Here we go again
Okay, here is my
hot warm lukewarm tepid pretty cold take on Theresa May’s shock announcement that the government will seek to trigger a general election on 8 June.
After a Scottish independence referendum in 2014, a general election in 2015 and an EU secession referendum in 2016, can we really muster the energy and enthusiasm for another vote in 2017?
Well, now we don’t have a choice (not that thinking a bit about the issues and then strolling to your local polling booth is very difficult). Theresa May made a bold decision to reverse her earlier protestations to the contrary and call an early general election, and from a purely party political perspective it was the smart move. Besides the jubilant Liberal Democrats, many of the whiners and naysayers on the opposition benches are unimpressed, bordering on terrified.
Many on the Left have been trying to have it both ways, first by criticising our “unelected” prime minister for daring to lead without an electoral mandate of her own, and now by carping at her decision to go the the public to seek that very mandate. It appears that “put up or shut up” time has snuck up on them.
But how does each party stand to fare in a June general election?
First and foremost, this is a richly deserved disaster for the Labour Party. Dan Hodges has already taken to Twitter trying to pin the blame for the party’s coming annihilation on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, but this is to mistake the symptom for the disease.
Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership and retained it following the coup attempt – both times cheered on by this blog – because unlike the third rate nonentities who currently make up the centrist wing of the party, the Corbynites clearly stand for something. You may not like what they stand for – indeed, opinion polls show that most of the country strongly dislikes the hard left agenda – but at least they have clearly demonstrable values and principles which extend beyond the acquisition and retention of power.
What have the Labour centrists offered since around 2005? Nothing but bland, focus-grouped banalities, preaching enlightened compassion while shoring up a failing consensus (pro-EU, pro-mass immigration, eager to reap the benefits of globalisation but even more eager to throw its victims on the welfare scrapheap rather than help them adapt to the new world) that betrays the interests of its core working class (and principled eurosceptic) vote.
The Corbynite revolution gave the indolent centrists a richly deserved kicking, but Corbynism – with is aversion to patriotism, obsession with nationalisation and statism, obsessively anti-American foreign policy and seething hostility toward wealth generation – is not the solution, but rather a fringe obsession. Throw in the fact that even many Corbyn true believers disagree with Corbyn’s principled euroscepticism (one of the few issues where he happens to be right), and there are more faults running through the Labour Party than they can possibly resolve in the weeks leading up to 8 May.
The key test will be the writing and release of the Labour Party manifesto. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party must quickly produce a compelling vision for the country that appeals to Corbynite true believers while not scaring off the rest of the country. Sounds impossible? That’s probably because it is.
And after the election? If (as seems likely) Labour end up treading water or going backwards, will that be the end of Jeremy Corbyn and Corbynism? Maybe, maybe not. You can pretty much find a pundit to tell you exactly what you want to hear on that question, depending on your own proclivities. But the centrists’ only hope is to hang the party’s impending defeat firmly around Jeremy Corbyn’s neck so as to discredit his worldview and leadership.
I half wondered whether some panicked shadow cabinet members might try to engineer another last-minute coup to depose Corbyn and replace him with a caretaker leader to see the party through 8 June, but it seems unlikely. The centrists have proven time and again that they lack all courage and conviction, and since victory seems impossible under any circumstances it is better from their perspective to let a general election defeat do what they themselves could not – rid the party of Jeremy Corbyn.
But if Labour does go on to lose the election and Corbyn then resigns, will what follows be any better? The last Labour leadership contest should tell you all you need to know about the calibre of individuals waiting in the wings to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.
One may not agree with Theresa May on all things – this blog certainly has sharp differences, particularly on the manner of Brexit and the role of the state – but one would be hard pressed to argue that she is an incompetent leader, particularly in comparison with the other party leaders. The public sense this too, which is why the Tories currently have a 20+ point lead over Labour in the opinion polls, why even many Labour supporters prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, and why the Conservatives will increase their majority following the election.
However, the Tories may not gain as many seats as their current commanding poll lead suggests. Some Tory MPs in staunchly Remain-supporting constituencies are vulnerable, particularly those who unseated Liberal Democrat MPs in 2015. Meanwhile, the Tories are potentially poised to pick up some seats from unapologetic Remainer Labour MPs representing constituencies which voted Leave, particularly in Northern England. Therefore we are likely to see a degree of musical chairs, where some formerly Tory seats go LibDem while the Tories pick up a number of seats from Labour. In my opinion, the net effect will favour the Tories (and the Liberal Democrats) at the expense of Labour, but the extent to which this is the case remains open for debate.
More interesting, though, is the likely impact on the composition and mindset of the Conservative Party following the election, assuming that they are returned to government. This will likely be a Tory party where some of its more pro-EU MPs are gone (excellent), but which also suffers from the loss of those MPs who otherwise exerted a more liberal influence on the government. The authoritarians and the head-in-the-sand hard Brexiteers will likely be strengthened and consolidate their grip over the party, which is a problem for anybody who wanted Brexit to act as a catalyst for further liberal reform and democratic or constitutional renewal in Britain.
The LibDems did not deserve their electoral drubbing in 2015, in which they were essentially punished for finally behaving like a responsible party of government and abandoning an unworkable campaign pledge (on university tuition fee caps) in the face of fiscal reality. For this act – for graduating from a party of preening opposition to one of government – they were subject to endless hysterical screeds about “betrayal”, and lost the bulk of their parliamentary party in the process.
Just as the LibDems did not deserve the full extent of their defeat in 2015, so they will not have deserved their likely gains in 2017, which will be fuelled by marshalling hysterical establishment opposition to the outcome of the EU referendum. The party will likely pick up a brace of seats – many retaken from the Conservatives – based solely on their pledge to campaign against a “hard Brexit” they will be powerless to stop. At one time, the Liberal Democrats might have presented a potential fallback option for disenchanted Conservative voters unhappy at the more authoritarian direction of their party. No more. Under Tim Farron, the party has descended into screechy europhilia and blind hatred of that half of the country which voted for Brexit. Civil liberties and other one-time LibDem interests will take a back seat to their efforts to subvert Brexit.
As a further complication, the kind of Brexit that the LibDems now technically argue for is actually not inherently bad in the short term – retaining single market access, openness to immigration etc. But the LibDems are not to be trusted, because:
- Their true agenda is to reverse Brexit entirely, not merely to seek the best form of Brexit, and
- Rather than pushing for better models of European cooperation and trade regulation, the LibDems seek only to keep Britain as closely shackled as possible to the existing, failed systems. For a party which likes to present itself as the home of enlightened, grown-up pragmatism, the LibDems take their europhilia like a religion, worshipping the EU as something inherently good and never to be seriously questioned.
Finally, Tim Farron is already picking up a lot of flack in left-wing papers and on social media for his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, particularly as they pertain to homosexuality.
This is a shameful, ridiculous witch hunt. So what if Farron refused three times to say whether he considers gay sex to be a sin, as his moralistic tormentors are currently crowing in a bid to damage him? Does anybody seriously think that the Liberal Democrat manifesto is going to call for the recriminalisation of homosexuality, for putting sodomy laws back on the statute books? Be serious. There is a world of difference between private belief and public policy.
There has to be space for private religious belief in this country. Secularists have a fair point when they worry about the influence of religion on public policy, particularly given that we have a legislature where 26 unelected bishops of the Church of England sit in the upper house and meddle in our lawmaking. But religious faith should not and must not become an acid test of eligibility for public office, where anybody professing faith or traditional beliefs is portrayed as extreme and beyond the pale.
More than anything, this is a witch-hunt against Christianity, one which will be cynically used by the other parties of the left as they manoeuvre for political advantage. Interestingly, Islam also has a word or two to say about homosexuality, and one can argue that Islam has a lot further to go than Christianity in accommodating LGBT people and issues, certainly in this country. But one wonders how many of the perpetually outraged critics of Tim Farron would be as fervent in their criticism if Farron were a Muslim rather than an Evil, Backward Christian?
I voted for UKIP back in the 2015 general election, not as an endorsement of that party’s more nativist, reactionary tendencies but as a means of expressing disgust in a Conservative Party which had drifted far from conservative principles under the leadership of David Cameron, and whose slide toward bland centrism did not deserve rewarding with my vote. I stand by that decision.
Needless to say, the landscape has changed in two years. Nigel Farage – a man with considerable political courage, if also numerous faults and demagogic tendencies – has retreated to the sidelines, if not quite sailed off into the sunset. And after a period of instability the party has settled on Paul Nuttall, who has shrunk into his leadership position, more of an inept clown than an existential threat to Labour’s Northern base.
Furthermore, the party’s raison d’être was essentially accomplished with last year’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. The party limps on, near bankruptcy and desperately insisting that its existence remains necessary as the guard dog of a hard Brexit, but most people either feel that the job is done following the triggering of Article 50 or realise that a party in such turmoil will be in no position to influence events any further, regardless.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. I attended the UKIP Party Conference in Doncaster in 2015, and spent my time interviewing various party figures and supporters about what role they saw for the party in a post-referendum Britain. Most senior UKIP figures, including Nigel Farage, spoke only in bland banalities.
Only Douglas Carswell had a plausible answer – a return to small-government, free trade, small-L libertarian platform – but this side was never likely to win out over the leftward turn to appeal to disaffected Labour voters. And indeed, Carswell has now left the party to stand as an independent candidate, firmly closing the door on any move in this direction.
At present, UKIP seem doomed to lurch incompetently to the Left, willingly shedding any remaining libertarian voters as they court the disaffected Labour vote by promising the same kind of consequence-free safety and security that Donald Trump promised to his supporters in America. A sad decline of a briefly promising political party.
Nobody can deny the influence that UKIP has had on our national politics. Nobody can say for sure that UKIP will not bounce back from their current political near death experience. But we can say with relative certainty that the party will fail to impress in 2017.
My take from the UKIP conference two years ago seems increasingly prescient:
I can’t help wondering if UKIP might not pay a price in 2017 or beyond for failing to pay enough heed to the type of party they want to be – and the type of supporters they want – by the time of the next general election.
I think it is fair to say that UKIP will now pay in a lump for their lack of foresight.
Scottish National Party
Nicola Sturgeon was quick to declare that Theresa May’s decision to call for a general election is a “political miscalculation”.
“She [Theresa May] is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour Party.”
“That makes it all the important that Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.”
Because in Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s mind, Scotland is a nation of adult-sized, diaper-clad babies requiring constant protection from the Evil Tor-ees, who are constantly threatening to do Bad Things like lower the tax burden and unleash free enterprise.
Will the SNP manage to sweep the three Scottish constituencies they failed to capture in 2015, or will they lose seats? One can only imagine that they will do very well again, and use their strong showing as an excuse to prance around acting as though the couple of million votes they received from a tightly concentrated part of the United Kingdom represent some God-given, stonking mandate to thwart Brexit for the rest of us or else attempt to sever Scotland’s historic union with the UK through another pointless referendum (they would lose, since the choice would be between remaining in the UK or being outside both the UK and EU).
At some point, one might hope that Scottish voters might look around them and realise what godawful, incompetent government they are receiving by lending such overwhelming support to the SNP. One might hope that those Scots who love liberty might balk at a party which introduces an authoritarian “named person scheme” giving the government oversight of every Scottish child, and whose decision to centralise the fire and police services into single unitary authorities is already costing lives. One might hope that Scots who are against independence or ambivalent about it might decide to stop rewarding a party which has abdicated any responsibility for government in favour of a single-minded obsession with independence, even after the 2014 referendum, to the extent that no legislation has passed the Scottish Parliament for over a year.
But all such hopes will be in vain. The SNP will perform well once again, racking up credulous low-information votes in defiance of their abysmal governing in Scotland and the scandal-plagued, ineffectiveTartan Tea Party in Westminster. By their actions and apparent preference for living in a one-party SNP statelet within the United Kingdom, Scottish voters are choosing to deliberately sever themselves from our shared national political discussion.
If the SNP is all but guaranteed to clean up regardless of their abysmal record in government and the ineffectiveness of their Westminster caucus, what incentive do the other parties have to make compelling pitches for Scottish votes, since these pitches will always be ignored? By choosing to half sever themselves from our United Kingdom with blind support for the SNP, Scottish voters are in danger of completely severing themselves from our national political discourse.
This is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy very much of Scotland’s own making.
Britain’s Rainbow, Unicorn-Spangled Progressive Alliance
Ah yes, the super-secret, silent progressive majority which is going to come together in the spirit of unity to lock the Evil Tor-ees out of Downing Street forever and save Britain from the evils of conservatism. Didn’t exist then, doesn’t exist now.
Disregard any breathless commentary about a Labour-LibDem-Green-SNP alliance.
One wonders what was the point in instituting a Fixed Term Parliaments Act if we were only to discard the idea of fixed terms for political expediency at the first opportunity.
Generally speaking, fixed terms of government are a good idea, but it must be acknowledged that they usually do not work well in a parliamentary system. Excuses can always be found to justify circumventing the normal timelines and going to the polls early, particularly when the government’s majority is small or when the country faces a particularly contentious issue which bisects normal party lines. The present situation meets both of these criteria.
Theresa May’s decision to call an early general election was clearly motivated by the opportunity to extend the Tory advantage in Parliament, with her stated rationale about “Westminster being divided while the country is not” being a convenient smokescreen. But that’s politics. If people didn’t like the idea of snap elections held for partisan reasons they had every opportunity to become more involved in campaigns for electoral and constitutional reform. Those who spend their time watching Britain’s Celebrity Horses Dancing On Ice and ignoring the nuts and bold of how their country is run have limited standing when it comes to complaining about outcomes they dislike.
Furthermore, those on the Left who spent the last nine months complaining that Theresa May has no mandate to govern can’t very well also complain when the prime minister responds to their wailing by seeking to claim an electoral mandate of her own. This applies particularly to snivelling Labour MPs (Liz McInnes) who seek to use the death of their own family members as political capital.
Brendan O’Neill perfectly critiques this attitude:
The speed with which Remainers went from saying “May doesn’t have a mandate for Brexit” to “How dare May seek a mandate for Brexit” is breathtaking. All that “no mandate” talk was such hogwash. They know there’s a mandate out there for Brexit — a historic, populous, swirling mandate — and they are horrified that it is being tapped into once again via a General Election.
It’s clear now that by “no mandate” they meant “ignore that mandate”. They thought they had wrestled the issue of the EU, and the whole question of Britain’s political and economic future, back from the people and into the hands of their expert friends and legal minds and level-headed lords and MPs. Wrong. Here come the people again!
When it comes to a summary of where we stand and predictions as to the likely outcome, Pete North makes the most sense as it relates to the election’s impact on Brexit:
If it is to be a shadow referendum then remain has already lost it given that their options are split and they’ve spent the last year telling most people they’re thick and xenophobic. I think it’s fair to say that the Lib Dems will achieve a restoration of a sort but there’s not much to get excited about. It is possible that they could form the next official opposition but by then Mrs May will have all the mandate she needs to do whatever she wants. There will have been a referendum, a parliamentary vote, article 50 and a general election. We are leaving the EU and that’s the end of it.
If I had to make a bet, I would predict that the next two months will see a lot of noise and intrigue followed by an electoral outcome not dissimilar to the one we have today, only with a slightly larger Conservative Party caucus gained at Labour’s expense and a moderately revitalised Liberal Democrat party who then go on to strut around as though their 30-odd seats represent some kind of stunning repudiation of the referendum result. UKIP and the Green Party will go nowhere, and by reaffirming Scotland as a de facto one-party statelet by rewarding the SNP for a job disastrously done, Scottish voters will continue to make themselves increasingly irrelevant to the UK-wide political debate.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe the Independent will come out with a hidden video recording of Theresa May murdering puppies a week before polling day, or maybe some of our EU “friends” will make some kind of infantile play to destabilise the British political situation for their own sadistic gratification. Perhaps Theresa May will astonish me and turn out to be pursuing an expanded Tory majority because she does in fact have an ideological backbone, and needs the wiggle room in Parliament to ram through a proper reforming Conservative agenda. Perhaps.
But if I had to guess right now, I would say that on 9 June we will be looking at “the same, but more of it”.
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