THE BLOG

A Reassuringly Conventional Election

07/06/2017 09:17

Like Wimbledon, major political campaigns seem to be becoming an annual fixture of British summers. Following the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, a general election in 2015 and the Brexit referendum in 2016, we now face another general election in 2017.

In an increasingly volatile world, one thing that we have learned is that there are no foregone conclusions and voters will make the difference. As the transmission of information becomes more seamless and people have greater exposure to non-traditional news and opinion, it becomes harder to predict how they will cast their vote.

This greater voter empowerment, even if it does imply greater political volatility, is a good thing. It demonstrates that democracy works. People are now using their vote to drive political change. Power is returning where it belongs - with the people rather than the political establishment. So, while there may be an element of voter fatigue, I would hope that the taste of power which ordinary voters have been enjoying in recent months will encourage them to turn out in high numbers.

Both in the US and in France, we have seen what an empowered electorate can achieve. In the US, the election of President Trump was a real political watershed. Trump took on every part of the US political establishment to win the Presidency - the Republican and Democratic parties, the Bush and Clinton dynasties, the traditional media, Wall Street, and even the intelligence services. That is what made his victory so astonishing and at the same time so alarming for the old guard.

In France, the second round of the Presidential elections was contested for the first time not by the traditional political parties, but by two fringe politicians - one the leader of an extremist political party and another a relative political newcomer. Macron's election, in that sense, also broke the mould of French politics.

The elections in the UK are, by contrast, surprisingly conventional. The UK has traditionally been no stranger to political revolution. In fact, it has been a political innovator. Modern parliamentary democracy, a model adopted by many states across the globe, can trace its roots to Britain. The English civil war, which saw the monarchy's power marginalised, pre-dated the political and social revolutions in France and continental Europe by 150 years.

And yet, the general election this week has so far followed the script a lot more closely than the elections we have witnessed in both the US and France. Despite all of the talk of tactical voting and TV debates that included more than half a dozen political parties, the UK general election is boiling down to a traditional two-way fight between the two dominant parties of the last century - the Conservatives and Labour.

That hasn't stopped it being a fascinating campaign, and the contest looks set to be closer than many had thought at the outset. Commentators who have been so wrong in the past are reluctant to be proved wrong yet again.

When you strip away the rhetoric and the personalities, politics comes down to three essential questions: Firstly, how big will government be relative to the size of the economy? Secondly, how will the cost of government be distributed across the electorate? And finally, what will government money be spent on?

Jeremy Corbyn has made this election interesting. His proposals seek to increase the size of government, probably unsustainably. He wants to change the pattern of government spending as well as radically alter who foots the bill.

However, the one thing that will probably not change at all is what this election was supposedly called for: Brexit. No matter who wins on Thursday, no matter how big or how small their majority, it is unlikely that the prospect for a smooth Brexit will be improved. For that to happen, it would require another political revolution in Europe.

And if history is any guide, that could be another 150 years away.

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