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Jeremy Corbyn Sun Gradient

Good government needs strong opposition

David Spencer
June 27, 2017

A good government needs a strong opposition, and whilst Jeremy Corbyn is still unlikely to offer much on that front, Conservative backbenchers undoubtedly will, says David Spencer.

Given the media's ongoing portrayal of this month's general election result, the public would be forgiven for thinking the horrifying thought of a Labour government had become a reality.

Picture what might have been: John McDonnell has been announced as Chancellor; Diane Abbot might think policemen only cost a few pence each, but she has already been installed as Home Secretary, and a myriad of other hard-left MPs you have never heard of are marching smugly up Downing Street to learn which job they will get to splurge taxpayers' money in.

Of course, that is not the case and we are all thankful for it. Because the party led by Marxist terrorist-sympathisers lost the general election. That's right, they lost.

It is important to get a sense of perspective about that because, in most elections, it is the party that won which celebrates, while the media pick over the bones of those destined to spend the next five years on the opposition benches. It is frankly a little bizarre that this time round, it seems to be happening the other way around.

Yes, I fully accept that the election has been a political disaster for the Conservative Party and Theresa May in particular. The hallmarks of their campaign were ill-conceived and ill-thought-through policies which alienated core voters, a series of awkward, overly stage-managed events, and a comprehensive failure to connect with the electorate.

But for all the campaign failings, it has still resulted in a Conservative Prime Minister taking her place in Downing Street. For all the incompetence, bad policies, and negativity shown in the Tory campaign, the Labour Party still wasn't able to convince a majority of the population that they were a better option to lead the country.

For most opposition parties, such a failure would result in a leadership change and much internal soul-searching. It is a mark of how low Jeremy Corbyn's regime had set expectations, that even in defeat, there is elation.

Let's take a moment to look at how what they did manage to achieve. There is much hype being made about Labour's success in getting the young out to vote for them. There may be something in that, but it is not all of Labour's making.

Many young people regretted not voting in the EU Referendum and registration grew in the wake of that. But it is interesting that they then voted for a party which still promised to exit the EU rather than the Lib Dem's which promised not to. Why might this be?

Well, some put it down to an anti-establishment leader who chimed with the youthful ideology so often found in student politics. But for me, it is something a lot more cynical. At the last minute, Labour threw in a pledge to scrap tuition fees, even for those already studying at university.

That is, of course, a very appealing prospect to students who saw the prospects of their student loans being wiped out just by putting a cross in a box. Who wouldn't sign up for that?

Of course, they are not thinking about whether that policy was actually deliverable or the fact that they would end up paying for it in higher taxes when they were working.

This is why the youth vote opted for Labour over the Lib Dem's. No great political revolution as Labour are trying to portray it, but rather a cynical piece of electoral incentivisation. And, credit to them, it worked and won them a lot of seats in university towns such as Canterbury, Sheffield (costing Nick Clegg, who was always going to fall over tuition fees one day) and Bristol.

But despite boosting their number of seats, and their proportion of the vote share, Labour still lost the election.

The UK is a Parliamentary democracy where the only thing that matters is the number of seats you win. Labour has won just over 40% of the seats (262 in total) while the Conservative's won 48.9% of the seats (318).

That is a clear victory by any definition. It is a clear mandate to govern. Yes, it is not as big a victory as the Conservative Party hoped for, and yes, it is a smaller margin of victory than in 2015. But it is still a victory and those suggesting that Theresa May should resign and Jeremy Corbyn form a government need to take a look at the raw figures once more.

There will be recriminations within the Conservative Party, and rightly so. Heads will roll as a result of the failure to secure a majority and the delivery of such a poor campaign. It seems likely that the brunt of the blame will be placed on the heads of Theresa May's joint Chiefs of Staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Without knowing the internal details of how the campaign was run, that seems on the face of it to be entirely fair.

With a wafer-thin majority at best (thanks to the DUPs support) the next five years will be tough for the Tories. But perhaps that's a good thing. Under Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, they have been a Government up against almost no credible opposition whatsoever. Complacency has set in and that was clear to see in the election campaign.

A good government needs a strong opposition, and whilst Jeremy Corbyn is still unlikely to offer too much on that front, Conservative backbenchers undoubtedly will.

They will be emboldened to push harder for the causes they believe in and the Government will now not be able to ignore them. Their votes matter too much. And as long as the Party can maintain a united front, perhaps in the long-run that will be good for the Tories and for the UK.

David Spencer is the Chief Executive of the Taiwan Policy Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to boosting political, cultural, and trading relations between the UK and Taiwan.
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