1-6 May 2015 issue
The Scots are coming!
The Leader: the NS endorses Labour – but with reservations.
We call for voting reform, a new constitutional settlement for the UK and condemn the Tories’ ideological cuts to public spending.
George Eaton reveals how Ed Miliband is preparing for minority government and asks whether Labour could make it work.
NS editor Jason Cowley on Essex Man and the rise of “white van conservatism”.
Helen Lewis on Worcester Woman.
Jamie Maxwell the SNP surge and what it means for Labour and the Westminster establishment.
A major essay from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on free will.
Tracey Thorn: In music today, it’s all or nothing – rich at the top or languishing at the bottom.
Leader: Spurned opportunities, but still a vote for Labour
In the lead-up to the general election, the NS Leader this week considers which party would govern Britain best. Though critical of Ed Miliband’s “severe limitations and strategic weaknesses” and regretful that his party does not have a “more nimble and agile leader”, the Leader concludes that “the programme put forward by Labour in this election is still one that is worthy of support”.
Britain is a great country, one of the safest and most prosperous in the world. It has the potential, also, to become a more equal and more democratic country in the next five years. The best means of fulfilling these hopes is to return a Labour government on 7 May.
George Eaton: Ahead of another hung parliament, Ed Miliband is preparing for minority government. But could Labour make it work?
The NS political editor, George Eaton, writes that though minority governments have disadvantages, they are not doomed to failure. He sees the last two elections as marking the end of “majoritarian rule in the UK”:
On 7 May, for the first time since 1910, voters will almost certainly return a second successive hung parliament. In the absence of a 1992-style polling debacle (when the Conservatives finished 7 points ahead of Labour on election day, having been tied in the final surveys) or an extremely late swing, both of the main parties will fall far short of the 326 seats required for a majority.
[. . .]
For a majority, Labour and the Tories will need to look elsewhere: to the SNP, the DUP and, in extremis, Ukip.
Eaton writes that these numbers, and a distaste for coalitions on both sides, make a minority government the most likely scenario after 7 May – but he argues that minority administrations are not necessarily weak:
Minority governments are historically regarded in Britain as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short; daily horror shows in which terminally ill MPs are liable to be wheeled in to the Commons to vote on some critical agricultural motion. [Ramsay] MacDonald’s administration lasted just nine months before it was brought down by the Conservatives and the Liberals over the suspended prosecution of the Workers’ Weekly for “incitement to mutiny”. But minority governments can endure and even succeed. Whether they do is largely dependent on political circumstances.
[. . .]
The inherent disadvantages of minority government should not be understated. Such creatures are condemned to live week by week or day by day, locked in a rolling coalition agreement with the entire legislature. At the mercy of the Commons, Miliband would struggle to be a globe-straddling
PM in the mould of Thatcher or Blair – his vote could be needed at any moment. But many of the voices predicting that a Labour minority government would be either fleeting or impotent are the same that forecast an early end to Cameron and Clegg. After the past five years, the UK no longer regards coalitions as inherently unstable. By 2020, it may conclude the same of minority governments.
Jason Cowley in Harlow
The NS editor, Jason Cowley, visits his home town of Harlow, where he finds a battle for the soul of Essex Man and a rise in “white van conservatism”:
Labour ought to win Harlow, where most voters earn less than the national median wage and where 30 per cent live in social housing, but for some reason Ed Miliband’s deliberative style does not resonate in the town or more generally with the skilled working class in Essex. [The Labour candidate] Suzy Stride is also unfortunate in having as an opponent [the Conservative incumbent] Robert Halfon, one of the most dedicated MPs in the Commons.
Read in full below.
Helen Lewis in search of Worcester Woman
Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the NS, also visits her home town, Worcester, to explore the political landscape:
Worcester, where I was born and grew up, is a bellwether seat and a true Labour/Tory marginal. “Whoever wins the general election is likely to win the Worcester constituency,” intones the eighth edition of The Almanac of British Politics. Its nickname, gained during the civil war, is “the faithful city”, but recently it has changed political allegiances several times.[. . .] [The local Labour candidate] Joy Squires sighs when I ask her if Worcester is naturally Tory. “I think the fact we had a Labour MP for 13 years shows that it’s a city that’s got a diversity of political opinion . . . No, I don’t think there’s an inbuilt Tory leaning.” In which case, it will be even more worrying to Labour if the party does not win here in a week’s time.
Plus: Stephen Bush heads for the marginal seat of Vale of Glamorgan in south Wales, Harry Lambert and Rebecca Choong-Wilkins explore the troubled legacy of Belfast East, and Anoosh Chakelian visits Thurrock, where Ukip is forecast to win.
The Scots are coming
As the SNP sweeps all before it in Scotland, Jamie Maxwell asks: is Westminster prepared for what will happen next? He writes that the shift to the SNP represents a wider change:
In Glasgow East, as in Scotland at large, ideology, identity and class have merged to shape a new political landscape. Left-leaning voters, voters who consider themselves strongly Scottish and voters from low-income or working-class backgrounds account for a large section of the SNP’s expanding post-referendum base. According to a recent survey by YouGov, 40 per cent of Scots who backed Labour at the 2010 general election now support the SNP.
Maxwell argues that their success at home may not translate well into power in Westminster, but notes that the SNP’s goal may be more long-term:
[T] he SNP could still find itself marginalised at Westminster after 7 May. Having categorically ruled out a deal with David Cameron and the Conservative Party, the Nationalists will have little leverage over a minority Labour government. Indeed, on the issue of Trident, SNP strategists privately concede that their negotiating position is weak. With Tory support, a minority Labour administration will comfortably win any vote on renewal. [. . .]
However, in all probability, the SNP is playing a more subtle, and less Anglocentric, game. Nicola Sturgeon can make life difficult for Labour in Scotland by working with Ed Miliband to implement progressive reform across the UK. By supporting left-wing Labour policies such as a mansion tax and a bank levy (both of which feature prominently in the SNP manifesto), she can occupy the social-democratic centre ground of Scottish politics as the 2016 devolved elections approach. Moreover, like [Alex] Salmond, Sturgeon comes from the gradualist wing of her party. She views competent government as crucial to building Scottish self-confidence and, ultimately, to achieving independence.
On 7 May, the SNP will have an opportunity to inflict lasting damage on Scottish Labour, the linchpin of unionism in Scotland. If it succeeds, Ed Miliband may still end up as prime minister – but of a badly fractured United Kingdom.
Rowan Williams: Triumph of the will
In a major essay on the subject of free will and morality, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams asks: can we ever be in charge of our own lives?
Freedom as the sheer abstract capacity to do whatever I want, unconstrained by anything internal or external, just might be a possibility in certain limited cases, but it is too eccentric to have anything to say that is morally or politically interesting.
We have (as Wittgenstein would say) become the prisoners of a picture, in which to be free is to be able to determine absolutely who or what I am. A mixture of second-hand existentialist rhetoric and misplaced religious anxiety has encouraged us in the view that to be responsible for our actions we must be unequivocally the cause of our actions. And we need only look at our culture’s aspirational language and fetishising of maximal choice to see how tightly we are gripped by the idea that we are, or can be, the sole authors of our lives.
Tracey Thorn: In music today, it’s all or nothing – rich at the top or languishing at the bottom
Tracey Thorn writes that she fears for the current generation of aspiring musicians, as creative industries increasingly favour those at the top at the expense of those at the bottom:
It’s commonplace to state that in the music business no one can earn a living any more because of piracy, Spotify and cheap digital downloads. However many cheerful pieces we read about the vinyl revival, it seems unlikely that it’s going to make anyone rich any time soon. These complaints must puzzle those who note the continuing presence of pop stars who seem to be doing very nicely, thank you – the Kanyes and the Coldplays, the Sheerans and the Adeles, who all seem to sell plenty and earn plenty. To anyone on a minimum-wage or zero-hours contract, it must grate to keep hearing pop celebs bemoaning their income stream.
The point is that while music is as lucrative as ever for those at the top, what’s diminished, as in so many jobs, is the comfortable middle, where once upon a time musicians who never quite hit the big time could nonetheless make their living: not super-rich, but doing fine and enjoying a certain stability. In essence, the middle class, with long careers, funded by record companies to make numerous albums even if none were million-sellers. What we are left with now is a kind of all or nothing, in which you either scale the dizzy heights or languish forlornly at the bottom.
So when people ask me, “Do you want your children to go into music?” I do have to wonder, just as my own parents wondered.
Erica Wagner on the flying, fighting and coding women of WWII.
Leo Robson looks back to when Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller were neighbours.
Rubeena Mahato on Nepal and what should happen after the earthquake.
Will Self: Pot Noodle, Nietzsche’s snack of choice and the food of both man and superman.
Peter Hain on austerity.
Party like it’s 1994: Kate Mossman on the return of Blur and the Prodigy.