Debunking five Tory myths about the election result

Challenging the “narrative” that is emerging . . .

Can we take a step back, please? And consider some of the claims that are being made right now by politicians and pundits alike?

1) The Tories are claiming that they "won". This is nonsense. In a hung parliament, by definition, no party can claim "victory". In the British system, you win only when you have a majority in the Commons. Cameron failed to get one.

2) A Lab-Lib coalition government would not be unrepresentative of public opinion. On the contrary, the two parties combined would have the support of 53 per cent of voters. This is the "anti-Conservative" majority that Labour ministers and officials keep refering to. Remember: no government since the Second World War has ever been elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

3) Gordon Brown is "defying" the public and "clinging on" to office. Not true. Brown is following consitutional precedent, which ensures continuity of government and gives the prime minister the right to stay on and try to form a coalition that has the confidence of parliament. Brown is behaving as (the Tory) Edward Heath behaved in February 1974.

4) The country wants strong government, which is single-party government. Really? Why then did the voters not give any one of the three major parties a majority in parliament? The reality is that coalitions can be stronger and more effective than single-party administrations -- even in the eyes of the markets. Ten of the 16 governments that enjoy triple-A credit ratings are coalitions. Seven of the largest fiscal consolidations carried out in OECD countries since 1970 occurred under coalition governments.

5) Labour is interested in party advantage; the Tories are concerned about the national interest. Rubbish! As the Telegraph reported this week, the Tories are willing to bribe the Unionist parties in Ulster with up to £200m of taxpayers' cash in the form of postponed public spending cuts in the province. Is this putting the nation first, or is it partisan and self-interested deal-making of the grubbiest kind?

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.