General Election 2017 – My Unsolicited, Personal Thoughts

[Hey… This will take around 10 minutes to read. Go grab a coffee or something. Just setting expectations, y’know…]

Well well – wasn’t this Friday’s result a doozy? Certainly unexpected – and now every wannabe armchair pundit is proffering their own spin on the election results. And thus, what follows is my own wannabe armchair punditry…

Obnoxious self-deprecation aside, I do feel it’s right to elucidate on my own thoughts and opinions of the recent election results – given I’ve always commented disparagingly on attempts to shoehorn differing standpoints and rebuttals into 160-character tweets or tit-for-tat Facebook comments. Whether anyone reads these words is another matter – but even shouting my opinions into an empty void provides some catharsis. Call this my online diary, I suppose! 😛

My thoughts fall into three broad categories – the bad “boo”, the good “yay”, and the opportunities “ooo”!

But a bit of background first. For those who know me well, I’m an unapologetic Conservative – and recent party member. For those who know me less well, I’m an obnoxious Tory twat. (and Scottish Tory, at that!) For those who don’t know me at all – well, now you know where I sit in the political spectrum!

A lifelong supporter of the Conservatives, I was incredibly fortunate to be born into a reasonably comfortable existence. My working-class, high-school educated parents immigrated into the UK to start a new life here – arriving with nothing to their name and culminating to a modestly comfortable life with a home, some restaurant and fast food businesses, and three children. When I popped into existence, the family was already doing reasonably well – we were firmly “middle-class”, we went abroad on family holidays, lived in a few places around Scotland, and by the time I reached secondary education I was pushed into a private, fee-paying school. I accidentally fell into an industry that I love (IT) and was ultra-fortunate that this industry (especially in Aberdeen) paid extremely well – I basically earn a good living for geeking out to businesses…

In an almost-apologetic effort to countenance the fact that I’m a naturally right-leaning, self-entitled Tory twat born into a life of privilege, I am acutely aware that there are many, many people out there who have had a much less fortunate start in life. One of my big goals – and lifelong learning missions – is to understand the challenges that they face, help upskill people and open opportunities to them (with an acute awareness not to be patronising or presumptive in what *I* think people need help with), and be able to engage in civil discourse (political or otherwise) so that we can all better understand each other, and the challenges that each of us face. In part, this is why I’ve participated in an NGO called JCI (formerly Junior Chamber International) for the past 17 years – a non-political organisation whose mission at a micro-level is to develop young people and open opportunities to them, and at a macro-level to work with the United Nations and assist in pushing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an agenda of peace on earth (yeah, no small feat)!

Anyway – the point of those last few paragraphs was to provide a bit of context to my forthcoming opinions. In short – I’m a Tory-boy. I’m right-leaning, but I try not to be sucked up into my own ass by doing my darndest to engage, educate, train and help other folk who have not had as fortunate a start in life to develop and to engage with their local, national and international communities. …That’s how I’m spinning it, anyway…!

Context set, here’s my personal take on the boo, yay and ooo off the back of the General Election results.

Boooo. (The Bad)

Obvious point first – we “lost”. The Conservatives no longer have a majority, although they are still the largest party and – as at the time of writing – have a good likelihood of forming the next Government. Might be surprising to hear – but this is the result I had hoped for – just not for this General Election (more of which later). Even more surprising was that – although I wasn’t expecting the party to end up without a majority – I was *very* pessimistic with the party’s prospects and – even at the peak of “landslide majority” fervour – was privately expressing that I was nervous around how the actual results would pan out. I didn’t agree with the early landslide figures, instead personally placing the Conservatives at around 30-50 majority (possibly less), but was astonished that it lost MPs when the results came…

BREXIT

Having said that, the reason I still agree with Theresa May’s decision to call a General Election is because we are at a true, once-in-a-lifetime precipice. Unlike the seemingly biennial “once-in-a-lifetime” Scottish Independence Referendum that the SNP are always so keen to call, our exit from the European Union truly is a lifetime-defining moment. What we walk away with at the end of this process will affect us for decades to come, with little leeway for manoeuvre once the final deal has been signed and we rip away from the rest of the EU. A staunch Remain supporter, I was crestfallen to see that the voting public believed that the United Kingdom had better prospects outside of the EU. However (and however flawed the process might have been), the public’s opinion was expressed, and I now find myself backing an exit from the EU on the best possible terms for our own country (and at the expense of irking our European neighbours, if absolutely necessary). This isn’t like a General Election, where policies can be created and reversed well within a decade – our relationship with the EU will be largely defined by our negotiations prior to departure – and then remain static for many, many decades.

Although I’m a lifelong supporter of the Conservatives, I really wanted the party to win this time around with a generous majority for one overriding reason – to give Theresa May the flexibility she needed to negotiate Brexit in her own terms, without being held hostage by a few in-house dissenters due to the small majority the party previously held in Government.

Given the minority Government the Conservatives are now likely to form, I fear that the Brexit process will now be steered “by committee”, with decisions capitulated to the lowest common denominator – and at great long-term expense to our country. I’d love to be proved wrong, but we’ll see…

NEGATIVITY

Alright – if no-one else in the party will ‘fess up to it, then I’m certainly happy to. The campaign that the Conservatives had run was – in short – a very negative one… The core tactics were to denigrate the opposition, play upon the fear of uncertainty during the Brexit process, and patronise the voting public by refusing to engage with them in any meaningful way (staged appearances to the Party faithful, refusing to participate in debates (although I find this one of questionable value given the way that debates are run – more like shouting matches where everyone tries to loudly talk over everyone else), and refusing to really engage and elucidate on manifesto policies when the media and the public expressed their concern (I’ll cite the awful handling of the “dementia tax”, to name but one item).

Negative campaigns really have taken off recently, and I *hate* it. It does little to convince people to side with you (and – more often than not – those who *do* side with you often do so out of fear rather than hope), and further alienates those people who don’t share the same views as you. It’s also unprofessional – in my business life, I could never imagine going into a competitive pitch by bad-mouthing the competition; preferring rather to talk-up how we offer a better product or service. The same should ring true of election campaigns – try to win by offering a better positive story than your competition…

Yay! (The Good)

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to see the Conservatives as being the biggest minority party. The timing is terrible – I’d much have preferred this result at the next General Election, but hey – fate intervenes. So, why the treacherous undermining of our Party’s strength…?

COMPLACENCY UNMASKED

Simple – I believe the party has gotten too complacent. A minority party result is a lovely kick up the ass and the reality check that the party needs. The Conservatives rely too heavily on the “older generation” vote, and the support of those who fear change. (Scottish Tories aside), there’s no optimism or hope in our campaign – without being dynamic and optimistic, we’re wallowing into our comfort zone as “the establishment”. This might work for short periods of time but – on a longer-term scale – it’s a generational blunder. Only now, after nearly 30 years of isolation and toxicity, are the Scottish Conservatives connecting with the electorate again, having brazenly and ignorantly taken them for granted – and thus causing a generation of discontent with the Tories that we’re only now escaping from. I firmly believe we need to tackle this complacent rot before it sets in at the UK-wide party. And thus, the proverbial kick up the ass I alluded to earlier might be the catalyst to this change.

Hurrah for the short-term defeat – in my opinion, it’ll make the Conservatives a more viable long-term party… (If we learn from it, that is!)

ENGAGEMENT WITH YOUNG PEOPLE

What worked against the Conservatives – but worked well for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn – was that finally “young people” have engaged in politics, and went out to vote in record numbers.

Having spent my entire extra-curricular career at JCI on a local, national and international level – one of the core tenets of our organisation is to empower young people. It’s wonderfully reassuring to see that they’re engaging in political discourse, voting, and taking a role in shaping their future governments. Alas, this worked against the Conservatives in this particular election – but the party is entirely to blame. It has long alienated the younger voter, simply by refusing to acknowledge them and making very feeble efforts to engage with them.

Again, this election has been a wonderful wake-up call for the party to shake them out of their complacency, and to reinforce the idea that young voters cannot be side-lined.

Ooo…! (The Opportunities)

Although not confirmed at the time of writing, it’s more than likely that the Conservatives will still form the Government. However, it will do so with tail firmly between its legs. Great!

WIDER ENGAGEMENT

I hope that this is the wake-up call that the party needs. We’ve seen a resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland because we have shaken off our complacent self-entitlement north of the border. We have a dynamic, young (relatively, anyway) leader in Ruth Davidson and we have been engaging across all ages, and all communities. Even though the Tory brand is still considered toxic by some in Scotland, there are also those who were not born in Thatcher’s era whom are now starting to engage in politics – and Ruth has kick-started a new level of engagement with the electorate.

This is what needs to happen at the UK level. The Conservative party can no longer blunder forward assuming that “it knows best”, attempting to garner voter support through negativity and fear, refusing to engage with voters (citing the “dementia tax” fiasco), and refusing to acknowledge the younger voting population. I hope that the party learns from this General Election, and comes out stronger.

SWEEPING CHANGES

Also, I hope that the party doesn’t lose the spark to effect big changes. You could see the nexus of these being formed in the party manifesto, but they were delivered in an utterly cack-handed manner.

A great example: “dementia tax” – the premise being that perhaps older, wealthy people should contribute more to their own care and healthcare. In an era where there is discontent about the low level of inheritance tax and the transference of huge assets from one generation to the next – the idea of making the wealthy (and, alright, the middle-class) pay more for their healthcare by offsetting costs against their assets should be an idea that resonates with the general voting public. Hey, we’re effectively taxing well-off people with inheritable assets over £100,000, after all! And we’re not going to claim those costs until they pass away, and thus no longer need those assets! Alas, such a great nexus of an idea was bedevilled by a poorly thought out policy and even poorer communication. This was one such example – there were some good ideas in the original manifesto that need to be picked up, honed (with input from external and affected parties), and polished for presentation.

COUNTERING POLARISATION

One last thought – I hope that by delivering on the above (engaging with a wider audience and effecting changes in a better thought-out manner), we might (as a whole) take a step towards combatting polarisation.

I can’t express how frustrated I am that politics – and discourse on politics – has become increasingly polarised. Parties, and their supporters, have very much adopted a “you’re with us or you’re against us” attitude. I can’t speak for any other party, but as a member of the Conservatives I’m disappointed that all we seem to be able to do is to denigrate Corbyn, Sturgeon et. all without acknowledging that they – and their party manifestos – have some pretty good ideas. And conversely, it’s galling to have people label you as soulless, a “pawn of the 1%”, or even plain evil just because we’ve picked a right-leaning party. Especially in Scotland, I’ve personally witnessed and experienced the wrath and anger of select SNP supporters just because I’ve aligned with the Conservatives. Politics – and political discussion – should be better than that. We, as a society, should be better than that… We don’t tolerate it for race, religion or sex – we shouldn’t tolerate it for political alignment either.

…and that’s partially why I’ve brain-farted my thoughts on the election into actual prose. It might be horrifically uninformed, biased and personal prose – but it’s prose that’s available to anyone and everyone nonetheless. Congrats on making it this far – my blurb has become far longer than I expected. Although I suspect I’m venting into open air, if I can engage with even one person on a constructive discussion around British politics – then the time taken to write this will have paid off…

Cheers!

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