I’ve always believed that you don’t vote for yourself.
Because I’m a pretty resourceful guy, one blessed to be earning a good living and who doesn’t mind paying his taxes. I’m fine. I’d rather vote to help the poorest, the most marginalized in society. So it often pains me to live and work down here in the Tory heartland of south Buckinghamshire.
You might recall how, a couple of years ago, I wrote about my altercation in the butcher’s shop queue with some Tory diehards who were expressing sympathy for “poor old Boris” because he’d got “lumbered” with Brexit and Covid.
I patiently tried to explain that Boris mismanaged Covid appallingly and that he’d got “lumbered” with Brexit in much the same way as Hitler got “lumbered” with the invasion of Poland.
But nothing I said made any impact. They liked Boris and would continue to vote for him and his party.
As much as it blows my mind that anyone is ever selfish enough to vote Conservative, it seemed that nothing would shake the faith of these blue-blooded Tories in London and the south-east. Well, until now. . .
The first thing to say is – let’s not get too excited. The local council elections in the UK perform much the same role as the mid-term elections do in America: they are often a chance for voters to express dissatisfaction with the way the party in power is performing.
Come a general election, when you’re choosing who is going to be in power in Westminster, people tend to revert to traditional political prejudices.
So, a protest vote. But boy – what a protest.
In London the Conservatives lost Wandsworth and Westminster, both council seats they have held forever, even during Tony Blair’s golden years.
Labor also won ultra-Tory Barnet for the first time in history.
Outside of London, while they took Tory strongholds like Southampton and Carlisle, it was the Lib Dems who proved big winners: they gained 57 seats, the most of any party. (It would seem that in some Leave strongholds, the idea of voting Labor is still too much to bear.)
However it went, by Friday morning, the Tories had lost 122 seats in England – one in six contested – suggesting they might lose as many as 250 overall.
The depressing fact is that – while Partygate and the untold sleaze and corruption will have played a part – much of this swing away from the Conservatives will be due to one thing: the spiraling cost of living crisis. Because, sadly, and especially down here, people vote selfishly. It’s all fun and games until they feel like they’re getting hit in the actual pocket.
Until recently, many still believed the lie that the Tories are more fiscally responsible, that they are better off under the Conservatives. (As we all know, this is only true if you are in the top 0.1 per cent. Or keep your wealth offshore. Or, until recently, if you ran an international gas company and your name was something like Oleg Oligarkski.)
The Tories even ran with this lie into the local council elections. Boris Johnson tweeted: “Conservative councilors deliver better local services for lower council taxes.”
The statement was echoed by his colleague Oliver Dowden – “Conservative councils charge the lowest taxes in the country” – and repeated on TV by his minister Victoria Atkins who said: “If you look across the board at the cheapest council tax councils in England, they are Conservative.”
There was only one problem with all of this. It’s rubbish.
But people are generally primed to believe the age-old myth: the left wing spend money, the right wing save it.
It’s the same in the US, where people still believe the Republican party is more financially responsible than the Democrats. You can show people the actual facts all you like…
Ronald Reagan (R) took the deficit from $70billion up to $175billion, George Bush Sr (R) almost doubled it to $300billion, Clinton (D) reduced it to zero, George Bush Jr (R) then ran it back up to $1.2trillion, Obama (D) halved it to $600billion and Trump (R) ran it up to over a trillion again.
But people still believe the fiction. So the Tories were doing just fine.
And then people go to the supermarket and discover their weekly £50 shop now costs £75. They fill their car and it costs £30 more than it used to. They open their gas bill and see the zeroes tumbling off the side of the page. They go to buy a train ticket from Glasgow to Manchester and find out it’s cheaper to fly to Barcelona. They get a letter from their building society telling them their mortgage is going up by £200 a month.
Because, while many voters – like my pals in the butcher queue – are selfish, they’re not stupid. They are able to look at all of this happening to them and, finally, they think “hang on a minute . . .”
What happens then?
Panic sets in. The dawning realization of “hey, maybe these guys in power aren’t managing things that well. Maybe they don’t really have my best interests at heart after all”.
“Maybe”, they think, “I’ve been lied to – repeatedly – by an utterly corrupt, incompetent and cruel shower of chancers.”
You can only ask these people to try to do one thing.
Hold on to that feeling until the next general election.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.