It seemed like such a good idea at the time, didn’t it, to call an election with the anti-Brexit backlash seemingly weakening, Labour languishing in the polls, Theresa May’s ratings high, and the right wing media portraying her as some kind of cross between Thatcher, the Queen and Boudicca.
It does not seem like such a great idea now. As The New European editor Matt Kelly writes this week, even if she wins she’s lost, unless the three-figure landslide she was planning for actually happens, and everything now suggests it won’t.
It seems an age since I wrote in the same paper that things might not work out as she expected them to, not least because her ‘Brexit At Any Cost’ approach was not as big a vote-winner as she might imagine, given so many believe even a good deal will be worse than what we have now.
Ever since becoming Prime Minister, she has governed as though the 48percent who voted Remain did not exist. They do. True, many have joined the inevitability bandwagon, saying that it is going to happen so let’s make the best of it.
Many have not, and the man who called Radio 4 Any Answers today was not alone in saying he intended to use his vote to seek to create chaos. He hoped a hung Parliament might result, and with it the need to review the whole question of whether there might be a way out of this mess that the referendum has created for us. What was clear from the programme, and even more so from the reports coming back from canvassers, is that the electorate is not playing Mrs May’s game. This election is going in all manner of unexpected directions.
The big surprise for many is that it is Mrs May who has been dreadful under pressure, not Jeremy Corbyn. Given the advantages with which the Tories started, there are no words dire enough to capture just how dire her campaign has been. And though I am not as converted to Corbyn’s leadership as my son Calum is – here is the piece he has written for The Guardian – the Labour leader has made the weather much more than she has with her robotic and changing mantras.
Where I disagree with Calum is that to me, it remains a deeply dispiriting choice of competing visions of the past, with big issues of the future barely addressed. Not just Brexit, on which we are no better informed than when we started, but the pressures of demographic change, the need for public service reform as well as investment, the development of robotics and artificial intelligence, climate change.
Even with Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord, the climate crisis has barely limped its way onto the agenda, as the Tories steer it back to May being the only person capable of negotiating Brexit – the EU 27 leaders are moderately amused at that one, given strong and stable has so quickly turned to weak and wobbly – and Jeremy Corbyn back to huge spending promises raised by a hike in corporation tax.
So in we go to the final strait, and even if the polls still point to a Tory win, it is most certainly not going as planned and what with Trump, Brexit and Macron, we are in the ‘anything can happen’ era of politics.
And here, just for the purposes of -Told You So-itis,’ are a few extracts from the piece I wrote for The New European seven long weeks ago, when Mrs May’s hubris was reaching its peak.
Last Saturday, Theresa May said the whole country was uniting behind Brexit after a difficult and divisive debate.
Three days later we were apparently so divided we need a general election to settle the issue of Brexit once and for all. Er … like the referendum was meant to.
Let nobody swallow the line that there is some noble high motive to her going back on her word not to call an election. There are two reasons why she has done so. The state of the Labour Party. And the reality of the Brexit negotiations. The first gives her confidence. The second gives her nightmares.
On Labour she has decided that of the two leaders of the two main parties only one would ever be chosen as PM by the country. Or was she worried Jeremy Corbyn might go before 2020, when, under David Cameron’s gimmick of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the general election should have been?
On Brexit, what is the rush if we are going to get the great deal with the EU she has been promising? What is the rush if Liam Fox’s trips to the moon and back are going to deliver these great Global Britain free trade deals far and wide? She has two years to negotiate post the triggering of Article 50 … so why not do the deals, show how great she has been, and then go to the country in 2020? The timing could not be better, surely?
Well, no, because she knows already that she will not be able to secure any deal which, as promised by David Davis, delivers the same benefits as membership of the single market and the customs union. He knows, she knows, we all know, it just won’t happen. They also know, and we know, that come 2020, even with the best deal available, we will still be in a transitional phase, and she will be unable to stand before the people and say she has delivered what she said she would.
Today she has a small majority, and it contains MPs who might just want to take a look at the deal she comes back with before deciding whether to back it.
The gambit she launched on Tuesday is about exploiting Labour’s current weakness to deliver herself a landslide so that whatever deal she gets – including no deal, with all the damage that entails – she has the backing of the ranks of hard Brexit MPs she hopes to get installed.
It is about having a mandate for Brexit At Any Cost, whatever the harm to Britain’s real national interest.
There was a touch of the Erdogans about the way she said that one of her reasons for going back on her word was the fact that Labour had said they might vote against whatever final deal she reached, and the Lib Dems would never stop fighting against Brexit. Perish the thought that an Opposition should oppose or hold to account! Perish the thought that she should be given anything other than a blank cheque by the whole country as she goes into the most difficult, complicated and unpredictable negotiation any Prime Minister has had to engage in.
She has calculated she cannot lose, and will still be PM come June 9. She may be right. She has calculated the landslide and the huge majority, because of the state of the Opposition, are there for the taking. On that, we have to make sure she is wrong.
Because for all her talk of Britain being united, whether in her Easter message or in her Brexit White Paper, I have never known the country so divided. Millions remain angry about Brexit, fearful about the route Mrs May is taking, and voiceless when Parliament had already so heavily voted in favour of Mrs May’s plan.
Those millions – and let’s hope they include some of the millions who couldn’t be bothered to vote last June – have it in their hands to stop her getting the landslide and the untramelled power she wants. It means opposition parties being just that. The Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens holding firm to their pro-Remain stance, Labour hardening its position to make sure the party is offering a clear and genuine alternative to the hard Brexit that will damage most the people and areas Labour traditionally represents, and the chance to reject May’s deal at the end of the process.
It means the broadcast media, overly influenced by the Brextremist Lie Machine of Dacre, Murdoch, Desmond and the Barclays, being far more challenging, not allowing Mrs May to hide either behind the vacuous soundbites – Brexit means Brexit et al – or behind the claim that she can’t tell us what deal is acceptable because it gives away her hand.
It means above all making sure that ‘Brexit At Any Cost’ becomes a huge negative for any Tory candidate who wants to stand up for it.
So it is going to plan then, just not Mrs May’s … What I didn’t imagine back in April was that she would turn herself into the biggest negative of all.