Warning Signs

Reproduced with kind permission from TUC – Warning Signs

The warning signs have been there for some time. Last month one poll showed that the general public has lost confidence in politics providing solutions to the failing economy. More recently opinion polling showed antipathy to all things Europe, amplified by anxieties about a contagion of struggling EU economies.

This anti-politic dynamic gains traction from the Coalition dogma that there is ‘no alternative’ to the course they are plotting; that austerity is the natural and only response to the fiscal and monetarist challenges exerted on the global economy. It’s easier, their theory goes, for the social and economic devastation inflicted by their undiluted assault on public spending and public services to remain unchallenged if we believe it is ‘out of their hands’ and they have no choice.

One side-effect of this deliberate denial of culpability, this refusal to accept ownership of or responsibility for the outcomes of their choices as a government, is a diminishing faith in politics and politicians being seen as part of the solution. The consequence of that is democratic fracture and an increasing tendency to withdraw support for mainstream political parties – either through not voting at all or, as was demonstrated last week, by voting for what is essentially a protest party that says ‘no’ to many things, but not much about anything else, a party that stands on a platform of incoherent, impractical and inherently flawed, ill-thought policies.

This anti-politics combined with anti-Europeanism created a perfect storm for UKIP and they maximised benefit to them, aided and abetted by an increasingly eurosceptic Tory Party and an inherently right-wing media. It would be wrong, though, to suggest that their message, however superficial, didn’t resonate in some quarters with a voting public deeply frustrated by the failings of the current government and yet to be sufficiently convinced that ‘One Nation’ Labour are offering a strong enough alternative.

Bill Clinton’s eponymous, “It’s the economy, stupid!”, rings as true today as ever. Herein lies both a paradox for the Tories and an opportunity for Labour. The Conservatives of the last thirty years have retained a deliberate ambition to maintain high levels of unemployment and to limit trade union influence in order to keep wages low and to pacify the demands of workers, thus, as they see it, maximising profit, although this is ultimately self-defeating. For Labour, it should be an open goal, focusing on fair taxation, fair pay, investment in jobs and growth, including their jobs guarantee, should be music to the ears of struggling families – but swimming against the media tide to convince voters remains a tough challenge.

Whether it is by design (the Tories) or through insufficient impact (Labour) unless there is a more promising story to tell on the economy very soon we risk a growth of protest party politics that could push the UK toward a democratic train wreck that would render solutions to the economic and social challenges we face ever more unlikely.

Kevin Rowan
Head of Organisation and Services
TUC

© Trades Union Congress 2013

TUC

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