A primer to the cyclical nature of British politics
I’ve often heard it said that American politics is incredibly complicated to British people. Where I don’t know as much about it as I’d like, I believe I have a fairly solid grasp of how it works. Thinking about our own (British) politics however, I see archaic ritual & intentionally obtuse language used to mask the hidden simplicity of our system. I’ve been thinking recently about how our politics seems to follow a cyclical patch & I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper about it. So, this blogpost is my ham-fisted way of attempting to describe the simplicity & the cyclical nature of British politics to one who is bamboozled by its pomp & ceremony. Please note that I am a “loony lefty”, so expect partisanship in the extreme. I make no apology for this & swear by political hero Aneurin Bevan’s 1948 assertation that Tories are “lower than vermin”.
British politics is a two-party system. One party is the Conservatives (or Tories). The Tories represent the interests of the richest in society. We’re talking everyone from aristocrats to hedge fund managers & everyone in between. Basically, anyone higher in the British class system than the upper middle class. The other party is the Labour Party. Birthed by the union movement, their original job was to represent the interests of Labour. The working classes. As they’ve evolved, however, they’ve taken on the unenviable task of attempting to represent the interests of everyone who isn’t represented by the Tories policies. This means everyone from the unemployed through to the fairly wealthy upper middle class (why many contemporary observers scornfully refer to as the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’). This position, as you can imagine, is like balancing spinning plates. There are third parties in the British political system, most notably the Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems), but their main function, whether intentional or not, is to syphon votes away from the Labour Party.
So, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that nothing I’ve said thus far constitutes a cyclical nature (except for the existence of a two-party system). All will become clear. Since we have to start describing the cycle somewhere, let us start it with the beginning of a new Tory government. The Tory government & its policies concentrate on redistributing as much wealth as possible from the hands of the poor into the hands of the rich. A primary engine of this change is the lowering of corporate taxes & the relocation of corporate profit into offshore tax havens. The policies which facilitate these goals are often concerned with underfunding & privatisation of key public services like power supply, healthcare & education. Concurrent to this, sophisticated propaganda campaigns are waged against the Labour Party & any other convenient scapegoat. Why blame the governments pro-billionaire policies for your poverty when you can blame immigrants instead? This propaganda campaign is waged with the help of the class whose interests they represent: the extremely wealthy. We’re talking about billionaire media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers & others. The campaign in turn is aided by the intentional erosion community values & political literacy.
This goes on for a while, usually for two or three terms, until the extent of the Tory crimes becomes so large that the propaganda in the media is unable to excuse or mask them. The people, understandably, flock to the Labour Party at the following election & vote them in in a landslide. The Labour government then has to spend all of its time & resources repairing & making up for the economic damage that the Tories have inflicted while in government. Meanwhile, as we’re seeing real improvements to our way of life & the stability of our economy, the Tories have begun their campaign of propaganda & misinformation again. With the aid of the same billionaire media moguls whose interests they represent. From this point on the Labour Party’s public perception is eroded even as they are doing quantifiable good. Interestingly, even more right-wing leaning Labour prime ministers, like Tony Blair, oversaw stable economic activity & greater public funding than even the most liberal Tory equivalents. After a while the Tories are able to turn the public back against the Labour Party, despite the fact that their lives have been better during the Labour government.
The most recent time that this has happened, the Tories were only able to scrape together a coalition government with the help of the Lib Dems who, despite their protestations to the contrary during the leadup to the 2010 election, capitulated to the Tories on absolutely everything. This included their flagship policy of preventing a rise in tuition fees. The Lib Dems voted through the Tories rise in tuition fees & then bragged how they’d managed to secure a 5 pence charge on single use plastic bags. This ineffective policy, which the Lib Dems deemed worth sacrificing their tuition fees promises for, actually oversaw a rise in the use of single use plastic bags.
At the time of writing, the Tories are at the beginning of their third term. They have been in power for a decade & have overseen deregulation of worker’s rights, chronic defunding of public services (like the NHS & Police force), the Brexit debacle, 130,000+ deaths as a result of benefit “reforms” & a woefully inadequate response to the Coronavirus pandemic. This response to the pandemic, in an ordinary world, would be the final nail in the coffin for the Tories. After an initial reluctance to react to the threat due to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s egotistical self-image as a “Superman of Capitalism” & chronic misunderstanding of the scientific term, “Herd Immunity”, the United Kingdom has seen the highest number of deaths in Europe with 37,837 at time of writing (though many contest this figure due to irregularities in reporting & claim the real number is likely to be between 50,000 & 60,000 as a conservative estimate) & the highest number of deaths, per capita, in the entire world.
This appears to be the point of the cycle where the propaganda machine can no longer mask or downplay the Tories crimes. Trust in the Prime Minister is dropping on a daily basis & record numbers of people are incandescently furious with him over his handling of the latest scandal to hit his government: the breaking of lockdown rules by senior advisor Dominic Cummings, who helped draft & design those rules in the first place. The governments reaction to this insulting treatment of the voters ranges from Boris Johnson preventing scientific advisors from answering questions about it on live TV to Matt Hancock laughing hysterically about it on live TV. I’m expecting a Labour landslide at the 2024 general election, though it is by no means guaranteed after a decade & a half of eroded political literacy & propaganda. We would be foolish to rest on our laurels.
As a kind of footnote, some of what I say above may suggest a fondness for Tony Blair that I don’t actually feel. Blair was terrible Prime Minister who led us into an illegal & pointless war which saw huge numbers of people lose their lives. This makes him among the worst of Labour Prime Ministers but, in my opinion, he still stands head and shoulder above every Tory Prime Minister.
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you & I’d definitely be interested in hearing any thoughts about this. I welcome genuine debate but will not respond to insults, false equivalences, strawmen, whatabouterry, sealioning or bad faith arguments.
Justice before peace
Buy Tom a coffee?
Tom loves coffee. If you’ve enjoyed any of the content he’s created then please consider donating a few quid to buy him a cup.