Well, it’s on, and it was onned pretty goddam quickly. UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday that she would seek a vote in parliament to call an early general election, which would, if voted through, be held on June 8. Of course it was voted through — who would risk the idea of resisting an election, and see it get through anyway? — and so we we are all on the way down the big slide. May and the Tories have been saying for months, a year, that they would not seek an early election under any circumstances. No one believed them, and they were right. This poll is ostensibly being held to achieve “stability” in the process of Brexit, despite the fact that May and the right-centre of the party haven’t lost a single vote on post-Brexit matters yet.
The real and obvious reason is to crush Labour, really crush it. Recent polls suggest that the gap could be approaching 20 points, the Tories north of 40, Labour in the low 20s. That might be an outlier, but things are very, very bad for Labour. The temptations for the Tories was that this might be the bottom of the curve. The Brexit buzz is well and truly over; from now people are going to start to realise it will make little difference to their lives, and there are years of tedious negotiation ahead, in which it will have to be acknowledged that the UK is laced into a global system, come what may, unless it wants to live on herring and turnips.
Meanwhile Labour “leader” Jeremy Corbyn has steadily improved his media and dispatch box performance to the point where’s he become a forceful speaker; leave it any longer and people might start to change their mind about him, i.e. see him as something other than a mature age student with a Nicaraguan knit bag over his shoulder, for his Development Studies notes, hanging round the college’s Thabo Mbeki coffee lounge talking about when he saw Tom Robinson at the Hammersmith Apollo after an RAR rally, you kids don’t know …*
So it’s time to jump. The Tories, on the strength of polling, will jump to a vast majority, getting around 400-450 seats in the 650-seat parliament, with Labour on a 120-40, the SNP on 50, the Lib-Dems back up to about 25 and another 25-30 strays and Irish. That will not only be a shot at cementing them in for a decade, but it also give Theresa May an internal party majority; she will be able to survive the backbench revolts common in UK politics (the one that prevented intervention in Syria in 2015, for example), and govern as an elected dictatorship. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, uh, not much it would seem. Labour simply has no credibility, not only in marginal seats — they’re gone — but also in the northern and Midlands heartland, where solid Labour votes could once be relied upon. They will retain their true core working-class seats, but there’s a new type of marginal, mid-inner round small cities, industry long gone, where many people don’t feel particularly militantly working class anymore, disconnected from workplaces, unions, neighbourhoods, reconnected by Tescos, TV and Facebook. Their disdain for Corbyn is visceral, and it has nothing to do with his agenda, which they would support or be to the left of. It’s to do with the fact that he just doesn’t sound like a leader, or didn’t three months ago, the last time they clocked him.
Should it all go according to May’s plan, Labour will have no seats south of Birmingham, aside from London, and a handful round Bristol, Exeter and the like. The Lib-Dems will take a few back of the 58 they won in 2010 (they currently have eight), but there will be no great revival. Their leader, Tim Farron, is unimpressive, and half their candidates are certifiable, the real flotsam of marginal politics. Many people will welcome a period of stability — even if political stability is life chaos for others, as a new austerity rains down — and be happy to not even have to think about politics at all. Theresa May will become the Stanley Baldwin of 21st-century British politics. The Lib-Dems will puddle along, UKIP will win no Tory seats, and Labour will simply eat itself, and not in the good way. Indeed, if UKIP take any seats, before immolating entirely, it’ll be from Labour in the north, from Labour voters tired of a party run by London elites, pro-high immigration and multiculturalism. UKIP’s shift leftward on economic matters will continue, whether honest or not, and that might prove to be a post-Brexit rallying point for them.
But of course, elections make things happen in ways that no one can predict or control. Which is a good reason not to have them, and doing so when not required is an expression of either audacity or exigency. Should it be the latter, well, there are possibilities. Corbyn could get the same groundswell that Melenchon is now getting in France, May could stumble badly, scandal could … ahhhh, my heart isn’t in this. Theresa May would have to find Madeleine McCann and then shoot her in the head with a speargun at the moment of discovery to suffer any poll damage scandal-wise, and Corbyn is now Melenchon, the latter having constructed a new political program as focused on production as it is on consumption, whereas Corbyn remains focused on distribution, cuts and rights. It’s gone, I would think, the deal is done, and this sudden election, loathed by the public, will be a ruling-off, and the start of a new period. But y’know, prove that I lie.
*Hammersmith Apollo: great barn-like rock venue for decades; Tom Robinson, author of 70s anthem (Sing if) Youre Glad To Be Gay, now married to Sue Brearley, with two children; RAR, Rock Against Racism; Development Studies, do a barista training course.