Where from here? Reflections after the local elections

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The local elections are done and dusted.

The Tory press would like us to concentrate on the Labour leader going to a meeting with an agenda which they claim was a party.

The Tories themselves would like us to think that the election results do not matter because it is their job to ‘get on with the business of government’ as if this thing called democracy no longer applies to them, which may be what they think.

And then there is the reality to address. These realities differ depending on where you are.

In England the ABC progressive alliance made big gains against the Tories. Voters showed themselves able to choose candidates to rid themselves of Tories. Given that Labour were defending far more seats than anyone else, pragmatically this meant many more gains for the Lib Dems and Greens than them.

The lessons learned are threefold. First, Labour cannot win by itself. Second, the LibDems are returning as a significant political force. Third, the case for proportional representation is unassailable. Only those opposed to democracy think otherwise, and I am looking at the Labour leadership when saying that.

In Scotland proportional representation worked. It also confirmed how powerful the nationalists cause is. And it confirmed the Tories are on the wane: unless there is any serious change to lift Tory fortunes (and I see none coming, expecting the exact opposite to be the case as the recession takes hold) I suspect they are now in decline in Scotland and likely to remain that way. Corruption has killed whatever support they had. Meanwhile, Alba did not make an impression. The Greens did, but the independence cause is dominated by the SNP, for better or worse (and its leadership’s economics are very poor) for some time to come. The issue remains top of the agenda. Scotland is not playing to any English agenda.

In Wales Labour is revived, but Plaid were already in a strong position in the west of the country and nothing has changed: they hold the entire west coast barring Pembrokeshire, which has always been out of kilter. However looked at though, the left is firmly in the ascendant. The only question to come is whether it is the left that wants to align with London, or not. The further from London the population is the less that is the case. But what is undoubtedly true is that Wales is massively out of step with England.

And then there is the historic result in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein won. For those old enough to remember, the ballot box has beaten the Armalite. The result is that Sinn Fein is now the largest party in Ireland, north and south. The inevitability that realignment must follow cannot be avoided, I suggest. It is when, not if, now. Many in Northern Ireland are no longer want to be ruled by an English agenda. Ireland as a whole has to come to terms with what that means. I do not for a moment underestimate the difficulty of that, but it has to happen.

Draw those threads together and what have we? The answer is a neo-fascist and corrupt government in London led by a man indifferent to the law and much else who may have no regard for the due process of removing him and who has left England fractured and identifiable by democratic favour because he and the Opposition will not let people have representative government. It’s not a pretty tale.

Hardly surprisingly, the national identities of those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has come to the fore to reject this idea of being ruled paternalistically by a corrupted form of one-nation Toryism that sees this as a colonial term when Disraeli coined it as one relating to class (which eventually became much the same thing). Rule from London is, in practical terms, being rejected and with it the idea of Britishness. That is now a peculiarly English concept used only in imagination to extend English rule to those who do not wish to be ruled, most especially by a failed democracy, as England is.

There is absolutely nothing stable about this. There is only a recipe for instability to come in here, unless, that is something gives.

Let’s assume three things. The first is that the Tories will be thrown out, eventually. The second is that when thrown out they will not be evicted by a majority government, because it still seems very unlikely that this will happen. Third, there will in that case be a need, whatever Labour might like to say, for governing agreements unless (to follow the Emily Thornberry line, based on recent comments) Labour would rather spite the next largest parties, preferring to allow the Tories back rather than work in cooperation for the good of the people of this country.

Perhaps naively I am going to assume Labour will cooperate with others for the common good, which means discussion with Lib Dems and the SNP in reality. The parties in Northern Ireland are very unlikely to play a role (and yes, I do recall 2017), but will have to be taken into account.

Leaving aside practical issues, like the need to tackle a trashed economy and environment and failing public services across the board, what of these issues that are driven by identity that must be resolved?

On Northern Ireland new cooperation with the EU is essential. This Labour led coalition will have to consider rejoining the Customs Union and Single Market, departure from which Brexiteers said would never happen anyway. Do that and the choice in Northern Ireland is not defused, but critical time is added for the debate to take place, and the rest of the country heaves a sigh of relief as well. We can also do this unilaterally: as a country we can guarantee to align with EU rules. It will not be hard to do.

On Scotland we know there is gong to be a demand for a referendum. Nothing less will do. It is going to have to be conceded.

The LibDems will demand PR. Again, it is hoping to have to be conceded.

If both the SNP and LibDems do get their way, as I suspect, what I also strongly suspect is that PR will be done first, along with Lords reform. Then when Labour offers Scotland the chance to decide to leave it can do so without needing to vote to go to rid itself of the risk of Johnson again. In other words, there would be the chance of the most objective vote possible.

And that is the strongest hand Labour can play. Actually, I am struggling to find another one, but I am sure that there are ideas out there.