Friday, June 09, 2017

UK General Elections: Counting the Losers

 UK General Elections are over. 

It is hard to say who has won. The Party with most seats in Parliament is looking very much the loser, and the Party which came second, now three elections in a row, is arranging Victory Parties. The Prime Minister, who is likely to continue, seems to have lost; the Opposition Leader, who would not perhaps get to try to form the Government, seems to have won.

It is equally intriguing to figure out who really have lost last night. Indeed, the mood, in a particular section of the population, is all doom and gloom: They are going on TV and proclaiming that the country has lost in a whole. They are looking at the hung parliament and claiming that it is a bad thing, because markets don't like uncertainty. That is obviously nonsense: Markets exist because they are the most efficient mechanism to price uncertainties, and if everything was certain, we wouldn't need markets at all. And, indeed, if they are trying to tell us that we should have electoral outcomes to please financial markets - which is exactly what they are trying to tell us - then that is putting the cart before the horse and only a short step away from getting rid of democracy altogether.

But there were indeed losers in the General Election and I shall highlight three in particular.

First, the media and its pundits, who were visibly astounded even looking at the Exit Poll. Their big surprise is that they do not understand the type of politics that Corbyn represents. All through the night, Pundit after Pundit, Chart after chart, were presented in feeble attempts to understand the 'Labour Surge'. Democratic politics, for many, have become a simple game of segmentation and personalisation, patterns and trends. The other politics, of actual people and their concerns (Brenda from Barnet has become a meme), were ruled out, till it surfaced back with a vengeance. The commentators desperately retrofitted explanations - disciplined campaign, May's gaffes, young voters - except the one that made sense: Corbyn is authentic, and people have responded to authenticity. And, let's be clear: The media and Pundits lost not only because they did not see it coming, but because they can never bring themselves to accept it. It is an existential problem for them: People have found their own voices, rather than being driven by what they, the experts, told them to do. They were not just wrong last night; they proved themselves to be irrelevant.

Second, the Career Politicians. It is not just the Blairites of the Labour Party, whose ideology-free professional politics were founded on career considerations, but also those on the other sides, who were battling a surge of engaged voters. In my own constituency, the Conservative MP held on for about seven years, hinging his career on keeping his bosses happy rather than representing his constituents: He lost his seat handsomely last night for a surge he can not explain. The idea that democracy is about managing an apolitical electorate through suave messaging looked inadequate last night.

Third, the politics of identity, that of endlessly dividing the electorate on the basis of their group identity, took a beating. The nationalist party in England, UKIP, virtually disappeared overnight; the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) struggled to hold on. The SNP remained the biggest party in Scotland, but they will return to Westminster much chastised, many of their leading lights lost in the election and their hope of a Second Independence Referendum in ruins. In Wales, too, the Welsh parties made no headway. The smaller groups, like British Hindus or Muslims, failed to make an impact, even in marginal constituencies (like Croydon Central), as those were no longer marginal with the surge of politically engaged voters voting on the basis of issues. 

One last point, though. the 'shock' results of Britain may sound like a Trump victory, but it is exactly the opposite. First, no one has really won. Second, this is not about electoral college and some such mechanic: This is about a surge in popular engagement and vote. Third, unlike Trump's election, this is not about big data and sophisticated campaigning. Fourth, this was not about identity, as Trump's campaign was. And, finally, we vote in Britain in the old-fashioned way: So there was no Russian fiddling here. The only similarity was perhaps that the media got it wrong, which is more about the media than about the actual politics. 

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