30 September 2019

Why the next election will be the most important in a century


The outcome of every General Election, we are always told, is critical. And for those politicians whose names are on the ballot papers, you can see why they might say that. But what about for the rest of us?

Was the 1992 or the 2005 General Election really that important? Had say, John Major lost the former, or Tony Blair the latter, would we notice much afterwards? Would Britain today be different if Neil Kinnock had held office, or Michael Howard? I doubt it.

Occasionally, of course, a truly decisive election comes along; July 1945, which put Britain on a socialist path for the next three decades. Or May 1979, which put Thatcher in power and allowed her to begin free market economic reform.

The election that now looms in front of us is going to be a bigger watershed than either of those. It will be like July 1945 and May 1979 rolled into one.

The 2019 – or perhaps it might be the 2020 – General Election really will be a turning point for our country.

If it goes like 1945, it will leave us with an overtly socialist Labour government. If it goes the other way, it will be like 1979, opening up the possibility of a fundamental shift in terms of the kind of country we could become.

A Labour victory at the next election would, I would argue, mean an even more radical change than the election of Clem Attlee’s government in 1945.

Back then, Attlee and co. wanted to seize the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, nationalising large private companies. Corbyn wants to allow tenants to take over ownership of private citizens’ houses.

Attlee and co might have disliked private schools. Corbyn’s Labour party has a plan to actually expropriate their assets.

However left wing on the economy, Labour in the mid-twentieth century was a patriotic party that appreciated the importance of the American alliance. Corbyn wants Britain to be in a permanent Customs Union with the EU, enabling other countries to bargain with our trade policy on their behalf. Some suggest that he might use the UK veto as a permanent member of the UN security council to prevent American military action against Iran.

If that is what sits on one side of the watershed, what lies on the other?

If Boris wins a working majority, we will not only be saved from having Diane Abbott as Home Secretary – we might find that we have a realistic chance of introducing some of the far-reaching change our country needs.

If Boris wins, we won’t just leave the European Union. If we are to have self-government again, we need to be up to governing ourselves. Recent events suggest that currently we aren’t.

The House of Commons we have today – with a few exceptions on either side – is full of nonentities. Unwilling to deliver what the clear majority of people voted, these career MPs are terrified of allowing the voters a say in an election. Not a single one of the 17 MPs that has switched parties amid much posturing has had the confidence outside the TV studio to offer themselves up for a confirmatory by-election.

We have a Supreme Court that has presumed to be the guardian of our constitution, yet in doing so adjudicates not on the basis of what the law says, but on what it would like the law to be.

If the past three weeks have exposed how out of touch our political institutions are, the past three years have exposed that the British state is itself dysfunctional.

The brightest and best brains in Whitehall and Westminster were comprehensively out manoeuvred by the EU side, first with the scheduling of the negotiations, and then over the backstop. Faced with the challenge of delivering Brexit, they flopped. Stupidly, foolishly and spectacularly.

If those that preside over public policy are this hopeless at the basics of statecraft, what else are they getting wrong routinely?

Is it any surprise that the institutions of the state are incapable of controlling our still porous borders? Or devise a system of healthcare that can convert additional funding into improved health outcomes? NHS productivity has flatlined for twenty years.

Or enable the construction of any significant new runway capacity? Air travel has doubled, runway capacity is unchanged. Or even maintain Hammersmith bridge? One of London’s main crossing points remains shut because no one in the myriad of institutions responsible thought about maintaining it. Really.

If Britain aspires to be a serious country, we need a serious overhaul of our public administration. Radical. Relentless. Uncompromising.

There are still too many Tory ministers who are doing politics this week in Manchester like its 1990 something; a gimmicky announcement here, a ban or two there. It will not do.

Britain is probably only a few weeks away from the most significant General Election not just in a generation, but in a century.

‘Boris & Brexit or Corbyn & communism’ is not just a slogan that the Conservatives will use. The election really will be a binary choice between those stark opposites.

If we are to make the right choice, the anti-Corbyn side needs to up their game and outline a serious alternative.

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Douglas Carswell was an MP and co-founded Vote Leave. He runs the Centre for Economic Education