I am not sure I have been so detached from a General Election in my life. Others seem to feel the same - excepting committed left wing activists who are clearly highly energised, far more than conservatives who seem to be asleep and complacent, at least on social media.
Just under two weeks ago, it seemed simple. The issue was Brexit and that meant a simple decision - to go with a Government that promised to see it through against an Opposition that could not be trusted on the issue, perhaps despite itself. Two events have shifted opinion slightly though not yet decisively.
The first is the sheer energy of the beleagured Labour Party. While everyone else is complacent or whining about things already done, Corbyn's campaign team has come out slugging in all directions on matters that are quite separate from Brexit and which should be matters of public debate regardless of our entrapment in the European political project.
This is still, frankly, mostly talking to the support base, reminding wobblers that the faith is strong but it does seem to have pushed Labour up to 30% and halted the Party's decline even if the total package is not in place and still seems incoherent. Above all, Corbyn has raised issues of austerity, public services, poverty and peace and war that a complacent Conservative Party has thought to bury under the carpet.
The second was the intervention in The Sun of the pseudo-patrician Boris Johnson who managed, in one rather ridiculous attempt at populism, to alienate in a few hundred words many natural Labour voters who were prepared to give the Tories the benefit of the doubt on the basis of May's promise of good governance in a time of crisis.
He reminded us that the Parliamentary Tory Right operated in a sub-Churchillian rhetorical world that talked down to the voter and still behaved in foreign policy matters as if the Crimean problem was no more than a re-run of Palmerston's. May's barely suppressed irritation at the intervention was no comfort because it reminded us that these fools on the Parliamentary Right would have a say on Brexit when the right message to get across was one of national unity in the face of a potential foreign threat - and I don't mean Russia!
In fact, Johnson showed to his Leader a cynical disregard of the national interest in his own interest, not even the Party's. A big majority for May allows her to dispose of him, a rather second rate politician who managed to ride the tide of history last year but who is really surplus to requirements. By making a bid for leadership of the populist Tory Right as last of the Etonians, Johnson was really trying to ensure that he remained a Big Beast in a post-Election reshuffle and was quite prepared to knock off 1-3% of May's national unity vote to do so. I hope she sends him to the back benches for that act of occult disloyalty alone.
But why be so detached? This is certainly the most critical election in a very long time in terms of the national interest. Perhaps because it all appears to be absurd.
Perhaps because the combatants seem not to be able to rise to the occasion for all their energy (Labour) or promise of stability (Tory). The Prime Minister mounted a sort of coup against a divided and
useless Opposition which has not come to terms with the events of last
year but seems incapable of ensuring that the Conservative Party conveys a national interest rather than a party interest argument for office.
The Labour Party itself is just not ready for office. It is deeply unstable
and may end up being the lynch pin for a coalition that would include
parties I really do not like. These parties will divert the people's
resources and the State into issues (green, petty nationalist and
liberal) that are irrelevant to our primary concerns which are economic
survival and some degree of cultural cohesion. Their presence in
Government would be disastrous.
On the other hand, the Tories are
about as trustworthy as the Blairites, which is tantamount to saying no
more trustworthy than a rattlesnake, on a number of issues. As we have seen with Johnson and his circle of buffoons, they seem
to have rapidly degenerated into the worst sort of tub-thumping
militaristic foreign policy and to be utterly blind to the necessity for
necessary sacrifices to be necessarily made in a fair way.
Labour does not seem to get our serious economic situation (which
actually has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the
previous Labour Government and the last lack-lustre Coalition
Government). Its policies to date are a mish-mash of crowd pleasers
without coherence. The Tories certainly do not get that their policies
are set to create social problems that will cost more to rectify than
the savings they hope to make from austerity.
Both sides are out of
touch still with the country and its needs. Corbyn and Starmer have
trimmed once too often. May and Hammond have no finger on the national
pulse but are hoping merely to ride the general fear of instability in
difficult times. The tribal loyalists on all sides may be getting
very excited but what we really want is competence and, of course,
stability so I am sticking to three principles for the moment:-
1. What we need
as a country is not partisan stupidity, whether it comes from excitable
activists or Boris Johnson, but strong Government to see us through
Brexit and out the other side. Anyone seeking to limit strong Government
in the hope of reversing the vote on June 23rd is giving comfort to the
enemy in a tough negotiation on which all our futures depend. When
Article 50 was invoked, from that day on, the EU became 'the other', our
opponent. Not being able to trust a possible progressive coalition to
understand this - which is actually one of choosing treachery over
patriotism (there is nothing shameful in patriotism in a crisis) - is a
serious barrier to voting Labour on June 8th.
2. Once Brexit is
out of the way, the Tories really will need to be removed but not by a
ramshackle, squabbling bunch of competing and rather dim-witted egoists.
The Blairites and Hard Remainers need to be isolated and contained, the
Liberals, Greens and Petty Nationalists thrust into the dustbin of
history and a serious hard-edged alternative to class-based Toryism
needs to develop that can seize power by democratic means in 2022. This
can either be a transformed Labour Party or a New Party of the Left
(since UKIP is now an obscene and destructive joke) but it has to happen
or the Tories will complacently be in power for over a decade, only to
be replaced by some depressing abortion of the Centre-Left carrying on
the Tories' policies in muted form.
3. Theresa May and David
Davis are tolerable as the caretakers in these difficult times but not
so second raters like Johnson, Gove, Hammond and Fox. Moreover,
even May should be tolerated only because of the need to see through
Brexit. She should be challenged on her class-based politics, her Deep
State militarism, her insistence on still being a poodle to Washington and the
essential unfairness of her Government's approach to what should be
fairly shared burdens as we adjust to new conditions. She is no more to
be trusted than the Labour Party apparat that would knife Jeremy Corbyn
at the drop of a hat.
So what would be the best result, knowing
that such a result is not in our power and that each of us is making
fine judgements on local constituency politics? In my case, Johnson has obliged me to withdraw, as a matter of honour, my planned loaned vote to our very nice and competent liberal Remainer Tory who will loyally serve his Prime Minister. It does not yet have a home to go to.
Nationally, out of my control, the best result
would be a sufficient majority for the Government to be able to stand up
to both Tory Remainers and Hard Brexiters alike during the process of
negotiation, so long as there are no compromises on national democratic
self determination, but also a relative strengthening of the Labour Party
against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Petty Nationalists (not
necessarily in terms of numbers of seats but in terms of an increase in
the share of the vote from the low opinion polling levels of recent
It would be good to see the Liberals wiped out, the
Greens and UKIP positioned as extra-parliamentary forces and nothing
else and the Petty Nationalists reduced to minority status in their own
territories. It would also be good to see the balance in the PLP shift
towards the Left and Corbyn secured as Leader in order to undertake the
two to three year programme required to democratise the Labour Party and change
its culture, with new candidates systematically in place before 2022.
By all means, given its base, the Labour Party should challenge the
Tory Government throughout the Brexit process in the interests of the
vulnerable and workers but it should not be so foolish as to seek to
overturn the result on June 23rd or give comfort to the enemy during the
negotiations. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Labour Party can
surely, by then, have earned our trust as a unified national democratic
socialist alternative to the decadent posturing of the current Party of