The danger of exaggerating the destructiveness of the Tory government
Emotions are still running high following the shock General Election result last week. And those who are least pleased with the Conservatives being in power again are sharing more political content via their Twitter accounts and Facebook feeds than I can ever recall.
Now that the Conservatives have won, it seems many on the active political left are now choosing to pick the worst elements of the Tory manifesto and scare the hell out of everyone about what is going to happen in the next five years.
It would be easy for the casual observer to come away with the impression that we’ll no longer have any human rights, the NHS will be as good as gone, foxes will all have been mauled to death, and anyone with mental health issues utterly cast aside.
Here’s my concern though. If this carries on, any left-leaning political party will be locked out of power for a generation.
Why? Because if we exaggerate claims about how bad something will be and those claims don’t come true, it will only serve to make the Conservatives look more competent.
Let’s take the economy and unemployment over the last five years. When the Conservative led government formed in 2010, Labour and many on the left went all out in their doom and gloom predictions about their economic policies. Austerity would destroy any hope of the economy growing, they said. Unemployment would rise to well over three million, they said.
But neither happened. The economy started to grow and unemployment fell. This left Labour and those on the left who predicted the doom and gloom looking incompetent. And so the Conservatives won this election primarily because people trusted them with the economy and their jobs significantly more than they did Labour.
If the extreme reaction by many on the left to the austerity measures was more level-headed and reasonable, then Labour would not have been left lagging so far behind the Conservatives on the economy question.
So, let’s jump forward to 2020. Imagine this:
Despite the supposed destruction of the NHS, most people’s experience of the NHS continues to be very positive. Not only that, the average person still feels that — either because the Human Rights Act removal doesn’t get passed by Parliament (a definite possibility), or because the new Bill of Rights covers broadly the same rights — their human rights don’t seem to have been compromised. Foxes are still okay too because there was no way that bill would ever get through Parliament. And, low and behold, the Conservative pledge to increase spending on mental health was actually honoured.
What is the impact of this when it comes to the next election? Surely, as before, it only serves to make the Conservatives looks better than they are.
If we over state the destructiveness of Tory policies we risk harming the future viability of left-leaning political parties. For Labour to be back in with a shot of winning the next election, it has to appear reasonable and competent to your average voter who doesn’t care about politics. And exaggeration of the potential negative consequence of Conservative policies will only serve to undermine that and leave the Tories looking way better than they deserve to look.