It's election time in the UK, even though we only had an election two years ago, and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is meant to make sure that politicians can't manipulate things to their advantage (so you can't call an election in the middle of an economic boom, for example). I think that the decision, this week, to hold a general election shows exactly how much that particular Act is worth... about as much as a piece of soiled tissue paper.
I suppose it is an indication of the continuing crisis that engulfs our politics, highlighting the need not for an election but for someone to be brave enough to state the obvious. The political architecture of our country is no longer relevant, it just doesn't work. It's been outdated for decades and nobody has done anything about it apart from try to move more and more power to the Government and try to find more ways to bypass Parliament. The election results in 2010 were a warning sign of this, one that was ignored by Westminster and which they doubtless feel confident that they can continue to dismiss after the swing to the Conservatives in 2015. In part that was caused by the electorate's desire to punish the Liberal Democrats over their perceived betrayal, but the promise of a referendum over our EU membership and a fear of 'Red Ed' becoming Prime Minister (though I would contend that was more to do with his inability to eat a bacon sandwich than his policies). This year, we seem to be back to the level of disillusionment that blighted the 2010 election, both parties are led by weak leaders who have failed to capture the country's imagination and who are more concerned with the potential for revolt in their own parties than what is good for the country. Both are pandering to it, Corbyn by inclination, May out of necessity. As a result both are hampered and neither looks good. Corbyn seems to be a petty tyrant, sending letters of disapproval to MPs that defy him and buck the whip, while May simply looks scared that the Right of her own party will turn on her.
To be fair, the Conservatives have been a tail wagging a dog for a long time, hence the repeated lurches to the right and the internal war over Europe that they've been fighting for at least 30 years. Labour, in comparison has seemed united over the issue, but their current ideological zeal (which is pretty similar to the lurch to the left in the 1980s) has left them blinded. I suspect that they believe, as many people do, that leaving the EU will cut back on immigration, but more importantly they associate it with neoliberalism, ignoring the fact that British governments have enthusiastically supported. They believe that by leaving the EU the manufacturing jobs will come back, ignoring the power of the Corporate world (which we might call the Fifth Estate at this point) and that it is cheaper to make things in places like China, increasingly with robot workers. Their opponents, of course, welcome this move and are already talking about removing constraints on the way business operates, which seems wrongheaded to me. I find it bizarre that in both Britain and America we assume letting big business do whatever it likes is good when the evidence shows that strong regulation makes businesses innovate).
Europe will lie at the heart of this election, don't be fooled, May has set it at the very centre of her agenda, even though she has no need to and this is just another example of her tendency to throw a tantrum (see the New Statesman's analysis here). This is as much a second referendum as it is a chance to change the government. In some respects I suspect May is trying to wash her hands of Brexit without announcing it. In many respects she has more to lose by winning than she does by losing, in what feels like a perverse twist of logic. Brexit is a poisoned chalice, and it will likely destroy the career of any politician who carries it through. I would have more respect for Corbyn if he hadn't so enthusiastically fallen into line with the current hegemony that says we must march out of the EU, post haste. A line of demanding to know what the plan was, early on, would have actually made a difference, I think.
Of course, this is dangerous game to play, since the credit crunch (from which the country still hasn't recovered, and it looks like we probably won't for a long time if ever), there has been a slow, downwards spiral as austerity sucks the vitality out of the country in the name of maximising profit for the few. As a result, even if the economy looks like its doing well, that's only on paper, or rather, a screen, and hasn't affected most of the country. In places like Nottingham, Liverpool and even Birmingham, if you strip away the facade of prosperity in the city centres, you'll find a lot of poverty and worse, people who feel useless. As a species we can handle poverty, but we need purpose and its going to take a hell of a lot more than leaving the EU to give people that. This election runs the risk of seeing a massive lurch to the right, simply because thins aren't moving fast enough for the hardcore Leavers, I can only hope that a more united opposition to Brexit can muster enough people to the ballot box to oppose this tendency. The evidence so far is that lots of Millenials are registering to vote which can only be a good thing.
It isn't enough though, we have to start facing up to the fact that the old game is over and there's no going back. Nostalgia is a trap, one we see in every walk of life as culture, economics and politics relies overused ideas to promote a way of life that is obsolete. In the UK our political architecture (by which I mean how the state is run) desperately needs an overhaul and we need to look at how we live, the expectations that living longer places on us and the technology that we have access to, to shape the world in a more realistic fashion. With the rise of automation those manufacturing jobs won't just not come back, more jobs will be lost because machines will do them better. We're at the stage where the old joke about the factory that only employs a man and a dog (the man to feed the dog, the dog to stop the man touching anything) looks incredibly true. How do we square that with the human need to have a purpose, to feel that our lives have a point? Our current politicians don't really have an answer, though Corbyn's pledge to build a green economy is more promising than May's more of the same and downplaying of environmental concerns.
In short, this election is a bad idea and a sign of how damaged our politics is. The cathedral must be ruined and started again. There must be actual, cogent, reform of the institutions we rely upon for laws and economic policy.
But there won't be, because that's not sexy and it doesn't involve people.