“Never use words that are too big for your subject,” wrote C.S. Lewis.
For example, he said, if we use the word “infinitely” when we mean “very”, what word will we then use to portray something truly infinite?
Yesterday’s general election outcome in the UK may not be as game-changing as some pundits would have us believe. More often than not, words like “catastrophic” (applied today to the Conservatives) and “game-changing” (used of Labour) prove to be hyperbolic when seen through the longer lens of political and social history. For all that, though, there are some important shifts which will emerge as a direct consequence of the result.
Voter Fatigue will Become an Election Issue
Before this election, I predicted that voter fatigue would be a factor in the outcome. The voting public has been called upon to cast too many votes in recent times.
Historically, snap polls have rarely worked out well for the parties that have called them, partly because of voter cynicism. From the voters’ perspective, the thinking goes like this: if you are already in power, what more do you need to get on with the job? Is there something you’d like to be doing in the near future for which you think you’ll need a larger majority, because it won’t be popular?
Cynicism is always heightened when voters are tired of politics and politicians. At this point in time, many Brits will be feeling that there’s just too much politics in the UK. (The only cohort seemingly unaffected by fatigue is the young adult demographic - see below.)
The Prime Minister will Resign
The Prime Minister will, at some point fairly soon, need to resign, paving the way for yet another potentially destabilising Tory contest. Her political judgement has been found seriously wanting. An election that was meant to cement her position as the “strong and stable” leader the country needs, accomplished the opposite. It revealed an arrogance bred of listening too much to a close coterie of non-cabinet advisers.
An internal party election is perhaps the last thing the country needs. We are within weeks of commencing Brexit negotiations. It’s bad enough that the Conservatives now need to invest time in finding a coalition partner - most likely the DUP. To add a leadership campaign involves further expenditure of time and resources which the country could well do without, especially as negotiators on the EU side are arguably better prepared than are ours - the election saw to that.
“New” Politics will Age Rapidly
There is much talk from Labour about a “new breed of politics”. The fact is that in a stable democracy, politics doesn’t really change all that much. The personnel move about and citizens vote according to shifting priorities at different times. But the way people “play the game” doesn’t alter to any large degree.
In remarks following his victory within his local constituency, Jeremy Corbyn immediately began calling for Theresa May’s resignation, suggesting that her party no longer best represents the country. This despite the fact that even early in the count, the Conservatives looked comfortably set to retain the largest number of seats in the Parliament.
Corbyn is not a game-changer - he’s more of the same, a middle-class career politician who is (belatedly) learning to play top-line politics.
Brexit will Change
This general election was not a second Brexit referendum, though the result certainly does throw up important questions about Mrs. May’s particular vision of Brexit. Out will go any notions of a particularly hard Brexit. There will be far greater pressure on the incoming government to push for inclusion in the single market and even freedom of movement, both of which were touchstone issues for Europhobe Tory members.
Millennials will be Taken Seriously
In the story of every generation, there comes a moment when its interests are first taken seriously by the ruling classes. For the baby boomer generation, at least in the US and Australia (my homeland), that moment arrived with the advent of the Vietnam war.
For the Millennial generation, the tipping point came post-Brexit. Many young adults, particularly in urban centres like London, felt disenfranchised by a vote they felt had been hijacked by self-interested older people. Meanwhile, politically engaged Millennials, realising that many of their peers had failed to vote in the Brexit poll, committed to getting their peers more involved in future elections.
In yesterday’s poll, it seems that younger voters welcomed with both arms the opportunity to cast a vote on issues which they saw as central to their collective future. Those issues extended well beyond Brexit. They featured questions relating education, taxation, social justice and more.
An often forgotten component when it comes to how Millennials view the political landscape is their expectation gap. Raised in mostly prosperous and peaceful times, where education has been of a relatively high standard, Millennials have grown up expecting to inherit a very different world to the one they encounter upon leaving school.
They emerge from formal education expecting to be in demand when it comes to employment. They expect to have a standard of living at least equal to that of their parents. They expect to be able to write a unique generational story, bringing to bear their distinctive skills in collaboration and innovation and their technological savvy.
These expectations are not always the result of self-obsession; young people expect these things because their parents and teachers have encouraged them to.
In reality, young adult Millennials discover that housing costs are beyond their reach. They realise that steadily falling ratios of workers to pensioners - set to halve across Europe in the next 20 years - will eventually mean higher tax rates for them.
What’s more, they leave tertiary education with a bill previous modern generations were not expected to pay. And universities continue to charge them the maximum allowable fees, without necessarily providing value for money.
As a result, Millennials are perhaps more inclined than their elders to vote for substantial change to the status quo.
This is not necessarily a product of naivete, but it certainly fails at times to take into account the history of political and social change. In today’s context, for example, politics would be well served if more young adults studied what champagne socialists like Mr Corbyn are inclined to do when they get close to positions of real power. Not least in terms of higher taxes and international borrowing to support exorbitant public spending.
Social Media will Come to the Fore
It seems mildly surprising to me that this should even need to be said, especially given its proven electoral power in the US, going back as far as Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
For most established British politicians it seems that social media has been seen as merely an adjunct to old-school news sources such as newspapers and TV and radio programming. Not any more.
It seems that Mr Corbyn’s team may have made a better job than their opponents of facilitating social media messaging to and among younger adherents. Social media is a great place for viral thinking. It produces the impression that organisations are open to outside ideas and running as flat structures. Once that notion is embedded in the minds of voters the sense of ownership can foster an almost evangelical fervour. No message spreads faster than a message that carries personal conviction.
The Conservatives have some good people working within social media, but they were perhaps not given the resources they needed to engage and enlist a new army of followers.
In the digital revolution, firing up the party base is just not enough. Making converts - and political missionaries - is now the name of the game.