This post is part of a feature on the 2017 UK elections, moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling (SOAS, University of London).
As an Irishman living in England, I am struck by the total difference between how Brexit is discussed in both countries. In Ireland, it is clear that Brexit will bring economic disaster, but this can be mitigated against by significant planning and coordinated response by government and business. That even at this late stage, the form of Brexit is unknown is a source of great anxiety in Ireland. By contrast, in Britain to have any discourse of Brexit as impending economic ruination is simply unacceptable. Those who dare to utter prophecies of economic trouble are bullied into silence by a raging right-wing media. Brexit can only be allowed to be framed in the positive.
And yet, it is obvious that the first wave of Brexit can only be severe. Leaving both the Common Market and the Customs Union inevitably means increases in retail prices. If the currency continues to devalue (which it already has and may yet devalue further), this will compound the rise in prices. Immediately, millions of households shall be pushed into poverty. Those already in poverty will quickly experience new levels of misery and hunger. Large numbers of small businesses will quickly disappear. The City of London will lose many of its main players, and not only will this cause a sudden drop in tax revenue (as banker bonuses, despite their unpopularity, remain a major source of tax yield), but the flight of the bankers may trigger a housing property crash in London, which will further compound the problems faced by banks. There is a large probability that Brexit will bring a perfect economic storm.
The best hope for Britain is to invest heavily now in agriculture to ensure that the food supply can be maintained. This is not happening. A large injection into manufacturing also needs to happen as a matter of urgency. Again, nothing. Why not? Because refueling manufacturing and agriculture would deliver precisely what the Tories are genetically modified to obstruct—the recomposition of a strong working class. The Tories want a new type of economy that will not include a strong working class. It will indeed be the bargain basement of Europe, except Europe already has bargain basements. In the short term this will probably have a devastating impact on the economy, and in the long term will result in more wage stagnation and the diminishing of quality of life and working conditions. Brexit will, at least for the first few years if not for the foreseeable future, at best entail a managed decline of the British economy.
What is worse is that nobody seems to be preparing for these outcomes financially, strategically, or psychologically. It will come as a massive shock. The country is in denial. When the inevitable happens, people will be furious. If Labour are in government, they will be blamed.
On the other hand, a large Tory majority will breed indiscipline in the backbenches. Theresa May has indeed offered strong and stable leadership at the level of party discipline. Amazingly, despite the fact that the majority of Tory politicians opposed Brexit, they have all fallen into line and clapped along with the emergence of her Hard Brexit narrative. As reality nears, they will start to remember that none of this was ever a good idea. I predict that the Tories will start to tear themselves apart.
And what can Labour do throughout this? They can continue to build their cadre of people to enact their policies, a necessary component not yet in place. They can continue to attract young voters and feed off the growing sense of disenchantment and rage from people beginning to suffer the long Brexit Winter. Most importantly at all, they can sit back and watch the public turn against the government. They can prepare themselves for a massive swing in popularity. They can be the ones in the right place, at the right time.
Make no mistake about it, the next government is cursed, and the very people who voted them into office, with eyes wide shut, will never forgive them. Thank God it will be the Tories. We all voted Labour, we all campaigned for Labour. It is not as is if we wanted this to happen, but now that it apparently is happening, it is time to be realistic and read the writing on the wall; this election promises a poisoned chalice for its winner. The positive is that the Tories will be stuck with the consequences of their own foolish decisions. As they say in Private Eye, “you Brexit, you fix it.”
Alan Bradshaw is Professor of Marketing in the School of Management of Royal Holloway College, University of London. He has published widely on critical theories and on the practices of marketing and business management. Several of his publications are available here.
Cite as: Bradshaw, Alan. 2017. “On the prospect of a Tory majority!” FocaalBlog, 8 June. www.focaalblog.com/2017/06/08/alan-bradshaw-on-the-prospect-of-a-tory-majority.