Food for thought in UK election

Election events in two Yorkshire towns in northern England, Hebden Bridge and Halifax, tell us much about the likely outcomes for the two main parties of the British general election on 8 June. 

Hebden Bridge is a beautiful, bijou town where ten percent of the population have joined Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Labour won't win in the wider constituency that includes the Hebden Bridge enclave but Corbyn recently took valuable campaign time to address a rally there. 

Some suggest this shows his priority is to enthuse party followers and focus on increasing the overall Labour vote more than winning seats. Corbyn could then claim he has matched or even exceeded Labour's last tally even in defeat and should stay as Labour Leader until he has secured a legacy candidate to advance the radical politics in his manifesto.

Theresa May's Conservatives then launched their manifesto in Halifax, a traditional mill town that has been largely Labour for nearly 90 years but where only 428 votes separated Labour and Conservatives in the 2015 election. 

The launch symbolised the audacity of their appeal to Labour voters, especially those who shifted to UKIP at the last election and who accounted for thousands of UKIP votes in Halifax. Those who broke an often lifelong and largely tribal tradition there and elsewhere may find it easier to shift to the Conservatives and that is helped by UKIP not running candidates in about a third of the seats.

May portrays herself as the leader to implement Brexit, although she backed Remain in last year's referendum. Her manifesto also contains interventionist policies  and a surprisingly radical tone that would have jarred a few years ago. It says, for instance, that ‘We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but as dangerous.’

Voters can doubt the sums add up, question the priorities or refuse to believe a party can change its spots. They may like specific policies but it's rather like walking down the high street comparing prices at different restaurants. 

The dishes may seem sumptuous and the prices reasonable but if you know or suspect that there are rat droppings and uncaring or incompetent chefs in the kitchen you are likely to move on. I am reminded of the joke about two people discussing the merits of a new eaterie. One says, 'the food is so bad,' and the other responds, 'yes, and such small portions!'

There is a noxious whiff of oriental cooking from Corbyn's brasserie in the form of senior aides such as a former Stop the War leader and, until recently, long-time Communist who once expressed solidarity with 'people's' North Korea, and who signed a controversial statement supporting the Iraqi insurgency 'by any means necessary.' The Left would be steaming if some Pinochet or some fascist death squad apologist were ensconced in the Conservative kitchen cabinet.

But the Conservative team must also prove its dishes are not a dog's dinner if and when they are served up from Downing Street. The lack of appetite for her main opponent and the likelihood of a victory has encouraged May to present some tough policy nuggets, some of which are surprisingly specific and probably peer-proofed pledges to prevent the Lords reversing manifesto commitments. 

The dramatically increasing number of older people who are also living longer has caused a crisis in social care, the funding for which has long been a hot potato. May's solution could penalise many thousands of well-off pensioners and an anonymous Tory MP has dubbed it 'a bit of a Turkey on the doorstep.' The manifesto also promises to end free hot lunches for about a million children at primary school. Such experimental cooking led to what some called 'a wobble weekend' when two polls reduced May's lead to its lowest so far.

There is, of course, much to play for in the coming three weeks and more attacks on the record of Corbyn and other leadership figures on Northern Ireland and the IRA, as I predicted previously, could roast him. But the chances of Labour winning remain meagre, in my view.

Labour's post-election debate will then concern whether its chief chef keeps his job or there is a brutal fight with too many cooks spoiling the broth before a coup, purge or split. And May faces huge policy challenges in a decade of what she says are dire or exciting consequences for the UK. There's much food for thought in an election which is shaping up to be a decisive moment in British politics.

Gary Kent became the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in 2007 but the group has been formally dissolved for the duration of the UK general election. He writes in a strictly personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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