The authoritarian abhorronation and SNP opportunities

The abhorronation has finally finished, barring the usual interminable post match analyses from a British media determined to keep Chas’s special day going on for as long as possible, as it congratulates itself with the assertion that no other country could have put on an event like Saturday’s. That same media, in all its hours of broadcasts, still can’t find space for anyone to point out that the real reason no other country could have put on an event like the coronation is that they all have far too much self-respect for an exercise in feudal toadying in fancy dress. Charles, didn’t actually need a coronation ceremony, he became king automatically the moment his mother died. He refused a pared back event which would have displayed some sensitivity to the fact that hundreds of thousands of his subjects depend on food banks and struggle to heat homes that they don’t know how they’re going to pay for.

But having insisted on full fat flummery and the entire panoply of ludicrous pseudo-mediaeval ritual at an estimated cost to the public purse of over £100 million, and put thousands of people to quite considerable and unnecessary bother, all so he could be the centre of attention, the Kingzilla spent the entire day with a face that looked as though he was suffering from a severe case of impacted haemorrhoids and he was enduring an event that was an outrageous imposition on him. That is what entitlement and privilege look like. He puts considerable demands upon everyone else, but it’s far too much of a bother for him to even crack a smile. This is not a gracious king.

To compound the offence against democratic decency, the Met police arrested anti-monarchy protestors assembling on Trafalgar Square and confiscated their Not My King placards even before their protest had begun. Graham Smith, the chief executive of the anti-monarchy campaigning group Republic, who was among those arrested, tweeted: “Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK. I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”

Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, joined in the criticism and said: “Being in possession of a megaphone or carrying placards should never be grounds for a police arrest and Human Rights Watch said reports of arrests of peaceful protesters were incredibly alarming and something you would expect to see in Moscow, not London.”

The police were making use of new powers to clamp down on protests and demonstrations which were rushed in by the Conservative Government. The Tory response to protest is not to address the grievances that led to the protests, but to attack all our civil liberties and freedoms. On Sunday senior Labour MP David Lammy told a caller to his LBC radio show that Labour will not repeal the Conservatives’ Public Order Act if it forms the government after the next election. The new law includes a 12-month prison sentence for protesters in England and Wales who block roads, a six-month jail term or unlimited fine for anyone who locks on to others, a building, or an object, and gives police powers to stop and search protesters even without suspicion that they intend to cause disruption.

Naturally the Conservatives defended the arrests, with Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson demanding that if anyone wanted to protest against the monarch they should leave the UK. We’re trying Lee, we’re trying.

The Tories must have been particularly grateful for the coronation, not just because it gives them an opportunity for the flag-shagging that they love so much, but more importantly because it provided a welcome distraction from their catastrophic performance in the English local elections on Thursday. Prior to the elections, the Tories had engaged in an expectation management exercise and were briefing the press that they could lose as many as one thousand council seats. They did this so that if they ended up losing several hundred councillors, a poor performance on any reckoning, Conservative politicians could spin the results as being far less bad than they had expected and claim that they were managing to turn around their recent spate of bad polling results.

However in the event the Conservatives ended up losing over a thousand council seats, 1058 according to the BBC, and lost control of 45 councils. There’s karma for you. The Conservatives’ 26% projected national vote share was one of its worst performances since the 1995 local elections when it won just 25% of the English vote. These elections were followed two years later by Blair’s landslide. However in that election Labour won 47% of the vote, as compared to just 35% on Thursday. The main difference is the split now of the anti-Tory vote between Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens.

Labour gained 536 council seats, making them the largest party in English local government, a position which Labour has not enjoyed for over a decade. Worryingly for the Tories the Lib Dems also made substantial gains, winning an additional 405 council seats. The Greens also had a good night, winning an additional 241 council seats, and taking control of a council for the first time, winning Mid Suffolk council from the Conservatives, taking 24 of the 34 council seats, and also becoming the largest party in the erstwhile Tory stronghold of East Hertfordshire. The Greens took 19 seats with the Tories on just 16 in a local authority where the Conservatives had won all 50 council seats in 2015. The Conservatives now face the nightmare situation of being squeezed between Labour in the midlands and north of England and the Greens and the Lib Dems in the south, victims of a tacit anti-Conservative alliance. Tactical voting may be a factor in the next General Election on a scale not seen for decades.

However in terms of vote share Labour is only 9% ahead of the Conservatives, and this in an election where voters know that they can give the governing party a kicking without it leading to a change in government. Although it’s unquestionably a good result for Labour, the party is still some way from the figures it needs in order to be certain that it can form a majority government following the next General Election. This gives the SNP, still likely to be the third largest party with some leverage to use to secure another independence referendum from a Labour party which is as keen to deny Scottish democracy as the Tories are.

The outcome of this election means that Starmer is likely to double down on the pro-Brexit and right wing direction in which he has pushed his party as he seeks votes in Brexit supporting English constituencies where voters are disenchanted with the Conservatives. This provides the SNP with another potential advantage in Scotland, allowing it to make a pitch to voters who are opposed to Brexit and who feel that their more left wing sensibilities are being ignored by an increasingly right wing and English nationalist Labour party which won’t repeal the authoritarian laws of the Tories.


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