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Prime Minister Cameron's "Southern Strategy" Wins (and Loses)

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From Election UK
Election UK
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    Paul Krugman has a good column today entitled "Triumph of the Unthinking" about the Tory electoral triumph in the UK. Krugman makes three central points. First, the Tories and the UK media have created a myth about austerity that is utterly false -- and poison to Labour while falsely flattering to the Conservatives. Second, rather than fight the myth by explaining why austerity in response to the Great Recession was an insane policy that gratuitously forced the UK back into a severe recession, Labour has embraced austerity. Krugman opines that Labour felt that public support for austerity was so strong that the party's leadership felt it was impossible to do the right thing.

    Third, Krugman notes that Obama also (eventually) embraced the language of austerity rather than explaining to the public why it was a self-destructive policy. Obama recently, in the same talk, without any understanding of the contradiction, criticized the consequences of EU austerity -- insufficient demand -- and threw Greece under the bus by demanding that it inflict even greater austerity and labor "reforms" that would slash employment and wages.

    Ironically, the New York Times proved Krugman's point about the media's embrace of this Tory myth through a wondrously wacky article claiming that Labour was defeated because it abandoned Tony Blair's disastrous "centrist" strategy of "winning" the financial regulatory "race to the bottom" and "shifted" to the left.

    The vote was a stunning disappointment for the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Ed Miliband, who had shifted the party away from the more centrist strategy it pursued in the late 1990s and early 2000s under Tony Blair. Mr. Miliband stepped down on Friday, opening up a new debate over the party's direction.

    I made this point about Labour's embrace of austerity before the election in a column at New Economic Perspectives (NEP). I made a related point in an interview with the Real News Network that explained why none of the (then) three leading parties was pushing to prosecute the banksters whose frauds created the City of London's corrupt culture and drove its financial crisis.

    Everyone knew going into the elections that the Lib-Dems (the Conservative Party's very junior coalition partners) would suffer severe losses, but the reality was far worse than predicted. The BBC reports that Nick Clegg led the Lib-Dems to near extinction: "The Lib Dems ended up with just eight MPs, down from 57 in 2010." Two of the leading Lib-Dem MPS that were defeated explained why to the BBC. (Clegg has resigned as party leader, but won re-election as an MP.)

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    "Both attributed their defeats to a combination of coalition and Conservative warnings about the threat of a Labour/Scottish National Party administration"."

    It is that last clause that has the sting in the tail. Voters who had supported the Lib-Dem switched and voted for the Conservatives because the Conservative's "warn[ed] about the threat" of the Scots becoming part of a coalition government in the UK. The Conservatives, months before in the context of defeating a vote on independence for Scotland, had professed to love the Scots and to have embraced them as kinsmen in history's greatest "union." Now, the dread Scots were the bogeyman used by the Conservatives to stamp out the Lib-Dems. Or as Boris Johnson, the Conservative apologist-in-chief for the City of London's corrupt banking culture put it.

    He compared Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, whose popularity has plummeted, to a slug that gets squashed in the garden. "You do feel a spasm when any creature reaches the end of its mortal span at your hand or foot,'' Mr. Johnson said. "I have trodden on many slugs in my life. There's a terrible pop if you do it in bare feet.''

    Recall that Johnson was referring to the leader of his coalition partner. One of the reasons that the Lib-Dems were crushed is that even their nominal allies viewed them with contempt.

    The Conservatives did such a good job demonizing the Scots in large part because Ed Miliband, Labour's now resigned leader, joined the Conservatives in demonizing the Scots. Every vote for the Scottish National Party (SNP) was a de facto vote for Labour because a Labour-SNP coalition was the only chance Labour had of coming to power in this election. Miliband could have spent the Party's time and money trying to win the contested seats outside Scotland and attack the rampant bashing of Scots as lazy ingrates dependent on a dole from the UK. Instead, he chose to run fiercely against the SNP -- and ended up winning one seat in the Commons from Scotland. Miliband's alliance with the Tories against the Scots and the SNP enraged many Scots.

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    Labour = "Red Tories"

    The New York Times ran an article today on the electoral results in Scotland featuring the election of the youngest MP in three centuries, the SNP's Mhairi Black (no relation as far as I know). The article begins with her rage when Labour members taunted her after the defeat of the referendum in favor of independence for Scotland. The reaction of the people of Scotland to the abuse was not to get simply get mad, but to change politics.

    Since the day after the referendum the S.N.P. has quadrupled its membership, to nearly 110,000. Many of these new supporters used to vote for Labour but say they no longer trust a party perceived to have betrayed its working-class roots.

    David Smith, a 52-year-old security guard, is one of those new S.N.P. supporters. Labour, he said, had just become "red Tories," little different than the Conservative Party.

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William K Black , J.D., Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Bill Black has testified before the Senate Agricultural Committee on the regulation of financial derivatives and House (more...)

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