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A transformative election—but in which direction?

A transformative election—but in which direction?

We must prepare for an extreme right surge after the polls, no matter how few MPs the Tories and Reform end up with

If some of the more extreme polls are to be believed, this election is going to wipe out the Tories and see a major rise in vote share for Reform UK. Their leader, Nigel Farage, has said he wants to destroy the Conservative Party. The majority of Reform’s policies are more Thatcherite than Sunak’s Tories can muster—it’s an interesting phenomenon seeing an extreme New Right government being pushed rightward in its dying days despite all the failures it’s racked up over fourteen years. One of the many grotesques of the right is blaming failure (including their own) on things being too left wing.

In recent times Sunak’s government has been labelled “socialist” by conservative commentators and politicians. The same people use the word “woke” in a negative context, normally to mean anything remotely socially liberal. As the effects of austerity still bite and we see the social problems it has caused, the blame is deflected elsewhere. The Tory newspapers shriek about immigration and trans people, discouraging readers from joining up the dots showing reality. We’re expected to believe that government has some form of aim. Maybe it’s to help us pursue happiness, or perhaps it’s to protect us. I’m fairly sure even fans of government don’t see its aim as making life more miserable for as many people as possible. In a liberal democracy that would surely mean annihilation at the polls. Well, here we are. Despite 14 years of failure in the basic and alleged governmental goal of trying to help citizens lead a pleasant life, we’re not just seeing the potential wipe-out of the Tories. Instead, we’re seeing a party further to their right gaining the advantage.

There are many reasons for this. The Labour party has also moved rightward but isn’t trusted enough by many former Tories for them to simply switch their vote. Reform will seem a better fit for many. Labour are not in a position where they’re offering positive solutions to the issues people face. They’re offering a ready supply of more of the same, but with a promise of being better at it than Sunak’s government. If the polls are right then our three main parties (Labour, Reform and the Conservatives) are all arguing about fairly right wing ideas.

How this affects our politics after the election depends on all sorts of factors. We don’t yet know the extent of Tory losses or the Reform gains. Reform might gain a healthy share of the vote without many seats in Parliament. The better they do, the more the chance that the Liberal Democrats will be the official opposition. That could change things in wholly unpredictable ways. It is around 100 years since such a shift last occurred. The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, would suddenly have six questions at PMQs, the Tory leader just two. What the Lib Dems have to say in opposition to Labour would become the newsworthy issue on a daily basis.

Except, of course, establishments don’t change instantly.

All the conservative voices we see at present, on TV and in newspapers, magazines and social media, will still be there. Britain’s largely Conservative-supporting press isn’t going to transform overnight and might not change at all. In the immediate aftermath of the election two ongoing stories will dominate. One is of the new Labour government and Keir Starmer’s policies being put into action. A theme will emerge of whether he can do enough to transform the country to gain a second term. There is also the possibility that it is transformed in such a way that left-wing ideas start to dominate—but don’t hold your breath.

The second theme is the future of conservatism. From the Daily Mail to the Conservative Home website, commentators will be everywhere analysing the future of the Tories and their relationship with Reform. Front and centre will be Nigel Farage, trying to push politics ever rightward. If he’s been able to do that successfully during 14 years of Tory government, you can bet he’ll be doing it with Labour in power.

If the right is good at one thing, it is scapegoating. Nothing is ever their fault. Whatever isn’t working, they just say things should be more right wing. They’ll never be satisfied on immigration, Brexit, sexuality, gender, taxation. Whatever happens, they’ll be angry and they’ll be blaming people, dividing and trying to use the fallout for political advantage, even when things are relatively better than they are now. Having right wing ideas dominating our lives and destroying our communities for decades, it is perhaps ironic that anyone intends to vote for them. But the tactic of blaming everyone else actually seems to work for them, with the end result that far right ideas seep through to the mainstream.

The blame for the problems so many face lies on the dominant ideas the powerful have put into operation over the last few decades. Rents are incredibly high and yet there are over 30,000 empty and abandoned council homes in England alone. This is the result of council budgets being squeezed through 14 years of austerity. Yet both Sunak and Farage blame immigration. With every neoliberal policy, privatisation, and budget cut, the public has been encouraged to believe the market is the only answer to solving problems.

Earlier, I hinted that Labour could swing leftwards in power and attempt to transform the country to win a second term and make a more permanent change to the British establishment. The 1945 example comes to mind with the creation of the NHS and a welfare state. We are approaching that sort of electoral transformation, but without the manifesto and core ideas within the Labour Party to see it through. The Labour attitude is to be cautious just when we need bold transformation. That’s liberal democracy for you. So we must contemplate the more extreme possibility of a rising right after the election, with a thousand cheerleaders directing the national conversation through their newspaper columns and social media accounts. They won’t go quietly even if their main party is left with just a few dozen MPs. The shrieking might get louder and Nigel Farage, forever followed by an army of far right bigots, could become very powerful indeed.

~ Jon Bigger

On election night, Freedom will be following the results with a live panel on our YouTube channel—join us from 7pm on July 4

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