If we want to improve the status of politics, we will have to do better than what happened in 2019. We have seen where exaggeration and fake propositions can lead.
Looking back over the political hiatus of recent years, we can now ponder the election choices of 2024.
Conservatives and small government
2023 was supposed to be a year when everything calmed down, and a boring but efficient technocrat restored the fortunes of the nation and his party. Unfortunately, that was only partially true. Sunak is a technocrat and an advocate of spreadsheets and achievable targets, but his party is not responding rationally. While he might believe in small government, he probably knows that reducing government is a process, not a command. Others in his party want the revolution to happen now. The short and disastrous period of Liz Truss’s administration clearly showed that revolutionary fervour is not enough and that, while financial institutions might agree with the concept, they may not accept that it should happen now. There are also still a sizable number in the Conservative Party, who are not signed up to an economic revolution of that sort.
Inflation and public spending
Sunak’s five pledges on inflation, debt, stop the boats, growth and the NHS, have proved stubbornly resistant to his activities. Even halving inflation is more to do with falling world energy and commodity prices, than government action.
The clamour from the public is for more public spending, not less, and therefore it is difficult to deliver tax cuts and greater public expenditure at the same time.
Voters’ wishlists hit reality
It is a general election year and separating fact from wishlists will be difficult. How are we to make sense of the various political arguments?
Firstly, we should be clear as to what we want from a new national government. The housing crisis, for example, cannot be solved if we (a) complain every time a housing estate is proposed in our neighbourhood, and (b) we buy up all the quaint fishermans’ cottages at inflated prices as second homes, so that the locals cannot live in their own town or village.
We cannot demand tax cuts, and then complain about potholes, the state of the NHS, or adult social care. High standards of social services require high levels of tax receipts. I know there are people out there who think the state is profligate. The tax deniers believe in simple radical actions, and that the private sector can deliver greater value than a state-run entity. But is that true?
For example, after years of underinvestment, leveraging and profit-taking, can England’s water system be fixed by removing the profit motive? It does seem that networks like utilities and public transport need sustained investment that the private sector is ill-suited to deliver. The private sector business model is short-term paybacks and increased shareholder value, which impedes a long-term strategy.
The fact that the water companies are proposing an increase in water bills to put right the failings of the past, shows how divergent the current system is from public expectations.
At a local level, Kent is suffering a sustained problem as pothole numbers almost double. This problem is twofold: insufficient government funding and the use of outsourced road contractors who build in a level of profit, which adds to the overall cost. Perhaps moving over to an in-house road maintenance organisation and also building a local maintenance scheme with suitable second and third-tier councils might be more sustainable and cheaper in the long run. After all this was the way things were done before 1979.
What might have altered things, even in the electoral permafrost of Kent, is the destruction of conservative local government: underfunding, huge debts and growing public anger over housing, and the reduction in services of all kinds. In the east of Kent, Labour should pick up one possibly two or more seats. In the West, the Liberal Democrats may prosper. Several Surrey constituencies are Lib Dem target seats. Reform, the former Brexit party, is unlikely to pick up many seats but, if Nigel Farage returns to the fray, anything might be possible, and even now its mere presence could syphon vital votes from the Conservatives.
The Green Party is building up a following in some areas, and it is possible that it could pick up a seat in Kent, and possibly Brighton and Suffolk.
The election could be fought on the following narratives:
- Tax cuts or services: which is more important to the public?
- After 14 years is this government past its sell-by date, or does it have a purpose?
- Given the Broken Britain proposition, can the opposition generate hope from perceived hopelessness within society?
- Will policies on Global warming be a determinant in the election?
These are issues likely to be debated during the election. It will be fought with an undercurrent of skulduggery and social media fakery, no doubt using AI. It is therefore important that dodgy ‘facts’, and allegations are challenged and fact-checked by responsible journalists.