I do get it, that some people will find it difficult to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. The stories about support for terrorists and antisemitism that circulate are real barriers for many, and the scale of investment being proposed by the relatively soft-left, mainstream manifesto that has been produced by his team does scare some voters - who may perhaps not have realised the scale of the cuts of the last ten years. Equally, some may feel that the late commitment to the WASPI women, and the use of the NHS to challenge the Tories, smack of opportunism.
Equally, many people find Boris Johnson appalling. His misogyny, racism, islamophobia, anti-gay stance and inability to speak without lying make him unfit for government to many of us. His casual relationship with the truth led to a British citizen being incarcerated overseas when Foreign Secretary, while he has been a representative of one of the most hard-right ideologically-driven governments we have seen, worse so than that of Margaret Thatcher. The detailed evidence is that there have been many more than 130,000 early, unnecessary deaths since they have been in power, which appear to be directly attributable to their policies.
And the Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is seen by a large number of people as no better. A junior leader in the Coalition, she has expressed no regrets for their support of the hard right, nor for breaking their promises on tuition fees. Many Lib Dems, let alone others, see her as too right wing to lead the party of Beveridge for much longer.
I’m sure similar challenges can be thrown at the other party leaders. But that isn’t my point. We really do need to look beyond personality, and the flaws of individuals, and look at the heart of the policies for which each party stands.
From this perspective, it seems clear that there are three large-scale policy areas which we can look at, to see how we might vote.
(Note: As the Brexit party haven’t published a manifesto, they are excluded from discussion below. However, they are, mostly, right-wing Conservatives in disguise. So most of the discussion of the Tories below will apply equally to them, or more so).
To begin with Brexit. If we are to leave the EU, as a small majority of voters in the (I believe flawed) referendum of 2016 preferred, there are a number of choices:
- The Conservatives are proposing the hardest of hard departures, with a real risk of no-deal, and an internal border between NI and GB. Most experts and commentators believe this will do real damage to the country and its institutions, with prolonged trade negotiations afterwards which will run the real risk of damaging our own businesses and public services further as a result. Workers rights and food safety standards will be up for negotiation. Equally, it entrenches division, as many Remain (and some Leave) voters feel a fraud is being perpetrated.
- However, the Lib Dem policy of ‘Revoke’ appears anti-democratic in the extreme, whatever the possible flaws of the 2016 vote. It would also entrench division, and do little to prevent a later Government from beginning the whole process again.
- To minimise the harm to the country of a hard Brexit, and to attempt to heal divisions if possible, it is clear that a softer approach to Brexit is required, which minimises the need for unhelpful and unbalanced future deals and does far less damage to people and the land. And by putting this to a second public vote, there is a chance, if a slim one, of reconciling both Leavers and Remainers. This Labour approach therefore feels correct, whatever the personal vote and vacillations of Corbyn. Most of the regional parties also, correctly, support this strategy (albeit with caveats).
Setting aside the high emotions that Brexit generates, I personally believe a more pressing issue is the desperate need to address the huge damage that has been done in the last ten years to our public services, and the public realm in general.
- In this area the proposals from the Conservatives, as set out in their election manifesto/leaflet, are laughable in the extreme. They fail to reverse the cuts to police and the health service, they do not address social care, nor do they address the rising crisis of housing safety highlighted by Grenfell and other fires. And, to be blunt, their current approach to Brexit will make all of this worse and entrench austerity - as the real costs of their ultra-hard Brexit have not been factored into their budget calculations. Finally, rather than address the failures of the press and wider media (whatever happened to Levenson?) they are instead proposing measures to control the courts, so they can never again intervene to prevent them behaving illegally.
- The Lib Dem proposals are better, but again feel far too limited. It may be that they are in denial about the huge harm the policies they supported in the Coalition have caused to individuals up and down the UK. And because they aren’t yet ready to recognise the full impact of the austerity in which they were complicit, they can’t properly address it. Again there is little on the behaviour of the press and media.
- Turning to the Labour party, I have a real concern that their proposals, while highly laudable in this area and nearly of an appropriate scale, are unfocused. I would rather, for at least the next five years, that they made the reversing of the cuts, redressing of unfairness, attention to social justice and the rebuilding of the welfare state their primary goals. The various nationalisations of natural monopolies (energy, rail, water, Openreach, etc), while essential, could be moved into second place. Perhaps even deferred to a second term. This would create greater headroom to rebuild our broken state and begin to unify society.
However, again, and it pains me to say it, I must admit that the third and final major area of policy is more important than either of these.
I fear that the linked existential risks of climate collapse and large-scale species extinction must, at the moment, override everything else. This must provide the main guide to which party to vote for in the coming election.
I fully admit that this is interwoven with the other two areas. The USA trying to keep climate change concerns out of proposed future post-Brexit Trade Deal negotiations shows this clearly. However, I think it is possible to use this area as the core for our decision-making as an electorate.
- The Green proposals are unsurprisingly the gold standard in this area. They’ve set the right targets, and the measures they propose and level of necessary investment to transition at speed to a net zero carbon economy by 2030 seem essentially correct. They’ve thought about it hard, and for a long time.
- The SNP and Plaid Cymru are nearly on the same page, but they each have problems driving the transition. The former have yet to say how they will address their dependence on the oil and gas industry, while the latter will need to find clarity about how their farmers will be supported to make the needed changes, and how quickly. The SNP also seem to seeing IndyRef2 as at least equally important.
- The Labour party also clearly understand the problem, and have proposals which nearly equal those of the Greens. They appear to grasp the problems involved in transitioning the whole economy, and are proposing investment which should solve the majority of problems, and may also provide real export opportunities. They have however been mealy-mouthed about the zero-carbon target, only suggesting delivery by ‘the 2030s’. This needs to be a harder-edged goal.
- The Lib Dems are yet to realise how urgent this is. Although they are proposing investment, and they seem to understand many of the challenges, to aim to fix the problem by 2045 is far too late.
- Sadly, in this area, and unlike the others, the Conservative proposals are woeful, and wholly inadequate to the challenge. They have no real concrete plans for the transition of the economy. Even their much-touted ban on fracking is only temporary. Their leader could not even be bothered to attend the Channel 4 debate on the subject, instead sending the understrapper Gove, who was rightly turned away. But more than this, they just have not grasped the critical importance of the issue, as their manifesto and public pronouncements show.
So there you have it. On the biggest threat to our country and our lives, the Tories have nothing to offer. This is truly frightening. But at least it makes things clear.
If you care about the lives of your children and grandchildren, if you care about our country, you cannot vote for the Conservatives. They are so dangerous to the UK, to the planet, and to the natural world.
Therefore, whoever leads whichever party, there is one, simple answer.
Each one of us must vote the best way we can to defeat the local Tory candidate. Do the research, and lend your vote to the person who is best placed to beat them in your local constituency.
For the sake of us all.