Why I Spoilt the Ballot in the 2017 General Election

Throughout this election, I have never wavered on my belief that the entire option provided by the Conservatives is unsatisfactory. Even before the election campaign I knew how weak and timid Theresa May was as a leader, since her dreadful campaigning skills have come to light those perceptions of her have only been reinforced. While being PM, Theresa May’s strength has not come from her own leadership skill but the willingness of the opposition to sabotage itself. She has exemplified poor judgment throughout her time as both Prime Minister and Home Secretary, she also has a worrying authoritarian impulse who always sees the need to increase the powers of a state when a state of emergency arises. It is deeply concerning that she has agenda that wishes to pit human rights legislation against the security interests of the UK. In a time when authoritarians and national populists are on the rise, we must be wary of the dangers posed by the state to its fellow citizens.

The Conservatives policies regards Brexit are politically and economically illiterate. It is nonsensical to assert that not agreeing a Brexit deal would be better than accepting a bad one, not coming to an agreement would create a profound hostility between the UK and the EU which would only damage the UK more in the long run when it comes to negotiating a trade deal. If Theresa May wanted to demonstrate strong leadership she would insist that the negotiations wouldn’t fail, and make it clear she would accept no nonsense from EU leaders if they decided to play political games to suit their own personal vested interests. Indicating that she will walk out from the negotiations is in fact a sign of a weak leader who wishes to portray themselves as being stronger than they are, a strong leader would not doubt their confidence to achieve a deal that will benefit the UK and the EU in the long run. Leaving the Single Market would damage the long-term economic prospects of the nation, unless a significant plan was in place to drastically restructure the UK economy was put in place. No such plan exists within the Conservative manifesto, quite simply the Conservatives wish to drastically change our geopolitical relations which has played a significant part in the development of the UK economy for the last four decades while being in denial about how to navigate such a profound change in our trading relationships. The issue of the economy has barely featured in the election campaign yet it remains the most important electoral matter that will influence he livelihoods of every British citizen.

Just like the economic policies of the Conservatives, their campaign has been disastrous. The whole point of this General Election was to strengthen Theresa May’s political capital before the difficult set of negotiations with the EU begun. She wanted to translate the authority that the public felt she had into an authority that MPs in the House of Commons could respect. The campaign has been so bad that she has diminished in stature and even her supporters will have less respect for the calibre of her leadership. This is troublesome for Theresa May because it means she will have less leverage over her own MPs when the compromises that will dissatisfy many of them arise. Now her MPs will know that it wouldn’t take much to undermine her authority if she decided to go down an unintended path to achieve success, she has shown herself to not be particularly good at defending a mediocre record at best. The ideologues in the Conservative Party know exactly where to hit her if they felt they needed to gain leverage over, or even dispose of, her. Before the election, her authority resided not within herself but with the desire to give what the Hard Brexiteers what they want, after the election nothing will have changed.

Like Ed Miliband Theresa May’s crowning achievement has been to ensure her respective party has remained united, despite her own MPs being divided between economic nationalists and free traders within the party. As the negotiations become more complex and the realities of Brexit set in, she will find it more difficult keeping this coalition of the right ongoing. Eventually she will have to choose as to which faction should have their interests and desires given priority over. The tendency so far has been to accommodate the economic nationalists, over time Theresa May has turned from a remainer to a supporter of the exact opposite position. She has managed to get her white paper passed into law without any major amendments, otherwise she has been blighted by U-turns om both the campaign trail and the spring budget. Her record as PM doesn’t inspire confidence that she’s suited to deal with the great challenges ahead, her approach to Brexit and her willingness to flirt with economic nationalists both in her party and to a certain US President mean I will not be voting for Conservatives under any circumstance.

Labour are also thwart with the very same issues of incompetence as the Conservatives, even they both share a lack of political talent the underlying reasons behind Labour’s incompetence is different to the Conservatives. Currently the Labour Party is in a Cold Civil War and its leaders lack any skill in the art of realpolitik. The civil war has undermined Jeremy Corbyn’s authority over the party even though he has won two leadership campaigns convincingly. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to cling to enough authority to ensure he has not been ousted by his rivals though, leaving the party in a state of attrition. The war between the two factions had been heating up in the run up to the election, but cooled down when electoral oblivion was a possibility to be reckoned with. In turn the election has shown what Labour is capable of if it were united, but it also has given a false impression of the state of the party to the electorate.

Throughout the last two years Labour has been in a permanent state of crisis in which many suggested the party could suffer its worse electoral defeat since 1935, which for the historical curious was in fact a successful election for Labour after the travesty of the 1931 election. Labour has lacked leadership by both Jeremy Corbyn and big-hitters in the party who are opposed to Corbyn. The mess the party found itself in was the fault of all within the party, if Labour gets crushed because of its divisions it would well deserved. There are no innocents in this civil war that has blighted the party.

Inevitably we must ask whether Labour is in fact prepared or able to run the country? Just like with the Conservatives the answer is a categorical no. Its leader lacks the competence, knowhow and desire to navigate through the corridors of Whitehall to ensure that his ideas and values become reality. Those in the party that do know how to navigate Whitehall will work with civil servants to water down his proposals until they lack any radicalism at all. This will create conflicts within government that would cripple its ability to function at a time when we need a functioning government more than ever, the Civil Service is working beyond its capacity as it is. We do not need someone in charge of that machine who doesn’t have a clue what they are doing. There is little hope from the moderates either. When the going gets tough great leaders emerge, the big-hitters though have shied away from the public light when they needed it most. The moderates have also demonstrated a remarkable ability to misread the mood of the public and fail to deliver radical progressive policies to captivate them. Credit must go to Jeremy Corbyn for at least managing to get a manifesto published that has captivated sections of the public. There’s more to leadership though than writing manifesto that lifts the party fortunes.

The state of the Labour party is one the main reasons I’ve struggled stomached voting for Labour despite liking certain aspects of their manifesto. The values and principles within the manifesto are generally fine but it is also representative of the left failing to address the problems that arose because of the post-war consensus. Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism is a counter-revolution to the one initiated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, he wants to establish the post-war consensus once again. Opposing the values of Thatcher is unproblematic, but not addressing why her revolution was even possible in the first place is.

Why did the socialism of the post-war consensus fail? It failed because it was unsustainable, in fact one of the reasons that economic liberals came into ascendancy is because they partially got to the heart of why the post-war consensus was unsustainable. Having such a large state managing the markets gave little room for manoeuvre when the economy hit trouble. One of the great advantages of markets is that they are adaptable when innovation, cooperation and competition can thrive. The trouble with innovation is that it involves a process called creative destruction, this poses trouble when the state has a large managing influence because innovating involves the state destroying parts of itself to create new parts. When voters who are reliant on the state for their livelihoods come under threat from this process, the state cannot allow innovation to occur without causing a lot of unrest which itself would contradict socialist principles. Instead the state ends up preserving the interests of those in dying industries even though innovation needs to occur, hence the system becomes unsustainable.

Collective bargaining was also a major systemic problem for socialism. The reason is twofold. First, going back to the above trade unions made it even harder for the state to allow creative destruction to occur. The social democracy of the post-war consensus relied on strong trade unions to ensure workers’ rights were upheld as well as ensuring workers got satisfactory pay rises for their endeavour. Yet the needs of social democracy to be adaptable requires that the state be stringent on trade unions to ensure they never become too powerful, which the Labour party failed to do in the late 1960s. Second, collective bargaining acknowledged that a discrepancy exists between the interests of capitalists and workers. The key to socialism is to align the interests of workers and capitalists so the distinction between them becomes blurred. Collective bargaining does not do that, leaving the system vulnerable to be taken over by capitalists.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attitudes suggest he hasn’t learnt from these problems. The Labour manifesto wants to substantially increase the influence of trade unions. The UK has some of the most repressive trade union laws in the world as a result I’m not opposed to reducing regulations on trade unions. My worry is that Labour will seek to bring back collective bargaining which there are strong hints of in the manifesto. Likewise, Labour’s industrial strategy contains hints that planning, or economic management, could be established, the hints may be innocent though. If you want to restructure the economy you’re going to have to some idea of what the new economy would broadly look like, which involves making plans of how to achieve. This form of strategic planning is different to economic management. There’s a difference between planning an election, which all parties must do to maximise their chance of victory, and managing one, which would in fact be an example of an illiberal democracy.

Socialists must understand that economic management is not an essential ingredient of the socialist cause. In fact, socialists should oppose economic management for similar reasons that Hayek, Friedman and Thatcher did: that it reduces freedom. When the government manages the economy, people have less control over their own affairs. Where the socialist differs from the right is that granting to much freedom to capitalist structures within a market economy reduces the freedom of workers to control their own affairs, because a worker’s labour becomes increasingly managed by the capitalists. Socialists must also realise that state ownership of natural monopolies is not the same as mutual ownership in which the electorate directly decide on how to run the rail, water, electric etc. companies. The trouble with Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism is that it is statist, he wants to structurally increase the size of the state.

To conclude, I am not convinced that Labour is able to turn the stimulus plan to encourage investment in the economy into a reality. Even though a stimulus would see an increase in the size of the state, it would not be a structural increase because eventually the stimulus spending would be reversed. I also think that the type of socialism that Corbyn may wish to promote if he got hold of the clutches of power is outdated and unsustainable. He also suffers the fault of Theresa May that he isn’t fit to govern. As a result, I spoilt the ballot, despite being sympathetic to certain aspects of the Labour manifesto.

Gareth Mawer
I consider myself a left libertarian committed to promoting the philosophy of liberty, even though I do not always support proposals that are normally considered libertarian. Georgism and mutualism have had profound influences over my beliefs, though I'm not afraid to digress from them were necessary. My mains interests are politics, economics and philosophy.