and I commend him for that.
The issue of course is whether or not he is the person we want negotiating Brexit instead of Theresa May. But I believe this is a false choice. Corbyn has, in Keir Starmer, a QC and former Director of Public Prosecutions to do that job, and I certainly would trust Starmer to get it right more than I would the three Brexiteers Johnson, Davis and Fox.
Then there is his record on terrorism and support of/conversations with groups who have a different view of the world than the West. I do accept that he has often been ‘right’ on many of these issues, and I do believe it is important to negotiate and talk to ‘the other side’. But there are people around him in his team that are far more aggressive in their support for groups that don’t believe in Western values, and they may have the levers of power.
Corbyn has had a very good election campaign but a vote for Labour is a vote for a step into the unknown. Exciting? Yes. More than a little bit of me wants to see what happens if he becomes PM.
Liberal Democrats – The thing with returning a Lib Dem MP to Parliament is that unlike other parties you know what you are getting. Their main focus is to oppose a hard Brexit, so you will get someone who speaks out in favour of a softer Brexit, and also will be pushing for a referendum once the deal is done which gives the voters a choice between the deal and staying in the EU. Whatever you think of this choice – which I personally think merely gives the EU the incentive to give the UK a bad deal – at least the Lib Dems are clear about their decision. So, if you are one of the apparently 22% of the country who want to reverse the referendum result, and you have a Lib Dem in your constituency with a chance to win a seat, vote for them. I could talk about their other manifesto promises, but unless they are in a coalition, which is highly unlikely as long as Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May lead their opponents, we won’t be seeing 1% on income tax to fund the NHS, even though it is probably the most transparent way to do so. Should they be asked to support the Labour Party in Government, the price will almost definitely be the Referendum with remaining on the ballot, so watch that space if the Lib Dems are in that position.
UKIP – UKIP aren’t bothered with petty politics at the moment. They are bothered about whatever delivers what they call the ‘clean’ Brexit they want. They have stepped down from challenging Tories who voted Leave in many constituencies, which under our FPTP election system makes the Conservatives more likely to win seats. Witness the panic around the Labour candidate I talked about yesterday in Ealing Central and Acton when this happened there. So, given this is the case, why would you vote UKIP? Well, if you are in a seat like Boston and Skegness you might want to vote for Paul Nuttall, the UKIP leader, as you may want to make sure there is at least one proper UKIP MP (Douglas Carswell doesn’t count). In 2015 a vote for UKIP, and there were four million of them, sent a strong message about the will for an EU referendum, and the one seat they got for that gave Nigel Farage some effective ammunition when he went around the country trying to get the vote out by arguing this was the one time their votes would count. What message can a vote for UKIP send out now? I’m not sure.
Green Party – As I have said before, the Green Party Manifesto seemed to be rather a letter of surrender, given it was 24 pages as opposed to the 84 pages of the 2015 election. This was possibly caused by the avowedly ‘democratic’ nature of how their party is run, which is not ideal for acting quickly when someone calls a snap election. Like with UKIP, the Greens have withdrawn from many constituency contests, asking their voters to vote Lib Dem or Labour, depending on who is best placed to beat the Tories. The Greens in recent history have offered a proper left wing alternative to Labour, but not this time. They have been given a bit of a filip by Donald Trump’s behaviour over climate change, but one senses that apart from in Brighton Pavillion, where the other parties have been notably quiet in their campaigning in order to help Caroline Lucas get in, a vote for a Green in this election may just be a vote wasted. Their co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, isn’t even standing This is a shame, as they offer the country an alternative vision which is particularly positive.
SNP – if you are reading this in Scotland, you might think that with then SNP currently holding almost all of the seats, they will be fine. But this election is more important than you might think. If the SNP lose some seats, their argument that the country wants a second independence referendum loses water. Those seats, if lost, will probably be lost to the Tories, who, under the popular Ruth Davidson, seem to have united the Unionist vote. So it is vital that the SNP, who after all are the only party who represent Scotland and no one else, manage to hold onto as many seats as possible. If that happens, and Labour do better than expected, the SNP may be in a position to support a Government. If that happens, the second referendum will be part of whatever deal they make. It would be madness to do otherwise if they have this one chance to be around Government. Otherwise, the manifesto read a little bit like a 6 year-old’s Christmas wish list, given that SNP’s main role is to spend Westminster’s money instead of make it money, it is little surprise they demand an end to austerity and a rise in public spending, of which Scotland gets a decent percentage.
So, there you go. That’s what your choice means in my view. No, go vote!!