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Influencing politics has become like watering an artificial pot plant

I laughed out loud when I read a tweet by someone who reported she had been watering a pot plant. The difference was that the pot plant was artificial, with ‘life like’ leaves. She thought that she was going to make a difference.

This sort of thing can easily happen, of course. The more I came to reflect on this tweet the more I felt the disconnect between action and outcome. I then felt that it was an excellent allegory for voting in our current political system here in the US.

Truss and Sunak are playing to their loyal membership base. I am not the intended audience, so I cannot be offended if I find their values on degrees and money earning potential, WASPI or unpaid carers perplexing.

I was most politically active when both my parents were alive in 2009, under a Labour government. My mum died at the end of July 2022. This has become my yardstick of whether I feel that life has improved much. There used to be a measure, for example, that you would want to leave the country or world in a better place than when you had found it. I felt this sharp reality when I was watching an item on the new TV channel about ‘levelling up’.

That TV channel, like the Tories and its recent political journey, is thought-provoking certainly. I too believe that one can be allowed to disagree, without being disagreeable. The discussions frequently can revert to certain topics. Take for example: why do the Police advertise their rainbow flags? The discussion is never about why funding for the Police has drastically been reduced, such that community policing is under-resourced, and a small minority of crimes such as theft or burglary reach prosecution. Or, take another example. Why shouldn’t you get angry about a statue about someone you haven’t heard of has been pulled down in a location you haven’t heard of? Of course, this cultural vandalism would be objectionable, until you realise that, also under a series of consecutive Tory governments, local libraries have been shut down.

In an elegantly executed leadership debate with Liz Truss on that TV channel, one member of the TV audience suggested sending ‘illegal immgrants to Kenya’, missing totally the point that the number of dinghie crossings had massively gone up due to UK’s pulling out of the Treaty of Dublin through Brexit. This is another problem caused by Brexit, caused by a Conservative government, which has whipped up idiotic views out of nowhere. It is not difficult to realise that the UK needs co-operation with other countries to have any standing in the world. And it is not difficult to understand that Brexit has damaged that, and that any political party should face up to that.

One can assume that one of the critical functions of any government is to run public services safely. Whatever your own belief about public services adding to the ‘productivity’ of this country, we can all agree that delays in ambulances for medical emergencies is unsafe and is unacceptable. A bad dancer will always blame the floor, but the media attention to this issue is at least as deserving as whether we should have unisex toilets.

Back to the ‘levelling up’ TV report package. The one from Cornwall. I remember when David Cameron with immense pride talked in the 2015 Conservative Party conference announced how the whole of Cornwall had gone Tory. So much for the deceit of levelling up. If you talk to most people even in the Red Wall, they will confirm a decline in public services, ranging from NHS, to social care, to libraries, which coincides with the period of austerity and decline from the Conservatives in the last decade.

And another event happened in 2016 which has led to an enduring process. Whatever you feel about Labour’s participation ever in the Brexit process, it is hard to work out why it has never allowed a discussion of participation in the single market. If Keir Starmer is indeed worried about ‘partnerships’ and ‘productivity’, like he now claims to be, it is of concern why he should wish to exclude a large market on his doorstep, unless he has other markets in mind.

If Brexit is the solution from the Tories, what problem did it fix? The most parsimonious belief is an internal dispute within the Conservative Party. It is obvious if you ‘replay’ the speeches of David Cameron that he wished to settle this dispute in the same direction as the Scottish referendum. He lost – and the fact that he didn’t know how to cope with it explains why he simply walked away. The Conservatives have never explained why their exit plan was never articulated. One can assume, perhaps, that the plan all along was to make the UK a successful ‘Singapore on Thames’. Labour could have decided instead to demonstrate solidarity with Scotland on important issues. It didn’t. So it should not be surprised if Scotland seeks solidarity with the European Union instead.

It could have been up to Labour to advance a sense of solidarity with the Scottish, except that the leadership of Scottish Labour was not that friendly to a left wing Labour. The Scottish SNP have always been more popular and more left wing than the Westminster Labour. Nicola Sturgeon is a much more charismatic politician than Keir Starmer, whether you agree with either of them or not. The most relevant, point, however is that it is in the Conservatives’ interest for the SNP to be more popular than Labour in Scotland. Every time that the SNP is popular, a bit of the probability that Labour will win an outright majority drops just a little bit more. Brexit was of course a gamechanger for the Scots. It may be the Conservatives ultimately lose the UK Union because it gifted Scotland to the SNP on purpose.

Therefore Brexit was another solution to a problem which caused more problems. It’s as if the Conservatives not only did not ‘fix the roof while the sun was shining’. It’s as if the Conservatives actively set fire to the roof while the sun was shining.

About a decade ago, in an evening course MBA, I studied economics and markets. I learned that if you privatise a state-owned monopoly, if you don’t break it up, you get a privatised monopoly. One can blame it all on the Ukraine War as an externality, but the catastrophic outcome with the privatised utilities from Thatcherite economics was entirely predictable. It was so predictable that Ed Miliband actively campaigned on it in 2014 prior to the 2015 general election, discussing ‘predators’ and ‘producers’. And he lost. The tragedy is that national ownership of basic resources is not a terribly controversial policy. More controversial is a ‘regional’ water company being owned by Malaysian private equity.

So it might be that the artificial pot plant is not actually innocuous after all, but is a “triffid”, or something which you would buy off a little shop of horrors. Can Labour now make the UK a better place with such an open goal? Time will tell.

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