Tuesday 18 April 2017

Theresa May's Surprise General Election

Ask me this morning if there would be a general election, and I'd have said no. The stars were aligned against it, and yet here we are, stumbling about with our gast well and truly flabbered. Her shock announcement caught everyone on the hop, and Westminster and its echo chamber are gripped by elation and despair. Elation for the Tories who think they're going to storm to a huge majority, and for the LibDems who expect to regain a lot of the seats it lost, and despair for Labour. Tom Blenkinsop, for instance, has already announced he won't be defending his Middlesbrough South seat.

Already, the reasons for calling it have been churned through. The slim majority making her vulnerable to persistent awkwards opposing her domestic agenda and Brexit, the uncertainty whether Tory electoral fraud allegations might result in a slew of by-elections, and the ridiculous poll leads different companies are chalking up for the Tories, when you lay them out like that it makes you wonder why we didn't see it coming. After spending months chuntering about not facing an effective opposition, today she moans about Westminster being too divided and offering too much opposition, singling Labour out in particular for threatening to vote against her deal. Pathetic, really.

Clearly May thinks she's going to win. She has reasoned that any seats the Tories stand to lose to the Liberal Democrats will be made up from others taken from Labour. It's difficult to see how she could be wrong, but this is politics we're talking about and it lately has had the tendency to throw up a few surprises. Optimism, however, has to be grounded otherwise it's merely a polite term for delusion. With the political weather against Labour, are there opportunities to turn it around?

There is the naked opportunism of May's move allied to politics fatigue. As a rule, electorates do not favour overt self-serving though, given the state of polling, any backwash from people who'd change their mind on this basis is going to be negligible, unfortunately. Since last June, her personal ratings have been better than that of the her party's. Because of her super serious I'm-a-grown-up image, I think she'll get away with it. Yet it might not be as straightforward as the thinks. Many Labour MPs in vulnerable seats have spent time digging in. Their campaigns are going to be very local emphasising their community leadership creds and the like. Easy to do if you were already a constituency-focused MP, less so if you're a phantom who manifests only when a general election seance summons you. Thirdly, May's one-nationism makes her vulnerable when she's pursuing a sectional path. I agree with Theo Bertram, Labour should play hardball. It's too late now to do the dirty digging, but it's not like the government haven't handed its opponents plenty of ammunition. The Tories are going to go big with the IRA stuff? Fine. We should go big with their rape clause, and keep doing it. Having a good programme, and Labour has a good programme, doesn't mean eschewing sharp, shocking messages. The Tories don't hold back, after all, and we can expect a few dead cats if things start going awry.

Then there are events. Trump in Syria, Trump and North Korea, if these bubble over into a something much more serious, they could hurt May. Remember the Iraq debacle continues to cast a long shadow over British interventionism, as Dave found to his cost. It wouldn't be wise to rule out the consequences of the French presidential elections either. If Jean-Luc Mélenchon surges through to the second round, that straight away undermines the media's Labour unelectability thesis. Most people won't notice then, but if the outcome is a Mélenchon or Le Pen presidency then there will be consequences for our general election, particularly around Brexit - what with the left favouring a reformed EU, the far right leaving it. In this eventuality, a sense of growing crisis on the continent can't not have an impact.

And that brings us back to Brexit. The first two-thirds of May's premiership saw her wriggle and avoid saying what it was, beyond empty platitudes. Political necessity has decreed this untenable and we're getting a sense of it in dribs and drabs. However, she cannot get through the next six weeks merely repeating "red, white, and blue Brexit" and "we're going to get the best Brexit deal" nonsense. This presents an opportunity for her divided opposition. For a number of reasons, a progressive alliance is a non-starter, not least because the LibDems cannot be trusted. However, there is some room for a wee bit of cooperation between them, Labour, the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. All the parties want as soft a Brexit as possible, so there is no reason why they cannot arrive at a common position. With Remainers more motivated to turn out, as council and Parliamentary by-elections have demonstrated this last year, there is a possibility tactical voting on this basis could thwart May's ambitions and stop them in their tracks. A people's Brexit sounds facile, but something like that to oppose May's corporate Brexit could work.

Labour are in for a very tough time, and things look grim. Yet it doesn't have to be a cakewalk for the Conservatives. They can be denied their majority, they can be beaten, but not without an incredible effort and smart strategy. It's going to be a rough six weeks.


Chris Williams said...

One 'progressive alliance' is a starter: one in which we agree that we need PR, agree what form it will (not 'might') take (Scotland, but with the top-ups in the old Euro-constituencies would be a good starting point), and agree to fight a campaign based only on that. Alliance members co-operate in the 100 seats most vulnerable to Tories. We win, we pass the PR Act, which also has a dissolution order written into it, and then we fight yet another General Election -- but in this one, every vote, not just the votes of 100,000 people in marginals -- will count.


Phil said...

Absolutely - though I'm more a STV person.

Ken said...

Why agree to a GE on her timetable? She needs a 2/3 vote so Parl. Lab should say " You didn't not consult us, so we want Oct 10!" or some other inconvenient date.

Jeremy Corbyn (Parody) said...

Blairites must now start supporting the socialists and work for a Labour victory. No more sniping. No more electoral sabotage. Now is not the time for attacks on the poor and vulnerable, on trade unions, or on our party members.

Speedy said...

This is an all or nothing election. Look - Labour are going to lose. They are going to lose under Corbyn and they are going to lose because they have lost the working class on immigration and the middle class on Europe.

They will not win back the trust of the working class EVER under Corbyn who can see him for the bourgeois utopian he is, along with much of the rest of the country.

However, they may be able to re-convince some of the traditional Guardian reading middle classes and even pro-Europe Tories if they can promise something like a meaningful commons vote on the outcome of the negotiations which will provide the non-binary option of staying IN.

Thus they could form a progressive alliance with the others, but it would need to be on the single issue of PRO EUROPE, and essentially be seen as a re-run of the referendum - ie, if they can get the 48 per cent to vote for them only on Europe then they could win.

What I am proposing would be a Coalition for Britain and Europe which would not say it would renege on the referendum but would give a voted Parliament the right to do so - this would refresh parliamentary democracy as well as sticking one in the eye to May.

But it needs to be seen as this and only this - a centre left/ nationalist alliance that would steer the best course for Britain and Europe over the coming years.

The problem is that the Labour Party would refuse to engage with this because they would want to promote other key Corbyn policies - and this is where it would break down. And that is why I said at the top it is all or nothing - this is not business as usual. This is supposed to be for the good of the country - how can Labour accuse the Tories of putting narrow party politics first if they will do the same?

This is a time of national crisis, and has to be accepted as one , and if the progressives cannot come together now, they never will.

MikeB said...

My heart sank when I heard this news. Opportunistic and cynical as it clearly is, May is right to bank on it's being a single issue election, with her "let us just roll up our sleeves and get on with it" rhetoric fitting perfectly with the electorate's utter weariness with politics. "Don't talk to me about politics", they will agree, "Let's leave her to it" - before turning back to their instagram feed of kittens. (social media nowadays being our "heart of a heartless world, the sigh of the oppressed" etc etc)

I predict a big win for the Tories, on a scarily small turnout. The only sliver of consolation being that UKIP won't do well. Although even that is because they have outflanked on the right.

Here in Wales, I will probably argue for some sort of progressive alliance, based on the recent Labour/Plaid joint White Paper. Optimism of the will and all that.

Speedy said...

Blair's saying the same thing. Time for Labourites to climb out of the rabbit hole and risk everything.


Gary Elsby said...

How many Tories are facing election expenses fiddles and could cause by-elections?
Is it possible that the Tory majority could have been deleted?

To those vocal Labour MPs and members who have insulted Jeremy from day 0, I hope you realise your stupidity (same goes for Tony's 'war criminal' loons).

asquith said...

Will this be Zulfiqar Ali's moment?

keith said...

The mandate question about Brexit is a red herring. May's leading adviser is Fox, the idea that he and May want a mandate for a soft Brexit is laughable.

May and the Tories want a mandate to carry out the ending of the NHS and welfare state, more state subsidies and tax examptions for big business, increased taxes on the working and middle classes. That's what Labour should be hounding them on.

The Tories will be aided by the Lib Dems, with Farron already saying he would go back into coalition with them.

Also, there's the anti-Brexit campaign. Many of the people supporting this are genuine but Blair and co. will use it as a Trojan horse for a new centre party to kill off Labour under Corbyn (possibly aided after the election by some Labour MPs). It needs to be exposed.

It is a fork in the road election. A Tory majority or one backed by the centre is going to continue the neo-liberalism that has so damaged society over the past decades, either in or out of the EU.