What A Difference A Week Makes

Just over a week on from the UK General Election but in this short span of time, much more than just seven days has passed away.

I confess I got completely caught up in the election and followed it in fairly microscopic detail. This election was interesting right from its unexpected beginning. Back then many people, including me, thought it would be a procession leading inevitably to a huge Conservative majority.

Before 2017, and with the benefit of hindsight, Britain has suffered from a series of elections between pale, male dullards. Previous leaders of both the Conservatives and the Labour Party right back to the early 1990s have been as dull and grey as dishwater. Most of the contenders had been so faceless and nameless I don’t suppose you remember them either. They had all offered slight variations on running the country’s public services, with all the charisma and leadership credentials of a centre-leaning middle management accountant. The 2017 election would have at least two women who were likely to be key players.

During this long line of bland identikit politicians, Blair and Cameron were the two who initially looked like they might have real depth. At the time of their respective elections many people (especially them themselves) thought they’d develop into world leading statesmen. How wrong they were! How would you describe the decisions these two Prime Ministers made, for the UK, for Europe and the wider world?

They did both have depth. Sadly, it was a depth of bad judgement that made Gordon Brown’s missed opportunity to go to the country back in 2007 pale into insignificance. Anyone up for planning an event with lots of alcoholic beverages in a drinks factory?

I applauded Theresa May for seeking legitimacy through the ballot box when she announced the election. Her bravery in calling a snap election contrasted favourably with Gordon Brown’s unwillingness to do the same, during his very short honeymoon period. He missed his chance because next came the global economic meltdown. Both Brown and May were in strong positions at the time of their decision. Neither could know the future, any more than you or I can now.

During this seven week campaign, there were a number of stories that grabbed the headlines briefly. Many people would have expected questions about Theresa May’s competence to lead the government compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s. It was just the way it played out that wasn’t predicted by many, including most senior Labour politicians.

Scotland caught the eye. Questions around a second referendum on independence revealed an unbridgeable divide between people who wanted to maintain the union and those who want to rule themselves, often ironically with all the other countries in the EU being allowed a piece of the action as well.

Northern Ireland never got anywhere near being noticed. The long running consensus in the Northern Ireland Assembly had ended before the election was called, and the Westminster Government was threatening to take it over unless the two sides could kiss and make up. What else would there be to say about the election in Northern Ireland? It splits on sectarian lines and is totally predictable from now until what both sides of that divide believe will be the Second Coming. And anyway, the endgame is already clear. At some point in the next twenty odd years, Catholics will be the majority in Northern Ireland, courtesy of their fertility.

There were minor spats in Wales, and to be honest, many other stories bigger or smaller across the whole county. But with 650 constituencies in the UK, who’s really interested in a handful of seats going one way or the other, apart from the national politicians and those directly affected by the results.

UKIP never looked like they had anything left worth hearing. One day the Greens might be proved right that ‘Without a prosperous and thriving environment, there cannot be a prosperous and thriving economy’ as Caroline Lucas said. But in this election, like every one before it, there are always more pressing issues closer to home that people focus on rather than look at long term goals. 

Then through the night after polling day, we had the results and the dramas, the joy and the tears, the oddbods with silly names in silly costumes losing their deposits and the unexpected excitement of the voters’ actions. During the long dark night, Nick Clegg chose to say he was dying by the sword, which in view of recent Terrorist atrocities, showed the same judgement that led to him becoming deputy Prime Minister from almost nowhere in 2010 and then presiding over the collapse of his Lib Dem five years later.

From the following morning, the analysis of success or failure, with its resultant celebrations, recriminations and the like, took centre stage. The Conservatives ‘won’ but seemed lost, Labour lost but seemed to believe it had won.

Then the uncertainty of there being no overall majority for any party. 

And then the chance of some mutually beneficial deal between the Conservatives and their more right wing, socially conservative cousins from across the Irish sea arises. This thrust into the limelight ten DUP MPs who are led by the former head of the Northern Ireland Assembly and also former head of the department responsible for the ‘Cash for Ash’ scheme. This was an environmentally friendly scheme to encourage businesses to change from burning fossil fuels to using renewable heating systems.

Unfortunately, it’s allegedly a flawed initiative as it pays out more money than the cost of the fuel used and the architects seem to have forgotten to put a cap on the total subsidy that can be claimed. So, the more a business spends on burning fuel, the more it can claim back. For every £1 a company in the scheme spends running their new heating systems, they receive £1.60 in subsidies. One farmer has allegedly earned over £1m in public money, heating an empty building. By the time the scheme ends, it’s estimated that it’s going to have cost Northern Ireland about half a billion pounds.

The results since a whistleblower revealed this alleged scandal have yet to be fully resolved. In the meantime, you can decide if the alleged sabotage of the Good Friday Agreement is a greater or lesser issue for the DUP, the Conservatives and the other parties in Northern Ireland.

And then, in the early hours of June 14th the world turned on its head. The most appalling tragedy unfolded. None of the above matters anymore, other than how it affects the inquiry into Grenfell House and the changes that will have to be made to ensure this sort of tragedy never happens again.  

Rob Humphries
17 June 2017

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