Keith Rankin Analysis: British Tories surge; new Labour surges more

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Headline: British Tories surge; new Labour surges more

Analysis by Keith Rankin

Record support in Britain for both Conservative and Labour. Graphic by Keith Rankin.
Keith Rankin.

This month’s chart shows that the performance by the Tories in the UK election was not at all bad. With a 42.34 percent share the Tories performed dramatically better than they did just two years ago (36.82%). Their nadir was in 1997, at 30.69%. Labour, of course, surged even more, gaining a 39.99% vote share; a share that, in New Zealand, Andrew Little could only envy.

This swing away from the nationalist parties (UKIP and SNP) was always going to happen. The nationalist tide is going out, and the Tories are securely in power in the UK until 2022. Jeremy Corbyn – human being rather than Crosby/Textor robot – is already older than Michael Joseph Savage was when he became New Zealand’s Prime Minister. Corbyn will be 73 in 2022 and 78 in 2027; by no means too old (cf. Pope Francis) but nevertheless an unlikely Prime Minister from 2022. More importantly, Corbyn’s presence and prescience may help shift the locus of western politics away from the public-austerity hole that liberal-democracy fell into.

In the absence of proportional representation, the Brits are realising that it’s a waste of time voting for a candidate who can come, at best, third in a constituency contest. They are adopting DIY (do-it-yourself) preferential voting; as New Zealanders have done in Epsom and Ohariu. The LibDems won seats where they were genuine contestants, despite their share of the nationwide vote continuing to fall. Only in Scotland did Labour people refuse to support their sitting SNP representatives, allowing many of these constituencies to claimed by Tory candidates, thereby denying Labour a historic opportunity to form a government.

Who would have thought that Labour could ever win in Kensington and Canterbury? Who expected decayed Middlesbrough and Stoke to switch the other way, from Labour to Tory? Votes for no-hoper candidates dropped substantially. Millennials – Brits in their twenties – became participants in the democratic process; unlike, in the 2000s’ decade, the now 30-something children of the baby‑boomers. Unpolled (until the exit polls) millennials took their “don’t forget us” votes with them, from the grit of Staffordshire and Teesside to the squats of London.

The shift to two-party politics happened in Northern Ireland too, with Sinn Fein nearly doubling its number of stay-in-Ireland MPs. Thanks to Sinn Fein, there are now only 642 effective MPs (deducting 7 Sinn Fein, plus the Speaker). The Tories in England and Northern Ireland have 327 of those, with the maximum opposition tally being 315. If the DUP (Northern Ireland Tories) abstain from any vote, it’s still 317 to 315, enough for the Tories to keep governing. If on some socially liberal measure, the DUP vote against the UK Tories, then the required votes will be found elsewhere.

We in New Zealand have had stable minority governments since 2002. I see no reason why governance in the UK will be much different, despite a mainstream media that struggles to make sense of twenty-first century realities and insecurities.

In 2001 UK voter turnout was 59.4%; it’s now 68.7%. Then the Tory Conservatives gained only 18.8% of enrolled voters (Labour 24.2%). In 2010, when the only possible outcome was a Tory-led government, the Conservatives got just 23.5%; Labour only 18.9%.  In 2017, however, the Conservatives got 29.1% of enrolled voters (Labour 27.5%).

I don’t see anything in the UK experience that suggests there will be a similar surge to Labour in New Zealand. Rather, all I can see is a pro-austerity anti-immigration platform, quota politics, a Green Party leaving the vacancy in the new-centre (the place where the Greens should be standing) to TOP (the new Opportunities Party), and an unwillingness from Labour to engage with the Māori Party.

The UK election was an interesting and positive portent for new politics in the 2020s. I expect New Zealand’s ‘really interesting’ election will be in 2020, not 2017. New Zealand needs new Labour, not ‘New Labour’.

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