Jim O’Neill says that while the Tories and the SNP are determined to fight the general election on single issues, it’s Labour’s job to force the agenda onto holding these governments to account.
There are three people trying to make the 2017 General Election a single issue election. Theresa May, shocked by the fact that the opposition dared to oppose her plans for a hard Brexit, is deluded enough to believe that a stronger Tory majority in the Commons would give her a stronger hand in the negotiations with the 27. That particular bubble has already been burst by the EU negotiators but the Maybot, as the Guardian’s John Crace calls her, is stuck on a single message: “strong and steady”.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Alex Salmond gave away the worst kept secret in the world, that the SNP sees this election as only being about Indyref2. This was confirmed by Nicola’s stumbling performance at First Minister’s Questions where she seemed all at sea on policy issues, particularly under questioning from Kezia. She seems to have forgotten that her job is to manage the affairs of Scotland, not promote endlessly the foreverendum.
This line, if the leaflet which arrived by post recently from Ruth Davidson is to believed, is also being followed by the Scottish Conservatives. Aware that a pro-Brexit line would not go well with Scots, it would seem that she has decided to go toe to toe with Nicola on the desire of the Scots for another Indyref. Presumably they see this as an easy win, given the 60-40 opposition to Indyref2 shown in recent polls.
Labour, on the other hand, have a different job to do. Both in UK terms and in Scottish terms, we have to move the agenda away from the single issue, and on to the normal wider ground of general elections – the performance of both governments. We should remember that the last time a Tory Prime Minister went for a single issue election, Ted Heath over the miners’ strike in 1974, he lost and Harold Wilson and Labour recovered power.
In UK terms, the performance of Jeremy Corbyn and his policy team has made up for some of the disastrous navel gazing of the last two years. Policy after progressive policy has been announced, policies which have brought the party together in support for what looks like being one of the most radical manifestos in recent years. As the media become bored with the single message of Brexit – it’s a long time to be strong and steady for – the fact that Labour is offering an alternative to austerity will get more and more of an airing. We are already seeing the polls narrowing, and there is a long way to the general election. Time yet for the great revival!
In Scotland, we have a slightly different approach to take. Yes, we must attempt to move the agenda away from a single issue, but in our case the focus should be on the failures in government of the SNP. On education, Kez had Nicola on the back foot throughout the recent FMQs, with Nicola failing to provide answers to any of the questions, preferring to retreat into rote responses. For a policy that is the most important for the Scottish Government, they seem to be failing to provide the tools to improve a Scottish Education system that is going backwards. Their flagship policy, to give lots of money to headteachers rather than the local authorities, is opposed by the headteachers who are supposed to benefit from the policy, and by CoSLA as undemocratic.
The SNP’s governance has also resulted in industrial action in FE colleges and is on the verge, once again, of causing industrial action in secondary schools. And on top of it all, Scotland’s schools are short of 700 teachers. Who has been in charge while this shortage developed? Yes, that’s right, the SNP.
Similar shortages are increasing in the health service. We have all heard about the use of agency nurses and doctors in the hospital sector, but recently I have noticed a similar development in the primary sector – GPs’ surgeries. I have been aware of an increase in part-time and agency GPs being used in my own practice for some time but, as a result of a minor injury, I was seen, for the first time, by agency practice nurses, both of whom were enhancing their retirement incomes. If this is repeated throughout Scotland, we have an even bigger problem in our health service than we know.
So, it is important that we take the length of this general election campaign to move the agenda away from single issue politics, and to ask the electorate to address the wider issues – issues that only Labour are intent on highlighting.