Steve Bullock’s faultless analysis of the sobering reality of British politics. Whilst we hoped common sense would win out, tribalism, careers, and incompetence destroyed any chance to unite the nation.


First published in June 2020.


This will, I think, be my last post on UK politics.

It a) makes me desperately unhappy;
b) damages my mental health; and
c) is futile with the current parties and system.

The news that the Department for International Development (DFID) will be abolished also brings my journey with it to a resounding full stop.

On the only one of those issues that is not personal, the 2019 general election crystallised perfectly what had been a persistent, nagging issue for the previous four years. Parties, and loyalty to parties, destroys everything, particularly in this FPTP system.

It was patently obvious that the only way to avoid a Johnson government, and the horrendous nepotism, erosion of rights, centralising of power, evasion of scrutiny, hollowing out of the welfare state, ignorance and bigotry that would bring, was cross-party cooperation.

Yet neither Labour nor the LibDems (with a few small exceptions at local levels), could bring themselves to do it. The LibDems belatedly embraced the tactical voting that was so clearly necessary with a few days to go, but it was too little, too late.

Throughout the campaign, Labour and the LibDems incessantly attacked each other. Labour whipped up its supporters with reminders of the coalition, while the LibDems whipped theirs up with the pipe dream of a LibDem PM, and scare stories of Corbyn as PM.

This was a direct continuation of the approach to a Government of National Unity which could well have been possible under a Tory minority, but which unreasonable demands and hostilities from both main UK-wide opposition parties scuppered.

So the only chance of avoiding a Johnson Government (I’d remind you that we’re not even a year into it, and have more than 4 more years to go) was squandered for petty party-political reasons at a point when the UK needed unity to avoid catastrophe.

This will not change. Starmer’s silence on an extension to the transition period, and a LibDem party that cannot even be a**ed to elect a new leader - both of which are based purely on party self-interest and/or internal party politics - unfortunately demonstrates this.

Electoral reform could improve this, but Labour is too scared to embrace it. Even then, PR and coalition governments require a setting aside of partisan purity and anti-opponent bile and hatred that I do not think is probable, at least for several electoral cycles.

During the anti-Brexit campaign after the referendum, I was lucky enough to work with exceptional MEPs from all parties, including the Conservatives, but I was naive to believe that this approach could be replicated in Westminster. It never was.

Yes, some ad hoc alliances were built for individual votes, but, ultimately that picture of the empty chair where Corbyn should have been at the early cross-party meeting showed itself to be a harbinger of things to come. A truly united front could never be built.

The empty chair where Jeremy Corbyn should have been. / Twitter - @ThomasBrake

The LibDems chose a leader whose antipathy towards the SNP soured relations instantly. Close cooperation Brexit was instantly undermined by anti-Nat rhetoric as LibDem members and supporters (many of whom admired Nicola Sturgeon) in England looked on uncomprehendingly.

There were a lot of failures in the anti-Brexit campaign, but I would argue that, now, it seems apparent that the parties were never going to cooperate to the extent needed, and it could therefore never really have succeeded.

Us mugs who were either non-partisan, or willing to set aside partisan issues for a bigger cause, of course didn’t know that at the time. We believed rationality and the national interest would transcend it, and that the party posturing was just that. It wasn’t. It was real.

The European Parliament elections should have demonstrated this reality to us. High profile pro-EU campaigners literally left the campaign to stand on a Labour manifesto that did not promise a People’s Vote (stupid name for it by the way; it fooled nobody).

The party, and their careers, came first.

While this has been driven by the parties themselves, partisanship among supporters is also to blame. Promoters of tactical voting were accused of being anti-semites for recommending voting Labour in some constituencies, and of hating the poor for suggesting the LibDems in others.

Yet, in the absence of a proportional system, and with the realities of polling at the time, this was the only possible way of avoiding the government we now have taking power. Rejecting it was either delusional or a choice that other partisan concerns were more important.

Until this party system, and more importantly the opposition parties themselves, changes, politics will not change. People like me shouting into the ether will not make a difference until parties can unite in common cause on what they agree on, and set aside what they do not.

The venom and hatred shown by each to the other makes this unlikely. Hell, stopping the venom and hatred shown by factions of parties to other factions within the same party would be a start, and they can’t even do that.

Now to the personal, which I should say the above has directly enabled. I joined the civil service at DFID. I worked for it and represented it in the EU for my entire career, in London, on secondment to the European Commission, and then on loan to the UK Mission to the EU (UKREP) in Brussels.

It now seems that, like our EU membership, DFID will go, or at least be subsumed into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). As everyone who understands it will tell you, this will be a disaster.

Moreover, it will be a tragic blow to the UK’s reputation in the world.

DFID has been a best-in-class development agency since shortly after its formation. It’s policies and financial allocations were based on need an effectiveness, as opposed to political expediency, to an extent most other aid professionals could only dream of.

My primary job through the 10 years+ I worked for it was to help reform EU aid structures in its image. The credibility DFID and the UK Government had made that objective possible. For some it was welcome, for others it was not, but we made great strides.

In 2014, the UK managed to get objective and transparent aid allocation criteria written into EU law. Instead of Member States’ pet countries getting aid as a political gift, money was directed to those that needed it.

It was by far the biggest achievement of my career.

Now the UK will revert to doling out aid as political gifts for its own economic or perceived geo-political benefit. As ever with this government, the poor will lose, power will be centralised and discretionary, and selfishness will prevail.

Much less importantly, my journey ends too.

I was proud of DFID, proud of its role in the world, and proud of it and the UK’s influence in the EU. All that is undone. What is left of UK Government is something I have no connection with and do not recognise.

On a selfish note, constant engagement with, exasperation over, and thinking about the psychodrama of UK politics simply harms me. It makes it impossible for me to be mentally or physically well. I just can’t do it anymore.

This sounds defeatist, I know.

Change can be made. People can join parties and change them or set up and promote non- or cross-party action. Lead by example by rejecting partisanship and political hero-worship and villain-hating in favour of doing what you believe is right.

Oppose together. There’s four years to build the opposition together. Force the party machines and leaderships to cooperate. Force a united opposition. Without that, this lost decade for the UK will become two. Or more.

Parties ruin everything. Stop them doing that.🔷


PS. If you only followed me for stuff on UK politics (as opposed to Scottish or EU which I’ll still tweet on), I won’t be offended in the least if you unfollow. It’s totally understandable, and thank you for all the past RTs, likes, and general support.


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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 17 June 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Christoph Scholz. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)



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