Johnson can't avoid the media now he is PM and he won't 'Get Brexit Done' for months
As a new Green Party leader in 2012, I started talking about how the future of politics didn’t look like the past. Somewhere around 2016, I stopped saying that. It had become a statement of the obvious.
The UK since then has been on a rollercoaster ride, yet this is something a lot of the post-election commentary seems to have forgotten.
There’s lots of talk of “ten years of the Tories” and of the next election being December 2024.
It’s almost as if the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was actually being taken seriously, when the recent past shows us how unlikely an outcome that is.
The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush sums up what happened last week well: it was a landslide Labour defeat, but not a landslide Tory victory.
A majority of 80 does mean – sadly – we will be leaving the European Union on January 31. The immediate future is clear.
But what the government and parliament will look like by September 2020, is less clear.
This is Boris Johnson in charge, let us remember, a man as changeable as the wind, as closely associated with the gaffe as Dan Quayle, who his minders kept firmly hidden from the media as much as possible during the election. They can’t do that when he’s Prime Minister.
We saw what happened to Labour when Alastair Campbell became the story. And Dominic Cummings is already very much the Tory story.
The Prime Minister and his controller have made lots of incompatible, impossible promises, the biggest of them being to “get Brexit done”. Which can’t be done. January 31 will only mark the start of frantic negotiations supposed to end – to allow a December end for the transition period – in September.
In the intermediate time there’ll be a huge struggle, inside the Tory Party, about the degree of “alignment” with European values and rules.
Chlorinated chicken is just the symbol – there’s whole complex, detailed raft of decisions to be made. The troops are already entrenched in different parts of the Tory Party, and the Prime Minister doesn’t look like a peacemaker.
The Tory Party is under the surface, if not visibly, in just as much turmoil as the Labour Party obviously is. An injection of new, young, Northern MPs is going to be a very odd mix with Jacob Rees-Mogg and his ilk, not just culturally but also in terms of priorities.
Northern communities plagued by flooding linked to the terrible land management of driven grouse moors on the uplands are not necessarily going to be friends with the shooting fraternity.
The Conservatives in the election promised lots, but also not to raise taxes. As the latest Office for Budget Responsibility figures make clear, that’s a circle that can’t be squared.
The NHS is in crisis, and extra money for it, without extra money for austerity-cracked social services and local authorities and addressing our poverty-stricken, insecurity, unhealthy communities, is not going to do more than put plasters on gaping wounds.
Now is not the time for those opposed to the Tory agenda to despair. Rather it is time to step up. That means focusing, first of all, on democracy. The result on December 12 did not reflect the will of the people. Most people did not vote for this government – many did so clearly out of desperation rather than commitment.
We need to keep talking about the need to make the UK a democracy, both with a fair, proportional voting system, and with genuine devolution of power and resources away from Westminster.
Three hundred thousand people have signed the Make Votes Matter petition supporting that change.
While the Liberal Democrats might have had a terrible election in terms of seats, in a significant number of places they overtook Labour as the opposition to the Conservatives. Combined with the politics of Scotland, it is clear Labour has no chance of an outright minority any time in the foreseeable future.
A key question Labour members should be asking their leadership candidates is their position on electoral reform (and genuine devolution). The way out of the UK’s continuing political crisis is clearly getting a modern, functional constitution.
Stepping up also means focusing on building a new political narrative – and new political forces. Simply offering voters goodies without a framework to explain where they come from clearly doesn’t hack it. We need to be making arguments that attack the neoliberal “common sense” – as I was about borrowing on this site on election day.
I also said back in 2012 that the Tory and Labour parties might not exist in five or ten years’ time. Arguably, the Tory Party already doesn’t. It has become a Trumpian-style Conservative and Ukip Party.
What the opposition to that looks like is to be determined. But what’s clear is that old answers won’t do. Relying on one single person as the champion of change is now more clearly than ever a bad idea.
I believe that the opposition has to be built around the understanding that there are enough resources in the world for everyone to have a decent life, if we just share them out fairly. That means a radical reduction in inequality, the provision of security for all through a universal basic income, a restructuring of the economy away from parasitical multinational companies like Amazon.
That’s what we’re trying to do in the Green Party. In the House of Lords Jenny Jones and I, with Caroline Lucas in the Commons, will be working on that.
And the fast-growing councillor base, doubled this year, is advancing rapidly in communities from St Helens to Solihull, South Tyneside to Swale, will be doing that around the country, building towards local elections in May when the Tories will face their first electoral test.
Natalie Bennett is the former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and now a memeber of the House of Lords
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