What a Conservative Victory in the UK Means for Everyday People


Economist John Weeks says Tories appealed to voters with vitriol against welfare recipients and immigrants – more income inequality and tension with Scotland will come with the rise of the Right.

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

So the results are in. The Conservative party claimed an outright majority in the United Kingdom parliament. That means that reelected Prime Minister David Cameron will not have to look for coalition partners as he puts together his new cabinet. Before the election it seemed like a dead heat, so we want to look at what happened to the Labour party, and why did the Tories gain a majority?

Now joining us to unpack all of this is John Weeks. John is a Professor Emeritus at the University of London, and the author of the new book The Economics of the 1 Percent: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality, and Distorts Policy.

Thanks for joining us, John.


DESVARIEUX: So John, we heard a lot about income inequality being a major topic on the campaign trail. But at the end of the day voters ended up siding with the Tories, the majority of voters. What do you think really got most people to vote for the Tories?

WEEKS: Well, you’re absolutely right. Let me just make one small correction. A plurality voted for the Tory party. Only 36 percent of the people who voted voted for the Conservatives. But in the British-type system where there are no runoffs, the first candidate, first past the post they call it here, you can win a parliamentary seat with less than half the votes.

Okay, so they got 36 percent. The Labour party got 30 percent. Also it must be stressed that the, the positive thing is Social Democracy won overwhelmingly in Scotland 56 seats to 3, we’ll come back to that. But in Britain it was a landslide for the Conservatives. The balance was 318 seats to the Conservatives and 206 for Labour in England.

Now, why in England did Labour do so badly? Should note that in most elections Labour does not have a majority of the seats in England. But still, this deficit of over 100 is fairly unprecedented. Or at least, for at least 20 years. I think one thing is that the message from the Labour party wasn’t clear. Labour party is a party divided between a neoliberal wing represented by Tony Blair who was the previous prime minister, one of the previous prime ministers, and the social democratic [wing]. And Ed Milliband, the current leader of the party, [inaud.] continually trying to strike the balance between the two, [take] policy which both sides could support. And as a result it was not a clear policy, which the Tories seemed to be putting forward. So I think that’s part of it.

And also I think that the Conservatives playing on fears of immigrants taking jobs, and here it should be stressed they aren’t talking about immigrants from Africa or Asia. For the most part it was immigrants from within the European Union. And so fears of that affected the election, I think, quite importantly. And of course something which is common in the United States, a feeling we have in common with the United States, a feeling that all those people out there on social benefits are a bunch of scroungers and they don’t want to work. And the reason we have a deficit is because we’re paying people not to work. So you put all those things together, I think that’s why in retrospect Labour did not do very well.

And let me stress that I predicted that Labour would win and form a government., and I was wrong, so all of your watchers should be taking what I say with a grain of salt.

DESVARIEUX: All right, John. Let’s move on and talk about the other major news out of this election. There was an unprecedented surge of support for the Scottish Nationalists. They won all but three of the 59 seats in Scotland up for grabs in the UK election. So what’s the significance of such a huge landslide for the Scottish Nationalist party?

WEEKS: I think that this is a historic turning point in the United Kingdom. I think now we have Labour and the Conservatives, and also the Liberal Democrats who are virtually wiped out, have become essentially regional parties. Just as the Scottish Nationalists are a regional party. The Conservatives have one seat in Scotland, they have 11 seats out of 55 in–excuse me, out of 40, in Wales. They’re basically an English party.

Now, there’s a very important implication, because England has–is going to be ruled and has been ruled for the last 30 or 40 years by a neoliberal government. Either a neoliberal Conservative government, or neoliberal Labour government. Scotland is a solidly social democratic country. Can those two coincide? I mean, can they coexist? I think that the tensions will grow and grow, and particularly when David Cameron, as he promises, is going to hold a referendum on the European Union, European Union is very popular in Scotland. It is not so popular in England. Should it be the case that the English electorate were to vote to withdraw from the European Union, Great Britain would split.

DESVARIEUX: Could you just explain that very quickly, why it’s popular in Scotland but not in England?

WEEKS: I think there’s several reasons, but the most obvious reason is that Scots to a great extent consider themselves to have more in common culturally with the Scandinavians than they do with the English. And in fact, the, there are many cultural and other type of links with Sweden and Denmark and Finland. Well, not so much Finland, because it’s not a Scandinavian language. So that’s one reason.

The other reason is that Scots, or a very large majority of Scots, believe that they would have more influence within the European Union where there are other small countries. There are many small countries in the European Union, 27 countries. And all of Scotland has 5 million people. It would almost be a middle-size country in the European Union. So there’s a perception that you might say the rule of Brussels would be a softer rule than from Westminster, from London. I’m not sure that’s true, but that’s what is believed.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. John, what are some of your other predictions of what else is to come? Another Conservative-led government, I would assume that would mean doubling down on austerity.

WEEKS: I think that we will–I’ll put it in three categories. One, on macroeconomic policy I think that our Conservatives will pursue their obsession with deficit reduction, as a result that there will be depressed demand in the economy and the economy will grow relatively slowly over the next five years, below the historic trend. As a result of that employment will grow slowly and incomes will grow slowly. And that will be a cause of growing inequality. That’s the first thing.

On public finances, within the policy of austerity, there’ll be greater income inequality. When I was on the program earlier this week with Sue Himmelweit, she pointed out that a reduction in public sector has a profound impact on gender inequality because women, particularly women with children, rely more on social services than men do. And so the shift in expenditures you might say from the public sector to the private sector, which is what the Conservatives have in mind, will have an impact on gender inequality.

Then in addition, the Conservatives will pursue a labor market policy of growing inequalities. They are anti-labor. They will put more, put more obstacles in the way of the organization of trade unions, which have been on the rise a bit. I know that both from reading and following the media, and also because my son is a trade union organizer. And so they’ll try to weaken the role of trade unions, and they will continue to pursue a economic policy that favors services where you can have low-paid employees. And not only the restaurants and hotels and things like that, but in the social care sector, which will be cut back. The public sector, which will mean there’ll be more in the private sector where people are have very low pay.

So we’re seeing, we can look forward to growing inequality and a possible formal breakup between Scotland and England.

DESVARIEUX: All right, John Weeks joining us from London. Thank you so much for being with us.

WEEKS: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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