Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Conservatives, Labour and the SNP: the Tories' cynical strategy of divide and rule

The Conservatives' election strategy has been marked by negative tactics and low politics. This reached a low point with the personal attacks on Ed Miliband the other week, but has not stopped. In spite of the fact that there is little evidence that this is actually having an effect on the polls (and some suggesting it may have had the opposite effect), the attacks on Miliband have continued by major Tory figures.
Cameron seems intent on flogging this particular dead horse. One particularly-telling moment was a Cameron interview with Sky News the day after Fallon's remarks, where Cameron admitted that he didn't know Miliband personally (or really, at all), but still felt justified in making these highly-personal attacks. This is just absurd: the Prime Minister trying to defend making unsavoury personal attacks on a person he barely even knows. The fact that Cameron has to resort to them to make a point, while Miliband simply has to talk about the effect government policies are having, tells you a lot about the character of the two men vying to be Prime Minister after the election.

The wider truth about the Tories is that they would do and say almost anything to have power. Their manifesto was full of ridiculous promises; where the money came from, nobody knew. While all parties are guilty of exaggerating the danger of other parties, the Conservatives' threats at times have bordered on the nonsensical: that they would create "millions" of jobs, and that Labour would destroy "millions" of jobs. Since when do Conservative governments "create" jobs? Only the private companies can do that. The talk of Labour "chaos", which ignores the fact that - prior to the global financial crisis - Labour presided over the longest period of growth in living memory. Yes, there was a crash, but it was a worldwide crash, that cannot simply be blamed on Labour. In any case, the Conservatives' economic policy at the time was even more gung-ho than the then Labour government's. But these facts must be conveniently forgotten to project the fallacy of Conservative competence.

Divide and rule

The Conservative Party is the historic party of the old aristocracy, and the party still rules the UK with the same attitude the Empire had towards it's colonies. These days, with the empire long gone, it feels like the "empire" is just London ruling the other parts of the country like outlying colonies. For those in the Westminster bubble, the rest of the country certainly feels as remote. The country is ran as though it is just an economic extension of the London economy: this explains why London acts as a vampire on the "real" UK beyond the M25. The economic model the UK has had for the past thirty years has been made in London, for the benefit of London. Any beneficial effects on those areas outside of London have been incidental. It's essentially the same economic model as some parts of the Third World.
The only way the electorate can be distracted from this reality is by the Tories creating poisonous false narratives like "strivers" versus "shirkers". The "politics of envy" that the Tories hurl at Labour more accurately reflects how they use the politics of fear to protect their own interests and positions. When you have a lot to lose - like the media barons that support the Tories  - anything that could possibly prevent your own expansion is perceived as a mortal threat.

The Tories have been gradually losing support in Scotland over the last thirty years. The loss of the 1997 election saw the last generation of Tory Scots swept from Westminster, leaving only a vestige of support. The irony was that, after opposing devolution, the Scottish Conservatives found that they could have a larger voice in Holyrood's new, proportional system. The same was true of the SNP. When the nationalists became a minority government in Holyrood, the SNP had to rely on Tory support from time to time to get some bills through parliament. Then, with the collapse of Labour support becoming even more dramatic after the SNP won power outright in the following Holyrood elections. a historic change looked to be taking place. The aftermath of the independence referendum last year confirmed the historic nature of the collapse of Labour support to the benefit of the SNP. The Tories looked on in delight.

As said earlier, the Tories have a track record of doing and saying anything in order to have power. Regarding the national integrity of the UK, this will even extend to happily losing one part of the country if it means having a better control of the rest. For this is the calculation that Cameron and other figures in the government have clearly made. This is, quite literally, "divide and rule".

And yet, the Tories' strategy is at a complete counter to one of main tenets of their existence: the preservation of the UK. While it may be argued by some that it was the Labour party that "gave up" on the empire, it is the Tories who seem happy to give up on the idea of the UK - so long as they think they can rule what is left of it.

While in the election campaign they talk about the dangers of the "chaos" of the SNP somehow having control over Labour and the UK as a whole, at the same time people like George Osborne are talking up the talents of the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon. It is almost as if some Tories want the SNP to do well, regardless of the implications this may have on the wider future of the UK. And yet, while offering more powers to Scotland after the referendum, now they are talking about how Scottish voters' choice will have no effect in Westminster - words that seem almost designed to make the Scots even more angry and disconnected from the decisions in Westminster. This would no doubt suit the long-term aims of the SNP.
One theory doing the rounds is that the Conservatives are somehow hoping to destroy the Labour party in Scotland through the proxy of the SNP. With the simultaneous collapse of the LibDems north of the border, this then gives them a free run as the main "unionist" opposition to the SNP. A plot as nefarious as this couldn't be put past the Tories, regardless of how fanciful the aim. The enemy of my enemy is my friend (until he's the enemy again).

A Game Of Chess

In this light, the Scottish Conservatives may be trying to play a very long game. Meanwhile, the English Conservatives are trying to make Labour - the only party with serious levels of support in each part the union - as the party prepared to "do a deal" with a party (the SNP) that would split the union asunder. As we have already seen, this claim is as nonsensical as it is shamelessly hypocritical and disingenuous.
It would suit both the SNP and the Tories for Labour to be dislodged as "Stewards Of The North". To use a "Game Of Thrones" analogy (apologies to those not in the know) the Tories are playing the Lannisters, who secretly did a deal with the Boltons (the SNP) to take over from the Starks (Labour).

But this is not a game. While Cameron and Osborne play petty politics with Scotland for their own reasons, at the same time they are also playing games with the "insurgents" in British politics, UKIP. The Tories criticise Labour for refusing to rule out a deal with the SNP, but already in the previous parliament, Ukip's agenda forced Cameron into promising an EU referendum in the next parliament. And that was even at a time before UKIP had any MPs. While UKIP are unlikely to get more than a handful of MPs, they have plenty of "soft power" over the Conservatives in terms of the many Euro-sceptic MPs amongst the Tories themselves.
So, assuming that Cameron did get back into power, he would be beholden to the "insurgents" of UKIP on one hand, and powerless to prevent an angry and politically-disconnected Scotland breaking away, on the other. A Cameron second term could conceivably conclude with Scotland breaking up the union and the UK leaving the EU. While these might seem far-fetched scenarios, they would be even less likely if Ed Miliband were Prime Minister. 

To the likes of Cameron, politics is a game of chess, but one he thinks he is much better at than he actually is. His record as Prime Minister and statesman is actually pretty appalling. It sometimes feels like he's doing it for the lack of anything better to do.

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