Friday, June 18, 2010
Enoch Powell's reaction to Tony Blair's (and New Labour's) election in 1997 was "They have voted to break up the United Kingdom".
Now David Runciman writes a fascinating piece suggesting that, well, last month's election in Britain really might mean the end of the United Kingdom.
Runciman's piece is in the London Review of Books, which is usually numb with leftism (and obsessively anti-sem..., um, "anti-Zionist"). But this is a shrewd, witty, and all too plausible analysis: both of the voting patterns, and the potential implications.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that England has a solid Tory majority (overwhelmingly so outside the "ethnic" inner cities, i.e. apart from the massive immigration, much of it Muslim, that the Labour government engineered over the past decade and a half). In Scotland, on the other hand, the only live political parties are Labour and the (more or less separatist) Scottish Nationalists. The Tories are almost non-existent in Scotland: they scarcely even rank as a minor party. As Runciman says, "at present Labour [could] only govern England from Scotland, and the Tories can only govern Scotland from England". So:
[T]he United Kingdom [is now] more or less ungovernable. It is very hard to imagine how a Conservative administration in Westminster, even with the support of the Liberal Democrats, will be able to impose painful spending cuts on Scotland and expect to survive there as a political force. Alex Salmond, the SNP first minister, is already cranking up the moral outrage at the mere thought of it. The Liberal Democrats do give the new government the ballast of some Scottish MPs (11 in all), but in reality it was the Lib Dems who suffered most in Scotland at the election – it was the only major party that saw its share of the vote drop significantly. Even its traditional gripes about proportional representation don’t hold in Scotland – there they get exactly what they deserve (just under 19 per cent of the votes, just under 19 per cent of the seats). However you juggle the numbers, in Scottish terms this new Westminster government really is a coalition of losers. But in the end it was even harder to see how that other possible coalition of losers – a Labour/ Lib Dem alliance – could have forced through tax rises in England, where the Tories have a clear majority of seats and had a margin of victory over Labour in the popular vote of more than 11 per cent. Politics in the UK is now comprehensively out of sync. If the public finances were in better shape, this might not matter so much. But with horribly difficult choices to be made by whoever is in power, the pressures are bound to build.
The whole article is extremely shrewd about electoral behaviour (not only in Britain) as well as about what the British election might mean. There is a lot of unravelling going on around the world, isn't there, under the gentle ministrations of our wonderful post-1960s generation? Anyway, read Runciman's article.