Sunday 4 December 2016

Nobody has a clue

For the entirety of my adult life, somebody has had a clue. By somebody, I mean one or other of our major political Parties. And by a clue, I mean a clear way forward, even if you don't personally agree with it.

The fag end of the 1974-79 Labour Government didn't have a clue, but Mrs Thatcher did. The fag end of the long Tory supremacy which followed didn't have a clue, but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did, Yet when Brown finally inherited not only the Premiership but the financial crash, it was clear that having weathered the latter, he didn't have much of a clue as to the way forward either. Although the odd centre right coalition that followed at least sort of had. I might even grudgingly conclude that until September 2014 the SNP in power in Scotland at least had a little  bit of a clue, even if the proposed solution, Independence, was pretty clueless.

Today, nobody has a clue.

The Government kind of treats Brexit as if it was some sort of natural disaster, rather than an event the Tory Party's own hubris as to the state of public opinion brought about. It's not that we, the public, are left to guess as to whether they seek a hard or soft Brexit. It's increasingly clear that they genuinely don't know themselves. And even if they called it one way or another? What would be the consequence? They don't have a clue.

As to my own Party? Well, even if you write off the bizarre Corbynista view that people are voting for far right racist Parties because the centre left isn't left enough, you are still left (sic) with the question of what our line would be if possessed with less deranged leadership. It can't be the case that we write off the leavers as irredeemable racists. Even if that was true, which it isn't, who would that leave to vote us into power? So what would be our line if, by some act of God, Corbyn was swept away and replaced with........well whoever? Dan Jarvis, Yvette Cooper, Keir Starmer, Liz Kendall or even, as a less deluded Corbynista, Clive Lewis? As I wrote in an earlier blog you simply can't reconcile that part of our our historic electoral coalition which says "Refugees welcome" with that different part which demands "Local Houses for local people". No-one can. And in the absence of being able to do that? We don't have a clue.

And so to the Lib Dems. I was well pleased they won in Richmond Park. But so what? Come a big election they might well peel off "liberal" voters from us. And indeed probably even pro European voters from the Tories. But can they win from an effectively standing start, never mind the tribal antipathy their call from 2010 to 2015 still evokes in certain quarters? Patently not. And if they can't win? They haven't got a clue either.

I was impressed by the insight of Blair's New Statesman interview. on the importance of the centre. I say that as someone who was never his greatest fan to start with who still regards the Iraq War as a colossal strategic error. Nonetheless,  his kind of mildly left of centre politics is clearly as good as it is ever going to get in the UK. Even then, his electoral triumphs came about in specific circumstance. Seventeen years of Tory Government leading to a willingness on the part of the electorate to tolerate almost anything else while the scars of 1992 had finally persuaded my own Party to sign up for that "almost anything else".

But how does the Centre get to go before the electorate now, today, in 2016 or 2017 or even 2020?There is certainly a movement out there that is signed up for cultural liberalism and a pro European future. Chukka Umunna is in it. and Anna Soubry. And Nicky Morgan and Liz Kendall.  And indeed obviously Nick Clegg and, now, Sarah Olney. It even includes Caroline Lucas on its left flank and George Osborne on its right.

But so what? We live in a democracy. What matters are elections. And Movements don't win elections, Parties do. And under first past the post, Movements, unless they capture a Party, have no way into the game. Even Momentum get that.

And how do we get out of that situation? Nobody, as Blair himself kind of conceded, has a clue.

And so to Scotland. There is clearly no majority for the economic and cultural suicide that would be independence. But how, politically, do the rest of  to come to terms with that? It's increasingly clear the Nats don't have a clue about what to do about this dilemma. But, equally, the rest of us have no idea either as to what to do in response. My Party doesn't just agree with the Tories on the fundamentals of constitution, we also agree with them that there is much wrong with Scottish public services. But that's as far as it goes. When it comes to solutions we are miles apart. Just as nationalism is a philosophy with no traditional left/right ideological dimension, neither is unionism,  So it is not just the Government of Scotland that is in a condition of policy stasis, it is the opposition as well. And the solution to that is? Nobody has a clue.

And that's even before we turn to world events. What to do about not just Syria but the wider Middle East? Nobody has got a clue. Turkey? Not a clue. North Korea? Not a clue. The refugee crisis? Not a clue. Putin? Not a clue. Trump? Not a clue.

So, bring on 2017. Where nobody has a clue.

It is said that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Here's hoping. But how might that vacuum be filled? I haven't got a clue.