11 May 2010

UK election results - last thoughts

It’s been fascinating, but the drama in the UK has finally wound down and the Tory leader, David Cameron, is the new Prime Minister and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is deputy Prime Minister. Mr. Cameron's party, the Conservatives, won the most seats and the largest share of the vote, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats have formed a coalition government.

So. What does this mean?

Well, for queer folk the place they’ve held in civil life in Britain over the last thirteen years of Labour governments is suddenly less assured. Despite Mr. Cameron’s best efforts to modernize the party, there are still those in the British Conservative Party like Philippa Stroud, who, not unlike George Rekers, feels that it’s possible to “pray away the gay,” and Chris Grayling, the Home Secretary, who thinks that business owners ought to be able to discriminate against gay customers.

For British society, it is likely going to be a tough few years. There are parts of Britain that have been hollowed out by the collapse of the industrial economy, and that have been significantly supported over the past thirteen years of Labour ascendancy by disbursements from Whitehall. This will end.

The old industrial core of peripheral cities – not those that most enjoyed the long economic expansion under New Labour, but those outside the southeast of England, like Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool, and Newcastle, with unemployment rates 40% or more higher than the national median – will face deep funding cuts from the Central Government. Health care and education will almost assuredly get more expensive, and there will be large swathes of the British hinterland inhabited by those who won’t be able to afford it. Unemployment disbursements will likely be trimmed. Almost assuredly, the gaps between rich and poor will grow, and class stratification will be further reinforced. Some people will make a ton of money, and many more will slide further into poverty.

The Liberal Democrats are likely going to try to blunt the worst of the cuts – they are, after all, a fundamentally leftist party with a strong commitment to social services – and because the Tories can’t govern without them they may be able to do it. But cuts are coming, there’s no question. A friend in the UK reckons that it’s good for Labour to not have formed a Lib-Lab government for exactly that reason – cuts are coming and Labour can go into opposition, say that they would have done things differently and less painfully, and wait for the Lib Dems to get frustrated by the more strident of their Tory partners and walk out of the coalition resulting in new elections.

The clear loser in all of this is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He lived in Blair’s shadow for a decade, and seemed to have a very different temperament than his former PM and Labour leader. Mr. Brown was not an inculcator of celebrity, was not an opportunist, was not demonstrably shackled by the popular. He was the son of a vicar, a committed advocate of the working class, and a man with a core set of values that animated his behaviour in the public life. In his outgoing speech, he was quoted in the Guardian as saying, about being Prime Minister:
I loved the job for its potential to make this country I love fairer, more tolerant, more green, more democratic, more prosperous and more just – truly a greater Britain.

He led Labour to a loss of 89 seats in the House of Commons and simply couldn’t remain as their head. He may yet be back, but he did the honourable thing by falling on his sword and saying that he would step down as leader of Labour, first, and then as Prime Minister. He was an honorable public servant, and as Britons get a better sense of the callow Mr. Cameron, 43, they may miss the “dour Scotsman” yet. Certainly those Britons who live in the northeast or West Midlands, those who are working class, those who are queer, those who need Whitehall's support in their local communities - those Britons will likely miss Mr. Brown most of all, and soonest.

Perhaps Ms. Stroud can pray away their poverty and loss, while she's at it.


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