Some of my friends reading this are fully commited You know who you’re voting for – and this post isn’t for you.
Others will have voted to leave the EU. Hopefully you know that the only way to stop the arguing and get Brexit done is to back Boris and vote Conservative tomorrow. This post isn’t for you, either.
But a goodly number of you are centrists or swing voters. You know who you are. You basically think the free market works and that we need business, but you also care that we treat the poorest decently and invest in public services. You voted Remain in 2016 and worried about the economic impact of No Deal. You may define as centre-right or centre-left, but either way you probably think that both Tony Blair and David Cameron are better than either of the two main choices today. Maybe you got caught up in Cleggmania or secretly wish we could turn the clock back and have some of that Chaos with Ed Miliband(TM). But basically you care about doing the best for the people of this country.
This is likely not a great election for centrists. None of the options on offer are really in your space. I understand that you’d still really prefer it if we could stay in the EU – and that you may have a number of concerns about Boris Johnson. But tomorrow you’re trying to decide how to vote in the way that will lead to the best outcomes.
A lot of people still seem to think that the UK can avoid both Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Tony Blair and John Major appear to be among them, with their recent calls for voters not to back their former parties. But this is vanishingly unlikely. On Friday or shortly after, either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister. There is really no credible third possibility. For those saying Jo Swinson has pledged not to back Corbyn, bear in mind that she personally – not her party, she personally – pledged not to raise tuition fees, before reneging on this promise for a post in the Coalition. It is also inconceivable that she would back Boris over Corbyn, if her MPs were in a position to make a difference.
So that’s the choice. Brexit under Boris Johnson’s Conservatives or a hard left Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. I get that for some of you both are far from your first choice.
But let’s look at the options. If you vote Conservative you get Brexit, which you don’t want. But we’ll be leaving on a deal and then signing a trade agreement next year. You might prefer a closer arrangement, but plenty of mid-sized, prosperous, democratic nations that get on very well with such situations: Australia, Canada, Malaysia and South Korea are some. We’ll still work with EU colleagues, travel and holiday in the EU and do lots of business with them. Life will go on.
Domestically, the Conservatives are offering the most centrist programme since the war. They’re pledging major investment in schools, the NHS and the police and a major rise in the minimum wage to £10.50. They’ve cancelled a planned cut in corporation tax. And for self-interested reasons alone, they’ll have to keep these promises if they hope to keep the seats they’re hoping to win across the Midlands and North. I’ve written before about good, positive reasons to vote Conservative
On leadership, don’t fall for the lie that Boris is the same as Trump. He’s not. He supports gay marriage. He wants strong action on climate change and has both given speeches and implemented major new spending programmes on this since August. He’s pledging to double the science budget. He’s spoken out against racism and defended Muslim women’s right to wear the burqa. He’s announced at least two areas where he’ll be liberalising immigration laws after we leave the EU, to ensure we can keep accessing the talent we need. There really is no equivalence beyond the hair.
Now let’s look at Corbyn and Labour’s programme. The leadership is a big problem. Corbyn is not a nice kindly old man. He and his top team have a record going back decades of openly supporting terrorist groups and their methods – John McDonnell has called for “the ballot, the bullet and the bomb to be used to unite Ireland” while Diane Abbott wrote that ‘Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us.’ The former, in particular, is a direct endorsement of the use of terror to murder civilians.
As for antisemitism, I know some people have suggested that criticisms of Labour for this are politically motivated. This argument cannot be used against the Jewish Labour Movement, a founding body of the Labour party. In their submission to the EHRC, which contains more than 70 depositions from current and former staffers, they write: “Since Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party, he has made the party a welcoming refuge for antisemites. He has done that in a number of ways, including by publicly supporting antisemites and antisemitic tropes. The Labour party is cast in his image. As such it is a party that: promotes known antisemites to positions of power; does not take action (and in fact subverts action) against those guilty of abhorrent antisemitism; victimises those that speak out against antisemitism; does not protect Jewish members against antisemitism; allows Jewish MPs to be hounded out of their political home; and derides the issue of antisemitism to the extent that its very existence within the party is denied.”
Now for policies. In the first place, there will be two more referenda, one on the EU and one on Scottish independence. Both will further divide our nation and entrench the existing hostility and poisonous discourse. We cannot predict which way either will go. If close, as seems very likely, they will likely decide little.
Labour’s economic policies though should be the biggest concern for any centrist. It’s not the tax rises. I frankly don’t care much whether I pay a bit more or a bit less tax. It’s the borrowing and the extreme nationalisation.
Labour’s manifesto contains several hundred billion pounds of uncosted commitments – and that’s on top of the additional borrowing they’re already admitted to. Yes, the Conservatives are planning to increase borrowing to invest too, but much more moderately: for every additional £1 the Conservatives are planning to spend, Labour are planning to spend £28. It’s different orders of magnitude. In 2010 we were borrowing almost 1 pound in every 4 the government spent, or £152bn, and that’s taken a decade of painful belt tightening to recover from. This would be worse.
Then for the attack on business. This isn’t the (relatively) sensible plan to nationalise the railways that he presented in 2017, taking them back into public ownership as their franchises expired. This is the forced nationalisation at ‘prices determined by parliament’ – ie below market value – of all the energy companies, broadband and who knows what else. There’s the forced expropriation, without compensation, of 10% of the shares in every listed company. The four day week for which everyone will – somehow, miraculously – take home the same salary, which seems impossible but if actually implemented would see wholesale redundancies in the private sector and huge cost increases in the public sector to cover the cost of new staff. And there’s just the general likely attitude of business not to invest in a country where the government has shown itself willing to appropriate at will without full compensation. Expect major disinvestment, capital flight (or capital controls) and a sharp increase in unemployment.
I think it unlikely that Corbyn will turn us into Venezuela. What’s more likely is Greece: the text-book example of what happens in a developed country that spends beyond its means. Within 2-3 years we’ll be headed for a hard crash, as interest rates spike, borrowing costs soar and the economy nosedives. Millions would lose their jobs – in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal the youth unemployment shot up to nearly 50% and stayed their stubbornly for years. And after that a bailout package with brutal neoliberal terms enforced by the IMF (and EU, if we’re still in), public services slashed to the bone, cost of living plummeting and years of grinding misery as we work our way out. As always, the most disadvantaged would feel it worse. But don’t just take my word for it – look at Greece.
This isn’t a normal election. Labour under Corbyn isn’t a normal left wing party. And yes, I know the Conservatives aren’t perfect, our leader has his flaws and that for many of you, Brexit is still a bitter pill to swallow. But actually, our manifesto is pretty good, from tackling climate change to investing in public services – policies to bring us together, not tear us apart.
Remember: voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport. You’re not waiting for “the one” who’s absolutely perfect: you’re getting the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel – you take the one going closest.
And please, however much you wanted to stay in the EU – I understand, I’m not going to saying doesn’t matter, because it does – but don’t throw our country under a bus because of it.