European elections in the UK are normally greeted by widespread public apathy. Things seem different on this occasion, for fairly obvious reasons.
I don’t think I’m ruining anyone’s illusions in saying that very few punters take an informed interest in who represents us at the European parliament.
It usually breaks down into nothing more scientific than choosing your favourite colour. Of course you also get to register a protest vote or else chuck a milkshake at someone.
What also makes this whole unexpected process a bit unreal is that we seem to have entered an era of pop-up designer-politics whereby you get specially manufactured groups created just for the occasion.
The newly-minted Brexit Party and Change UK are conveniently positioned within the electoral spectrum, while Ukip struggles for some fresh single-issue relevance.
The rest of the vote-grubbing crowd are frantically calling upon supporters/floaters to send a message, make a statement or else take a stand – and presumably achieve this multi-tasking without worrying about the European Union or how it should be run.
The Conservatives, briefly emerging from terminal stages of leadership meltdown, desperately want to stop the far-left in their tracks. An equivocating in-out Labour Party similarly thinks it’s about stopping the far-right. Meanwhile Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru simply want to stop the clock – so far as Brexit is concerned.
But here’s the thing. Today’s election isn’t about future membership of the European Union. Any choices regarding a customs union, a Norway thingy or a no-deal outcome will be decided in Westminster, not Brussels or Strasbourg.
Something else to note is that unless the turkeys opt for an early Christmas, those MPs making the decisions are not up for election themselves until 5 May 2022.
So basically, as far as I can see, a log-jam of contrived events caused by so-called leaders have made this the wrong election at the wrong time and called for the wrong reasons. As such, the result will be pretty meaningless..
And if that diminishes democracy in any way then I reckon it’s no-one’s fault but ours.
Chewing over the future
I’ve spent the last week or so in a string of breakfast and lunchtime events listening to a familiar narrative by political and business leaders on how current uncertainty is harming future prospects.
Among the bacon rolls and rubber chicken, you hear the same bleak stories of key investment decisions on hold. This situation is just as crippling for business in the boardroom as on the shop-floor. What’s more, it’s one made worse by political shenanigans widely perceived as little better than factions in pursuit of short-term advantage.
And yet, according to an off-the-record breakfast briefing by a financial institution the other day, the road is less rocky than you might think. Indeed, we apparently have the all the necessary resilience in place should we face the cheerful prospect of falling over the cliff-edge.
I think the message was meant to be reassuring, but for me it just makes the relationship between economic forecasting and business strategy more baffling than ever.
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