We were kind-of warned at the time that the financial crash of 2008 would have far-reaching consequences, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that we’ve just lived through a tumultuous period played out in its corrosive shadow. The post-2008 decade has easily been the most politically traumatic ten years (and-a-bit) this country has experienced since the 1970s. Four General Elections, two referendums, a Coalition Government, minority administrations, Austerity, Brexit, the expenses’ scandal, Hackgate – all of which have, in one shape or another, served to erode the confidence of the electorate in not only our elected representatives, but the entire system itself. Even the youth recruited to the political process after being galvanised by the cult of Corbyn must have staggered into Friday morning feeling just a tad disillusioned. And at the end of it all, who could have imagined the responsibility of stability would be entrusted to Boris Johnson?
A man who began the decade as London Mayor was still best known as a clownish toff hosting ‘Have I Got News For You’, yet he sees it out as a Prime Minister who has just delivered the Conservative Party its most comprehensive victory since 1987. Yet, the fact he has the numbers means the nightmarish shambles of the last two and-a-half years can mercifully draw to a close; that’s not to say we stand on the cusp of some imaginary ‘Golden Age’ – indeed, few would dare predict such a thing when the future is in the hands of a character as erratic as Boris; but having those crucial numbers means Johnson is the first PM since Tony Blair who knows he can effectively push through whatever he wants without having to scurry around currying the support of minor parties. And after experiencing five months of the problems his two immediate predecessors faced, Boris must be relishing the luxury of a majority.
However, the PM will be conscious that receiving the support of disgruntled ex-Labour voters isn’t something he can rely upon indefinitely; he has to deliver to retain it, and hope Labour’s soul-searching spans years rather than months. We all recall the Tories going through a similar scenario in 2001 and 2005, and their eventual solution was to find their own Blair; now Boris will have to be a little more ‘liberal’ and curb some of those typically toxic Tory instincts where the less fortunate are concerned in order to hold onto the Northern seats. The aforementioned stability is the fact that the whole ‘People’s Vote’ campaign is now finally dead in the water as a result of this General Election. Getting Brexit Done is the first pressing issue in Boris Johnson’s in-tray, and though the complex intricacies of the actual process when stripped of its simplistic slogan are something that will probably stretch way beyond his tenure at No.10, the majority his party can now boast will remove the obstacles that a minority administration couldn’t overcome.
There are, of course, other pressing problems closer to home than Europe – namely, Scotland and Northern Ireland – though both are bound-up with the Brexit issue. Thursday proved to be a historic General Election in Ulster, as more Nationalist than Unionist MPs were elected for the first time ever; and, lest we forget, Northern Ireland voted Remain in 2016 along with the Scots. Nicola Sturgeon may have expressed her most visible joy when Jo Swinson lost her seat to the SNP, but the wee one must have been praying for a Tory victory, giving her precisely the springboard to press for yet another ‘once-in-a-generation’ Independence Referendum she desired. But while the SNP may have returned to the dominant position it enjoyed before the blip of 2017, the impression given south of the border that every Scot shares Sturgeon’s fanatical obsession is a bit like saying Nigel Farage speaks for every Englishman. And it is a curiously masochistic situation that a Nationalist party whose entire raison d’être is self-determination should crave continuing subjugation under a union that denies it far more independence than the one it seeks to break free from.
Despite everything else, the fallout from the Labour collapse has served to claim most of the weekend headlines. Jezza himself has apologised for the party’s performance, though is characteristically incapable of acknowledging he and his middle-class Marxist cabal completely misjudged the mood of traditional supporters they regard with thinly-veiled contempt. In many respects, however, his legend as a martyr presiding over two heroic failures will now be secure where the faithful are concerned, having ‘won the argument’. John McDonnell has been largely left to carry the can alone in public – albeit blaming it all on Brexit whilst refraining from wondering aloud why all those voters Corbynistas have spent the past three years labelling thick racist bigots didn’t vote Labour.
Former Labour Minister Caroline Flint, who lost the Don Valley seat she’d held for 22 years, was refreshingly blunt in her appraisal. One of the few prominent Labour voices to oppose the party’s Second Referendum stance, Flint didn’t mince her words on the failure of leadership, let alone certain members of the Labour frontbench, namely Thornberry and Starmer. Her belief that replacing Corbyn with any of the Champagne Socialists who formulated the party’s disastrous Europe policy would extend Labour’s wilderness years long past the next Election is something many observers would find difficult to dispute. Yes, the expected blame game is well underway for Labour, though it would be unwise to take a leaf out of the US Democrats’ book by diverting all energies into a ‘Not my Prime Minister’ protest for the next four years, rather than finding the right woman to take Boris on.
It goes without saying that the Momentum bloc are not going to simply relinquish their grip on the party overnight just because their man led Labour to its worst electoral result since before the Second World War; and the rules governing Labour leadership elections are now weighed heavily in favour of Corbyn candidates. Electing a ‘Corbyn without a beard’ candidate (as Caroline Flint put it) would not improve the party’s chances of being returned to office; but there has always been a large section of the Labour Party that prefers being in opposition, anyway – almost as though being in government was ‘selling out’ – and Jezza, along with those that now control the party, is typical of this mindset.
With his humourless, funereal drabness and pious, lacklustre demeanour, he never really looked like a man who wanted to be Prime Minister. By contrast, Boris has never hidden his ravenous ambition; like Liverpool FC kicking-off the season with eyes firmly fixed on the prize, he was determined to be crowned champion and went for it. It’s too easy to evoke Cavaliers and Roundheads, but it fits. Perhaps, after such a miserable decade, the public didn’t want their misery mirrored in their potential Prime Minister; perhaps they wanted someone to come along and gee them up with larger-than-life bluster. As a result, the public have therefore given Boris one hell of a mandate; and now is the time for the man to finally show what he’s (politically) made of. If he blows it, he’ll have confirmed everything his critics have always said about him, and the country will proceed along the downward trajectory it’s been on since 2008. We can certainly do without that, but the jury could be out for quite some time.
© The Editor