I make no apologies for stating that neither leader of the two main British parties deserve to be Prime Minister. Theresa May is a deeply unpleasant woman who voted against repealing section 28 and gay marriage, and who showed herself during her time as Home Secretary to be a hawkish, anti-immigrant populist with open disdain for liberal values. Jeremy Corbyn has many flaws: his economic policies would hinder growth, his foreign policy judgement is woeful and his promised nationalisations would be costly and achieve nothing . That said, in a straight fight between the two, I believe that Jeremy Corbyn is the lesser of two evils for two main reasons. Firstly, a significant majority for Theresa May would strengthen the right of the Conservative party, whereas a defeat would likely embolden its more liberal centre. The same would not be true for a significant Labour loss, they would likely continue on the same path. That is no ringing endorsement of Labour in a two horse race though. Were the Liberal Democrats a contender in any seat, I would heartily endorse them. Their manifesto comes across as a little insipid, but ultimately it is both more progressive and realistic than either major party’s offering. However, under Britain’s archaic electoral system, most will be faced with the choice of either a Conservative or a Labour MP, I would pick the latter.
On the burning issue of British politics, Brexit, both parties line up on the same side. Both have stated they will end free movement and leave the single market. Both claim they will secure a free trade deal, though this is dishonest, as they know that the EU is unwavering its demand that free trade be accompanied by free movement. The Conservative vision for a low tax enclave on the edge of Europe is an appealing one. Attracting business to Britain will be difficult once tariffs exist between it and mainland Europe, and the boon of lower taxes will be an important incentive to both encourage business to come to the UK, and to retain current businesses. However, this Conservative administration has failed to stand up for markets and business friendly policy with its attack on them in its manifesto, and its desire to engage in interventionist economic policy, adds up to little more than picking winners. Labour would likely be worse in the short term for the economy – their surge in the polls was matched by an equally steep fall in the value of sterling – but their less bullish approach to striking deals with our European neighbours would make a transitional deal where Britain retains some trading relations with Europe, rather than an immediate move to trading under World Trade Organisation regulations in April 2019 more likely. WTO trading regulations would see double digit tariffs applied to many of Britain’s exports to Europe including our car market which would tempt large manufacturers in the already poor Midlands and North to leave for the continent. Britain should be seeking to remain in the single market, and should accept free movement with Europe (an unambiguously positive policy). As neither the Conservatives nor Labour offer this, Labour’s more concessional approach to European negotiations is likely to leave Britain in a less precarious position than the Conservative’s asinine ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ approach, which will doubtless leave us cut off from the world’s largest economy.
Neither offer a coherent environmental vision for the future, something that has been shamefully sidelined in this election. Neither party has a chapter in their manifesto on the environment, unlike the Green or Liberal Democrat manifestos, with their heavy emphasis on environmental policy. Generally though, Labour’s policies in education are better. The Conservatives’ promise to allow the creation of new grammar schools is an evidence-free bone thrown to the right of its party and social conservatives returning to the party from UKIP. Grammar schools are ineffective, and bad for social mobility. That Labour oppose this puts them in a positive light. Theresa May’s authoritarian streak has lead her this week to rail against the Human Rights Act – an essential piece of legislation in a country without a codified constitution limiting state power – and she attempted repeatedly to deport people to countries where their safety could not be guaranteed while Home Secretary. The Labour government tore up protections for individuals from an authoritarian state between 1997 – 2010, with the introduction of illiberal ‘control orders’ and extended periods that the state could hold people without charge. Jeremy Corbyn, to his genuine credit, voted against those measures and voted consistently against New Labour’s repeated attempts to remove legislation protecting individuals from an overbearing state. When the state is free to deport citizens to places where they may be tortured, or can hold citizens without any good reason, we are all potential victims. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour would better guardians of our civic freedoms than a Conservative party, all-too-keen to be seen demonstrating strength by trampling on our individual rights.
Strategically though, a significant win for either party would be disastrous. The moderate wings of both parties have mature politicians who eschew populist policies like reintroducing grammar schools and the abandoning austerity in favour of an orgy of state expansion and government spending. Any result which strengthens the moderate elements in the two main parties would be welcomed. The polarisation of the parties has led to the focus of this election being on personalities, and swingeing, damaging changes to the British economy. The environment, deficit and minority rights have been put on the backburner as populist right and left wingers have appealed to the politics of the lowest common denominator: both parties have been claiming the other is a ‘threat to national security’ whilst ignoring genuinely impactful areas of government policy. However, the Conservatives remain likely to win the election, and as such, it would be beneficial to the country to ensure her majority is as slim as possible, if she wins one at all. If she fails to, it will weaken the right of the Conservative party, in showing that its pivot away from the more liberal conservatism is not popular with the British electorate. Regardless of whether Labour prevent a Tory majority or suffer defeat, Corbyn will likely continue. Corbynistas, blinded by the personality cult around their leader, will argue that Labour’s weakness was due to the traitorousness of moderate Labour MPs rather than their leader’s ineptitude. Corbyn has run a better campaign than many expected, and yet, despite a disastrous Conservative campaign, a leader scared of debating her rivals and two terror attacks which much of the public hold the government responsible for, they still trail by 7 points in the aggregated polls. In a Tory/Labour marginal, a vote for Labour would at least help to rein in the right-wing instincts of the Conservative party; an extra Conservative MP is unlikely to force Labour to switch to a more liberal, moderate path.
In spite of Jeremy Corbyn’s failings – and his party’s manifesto which would damage the contry greatly – in a shoot out between him and Theresa May, he represents a better choice. Theresa May will probably not lose tomorrow’s election, but she deserves to. She has an appalling record of authoritarian, anti-immigrant decisions as Home Secretary and she has charted a course towards the most damaging hard Brexit possible. Personally, she has presented herself as the now unbiquitous ‘strong and stable’ Prime Minister, but has flip flopped on numerous issues in her time as PM, from national insurance rises for the self-employed, to capping the Tories social care policy. She is weak on minority rights, has said nothing about her plans for the environment, and has abandoned the Tories one sensible commitment: careful, liberal stewardship of the economy and attempts to reduce its deficit. Faced with an incompetent Labour leadership, she may well win tomorrow’s election, if that is the case, the smaller her majority is, the better for Britain. As a leader, she has no redeeming qualities, and the greater the majority she enjoys, the more we will all suffer.