Unity doesn’t fall from the sky. You must build it every day. We’ve built it together for six months; it wasn’t easy.
Not so strong and stable
It’s difficult not to laugh at Theresa May today. Thinking she could take advantage of her huge lead in the polls (remember when that was a thing?), she called a snap election clearly intending to crush a weak and divided Labour Party and entrench the Conservatives in government for the foreseeable future.
Well that didn’t happen, did it?
Instead we discovered that, far from being strong and stable, May is weak, wobbly and terrified of encountering actual voters. Corbyn, on the other hand, has had a spectacular campaign. I remain skeptical of both the man and his agenda, but it cannot be denied that he is able to find and fire up supporters, and get them to go out and vote. This proves, if nothing else, that campaigns really do matter:
Theresa May ran what was perhaps the worst campaign in recent political history—robotic, cliché-ridden, condescending, slapdash and otherwise awful. By contrast Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn ran an inspired campaign. He started off with the huge advantage that expectations were so low; if he didn’t devour a baby on the screen people were pleasantly surprised. But as the election proceeded he turned into an impressive campaigner. He dealt with hostile interviewers with a zen-like calm. He explained his beliefs patiently. Mrs May’s rallies were abysmal affairs. She frequently imported party apparatchiks to pretend to be real people. Mr Corbyn’s rallies by contrast were thrilling—huge crowds of the party faithful flocked to see their leader.
The knives are already out for Theresa May and I really don’t see her surviving as leader of the Conservative Party until the end of the year. At the time of writing this post, it looks like she is trying to come to a deal with the DUP to stay in power but I don’t see this lasting for long. Much of her party have been keeping their heads down while she looked likely to remain in power, but now they’ve scented blood and the more liberal and tolerant (Ruth Davidson) wing of the Tory party are going to bring her down quickly if she cedes to much to the Irish Unionists. And if she doesn’t, they’ll bring her down slowly.
Having voted for Brexit by a small majority last year, it appears that the electorate aren’t as keen on driving the UK economy over a cliff as May had assumed. While Labour are still favouring exiting the EU, they also have their own red lines (such as retaining access to the single market) which has the potential to complicate things and cause no end of delays. As long as Labour are willing to work with other parties, including the more moderate wing of the Conservatives, they should be able to ensure that the May will have to pay more attention to Parliament than she does to the tabloids.
The rest of May’s ‘red Tory’ agenda is, of course, toast. Any dream of marching into Labour heartlands and hoovering up disaffected voters has been revealed to be nothing more than an over-excited fantasy. Labour Ukippers have gone back to Labour, Tory Ukippers have gone back to the Tories and UKIP have finally shuffled off it’s mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. Which is nice.
Against this background and the much vaunted (by most of the media) return to two-party politics, the Lib Dems have done well to increase their total seats. I have to admit that, at the start of the campaign, I expected them to do better than 15 MPs. With hindsight, though, I think the election was too early for a party that bet the house on opposition to Brexit. Brexit hasn’t happened yet, the negotiations haven’t even started and, while I still think it will be a disaster, the disaster hasn’t happened yet.
I find myself feeling pretty positive about this result. The Conservatives definitely deserved to lose but I remain unconvinced that Labour deserved to win. And that’s what happened. So well played Britain and here’s to Round Two in October.
The middle has fallen out of British politics
This headline comes from The Economist, which accurately reflects my own view of the two main parties in the upcoming UK election:
Both Mrs May and Mr Corbyn would each in their own way step back from the ideas that have made Britain prosper — its free markets, open borders and internationalism. They would junk a political settlement that has lasted for nearly 40 years and influenced a generation of Western governments. Whether left or right prevails, the loser will be liberalism.
The paper concludes by (grudgingly) endorsing the Liberal Democrats
Backing the open, free-market centre is not just directed towards this election. We know that this year the Lib Dems are going nowhere. But the whirlwind unleashed by Brexit is unpredictable. Labour has been on the brink of breaking up since Mr Corbyn took over. If Mrs May polls badly or messes up Brexit, the Tories may split, too. Many moderate Conservative and Labour MPs could join a new liberal centre party—just as parts of the left and right have recently in France. So consider a vote for the Lib Dems as a down-payment for the future. Our hope is that they become one element of a party of the radical centre, essential for a thriving, prosperous Britain.
It’s a slim hope, but it’s about all we’re left with after this depressingly illiberal contest.
Paddy Ashdown is currently researching the 1930s for a book about the German resistance to Hitler. He says he is horrified by the parallels:
The way that we have retreated from internationalism to ugly nationalism in Britain. The way that we have retreated from international trade to protectionism. The sense that somehow or other democracy is failing.
The habit of lying in our public discourse. What was it Goebbels said? Tell it often, tell it big … stick it on the side of a bus perhaps and drive it around the country. I’m not saying Hitler is around the corner, of course I’m not, although you might conclude the conditions for something like that to emerge are there.
I’m always a bit wary of making Nazi comparisons, but it can’t be denied that May is allowing an increasingly jingoistic press to drag her in a direction that is both populist and authoritarian.
Quote of the Day: Consequences
A hard Brexit is very likely to hurt. The economy will tank; living standards will fall. But even though this mess was created by the right, don’t expect the left to benefit from the fall out: a fall in living standards will very likely make the electorate more selfish in their politics, blaming foreigners or enemies within for our woes. The end result of Theresa May’s failure may be to make Britain more right wing still.
Rafael Behr takes a look at Theresa May’s “no deal is a bad deal” shtick and finds it wanting:
Who wants a bad deal? If you are haggling in the souk, you threaten to walk away. If the merchant smells desperation, you will be ripped off. But the UK is not buying a deal from the EU. If article 50 talks fail, the rules of engagement with our neighbours still have to be settled. The difference is that the process would happen in a climate of acrimony, frozen trade, travel gridlock and financial meltdown. There is no such thing as “no deal”. There is orderly transition or there is frantic patching-up of essential arrangements as they expire. No deal is the final stop on the bad-deal train.
If May is bluffing, it is only her domestic audience that can be fooled, and they won’t stay fooled for long. If she isn’t bluffing, she is delusional. The rest of the world knows this and fears the consequences.
It really time that May and the rest of the Tory party starts explaining what they want to achieve, what they think they might achieve and what compromises they are willing to make. Because, right now, it looks very much like a weak leader and a deluded fparty are about to march the UK into a disaster.
Quote of the Day: Radical posturing
Real radicals draw up programmes with a view to implementing them; phoney radicals make promises they know they will never have to keep because the pledges are merely designed to shore up the core vote.