Trevor Fisher sees a Tory agenda that is cold, clever and calculating. It needs to be taken seriously
While the Labour situation is dominating attention, it is diverting scrutiny from the Tories and their massively successful project to destroy effective opposition in the UK. As I said in the November Chartist, this is a ‘deeply machiavellian party’. The Left has no analysis of this, and while Labour has even bigger problems not understanding its failure at the last two elections – partly due to spending 4 months on a leadership election and losing the chance to set the agenda – the To abysmal lack of analysis and co-ordinated action against their project. There is some useful activity, notably on anti-austerity campaigns, but on no issue is it effective. This is a country with 6 million workers without a living wage, and more poor people than in comparable countries. Yet the anti-austerity movement struggles to get support.
This is partly due to not grasping the Tory Project, essentially to build a one party state as the ex-Lib Dem MP Norman Baker said in August. He highlighted the Tory offensive against the unions, the BBC and Freedom of Information – I write two days before the consultation on FOI closes and apart from 38 degrees petitioning its not been an impressive opposition campaign. Ditto with the unions and the BBC. As Owen Jones has said, there is a government behaving as though it has a majority of 200 instead of 12, and on a vote of only 24% of the electorate. But they are doing something about the electorate, as we shall see.
The root of the Tory confidence is the fact that they have a project which energises them – as do UKIP and the SNP – and centre left does not. They are kicking at open doors. It has been three months since Baker’s gripe. Where is the counter-offensive?
The Coalition claimed, as the Tories still do, to be centre politicians, though the key fact was anti-austerity, supported by the Lib Dem Orange book MP s to their own destruction. The right in the broad sense are dominant in most of the UK, and no one wants a half way house. But the austerity agenda, set in the four months when Labour was plodding towards electing Ed Miliband, is only part of the project. The real objective is to manipulate and eventually neuter democracy. Attacks on the BBC and FOI reduce the power of the citizen to know what is going on. Decisions will be take behind closed doors. And by fewer and fewer people.
Who needs open government? Not the Tory High Command. Elective dictatorship is the objective, one party ruling for ever – voted of course, but by fewer and fewer people electing fewer and fewer people, with elected mayors/dictatorships impose from the top. The mayoral referendum in the west midlands voted against – but one will be imposed. Chuka Umunna when he was the business shadow was in favour, and the Miliband establishment in the Westminster bubble took no steps to reign him in.
However the key fact of the brave new world opening up is reducing choice – constituencies will be cut to 600, a move the Lib Dems temporarily halted – and with boundary changes leave Labour fighting over city seats – New Labour failed to march into new demographics of support, its key strategic failure – there will be fewer MPs to pose any kind of opposition. The reduction in voters, mainly among the young, is however the boldest attempt to shape the future and reduce an anti-Tory Vote. While Labour and others have half hearted voter registration schemes to counter the reduction in young voters and the manipulation of seats that will follow, only Hope Not Hate have really taken the campaign to heart. And HNH alone cannot maintain an effective voter registration initiative with some 3 million voters expected to vanish.
The figures produced by HNH are alarming. There has been a 48% decline in the 16-17 pre registration numbers, and only 25% of 16-17 are registered. Of those that can vote 30% of 18-24 year olds are not registered – the overall figure is 14% – and it is expected that 3 million 16-24 year olds will vanish after December 1st. While HNH is doing the best it can the lack of a co-ordinated voter drive is the most pressing issue we face. It goes without saying that the Tory dominated media do not highlight this anti democratic situation.
Its another facet of the lack of analysis across the board that how this situation happened is rooted in obscurity. The attempt to produce individual voter registration using National Insurance numbers was initially an Ulster initiative to prevent gerrymandering. However New Labour opened a pandora’s box, and it is not clear how this happened. Predictive analysis is not on the agenda except perhaps in Tory Central Office, where the Research Department shows up Labour’s failure to do any sensible research on anything in the 110 year history of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Perhaps the 110th birthday in January will spark a recognition that successful political parties do research and plan projects. The Tories do and gain immensly.
The effect of voter registration falling will damage Labour and benefit the Tories but it is not for Labour alone to tackle it. Indeed, the wider problems facing the centre left are due precisely to political activists going their own way. While voter registration is not a sexy issue, it is one where many of the failures of analysis and campaigning can come into focus. For the young, obsessed by twitter and other social media, voting may be the last of their priorities. But if this remains the case, there is a nightmarish future in a nominally pluralist democratic structure which delivers a near permanent one party state, like Italy in the 1970s.
Chartist is small and lacks clout, but it could yet be the catalyst which brings the fragments together to carry out joint action on a wider and wider range of issues, focussed on getting the young back into politics and giving hope of a future which is not Toryism, reaction and the pursuit of greed.