Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Strategy after a Huge Majority

First of all, what a fat lot of good the Fixed Term Parliament Act turned out to be! No need to repeal it, just bypass it. Once a Prime Minister wants a General Election, no one else in direct competition is going to shy away from the challenge. The Scottish Nationalists of course choose their own path. The only difference then is that dissolving Parliament is no longer a prerogative power of the monarch given to the Prime Minister. Quite rightly, Parliament should decide. Nevertheless, the Government controls the business of the House of Commons. By introducing the legislation, the governing party is whipped into compliance, and the rest follow on. The alternative is losing a vote of confidence, by a simple majority.

The upshot is that the timing still suits the Prime Minister and no one else. And it does suit her. She reached a 20% gap over Labour in the opinion poll ratings. Labour was clearly unsure and compromised with itself about leaving the European Union, and up ahead were French and German elections before which nothing much could be negotiated anyway.

Theresa May's reasoning for calling the General Election, that the country was uniting but Westminster was divided, was disingenuous to say the least. The country is not united any more than it was: opinion is going through phases, but not uniting.
And she might have heard that it is the job of the occupants of the Palace of Westminster to hold the Government to account. She sounds dangerously authoritarian, and the language of "give more authority to me" is not how we elect Members of Parliament in parties to choose a Prime Minister.

The real reason she has called an election is precisely the same reason why we who wish to remain in the European Union have to recalculate what to do. Strategy was to use the coming division in her own party, that which she will remove.

The situation is good for her and bleak for many. With the bleating media doing her job for her, and her repeated catch phrase about "my strong leadership versus the chaos of coalition" (which was quite stable previously, liked it or loathed it) - and people always prepared to be like sheep - we are facing a potential landslide Tory majority.

If little piggies flew and Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister, he would have bestowed upon him the same powers and privileges of all who become Prime Minister. His Cabinet would argue like any other and be subject to unity of presentation. The same bureaucracy would support it. If it needed a coalition for support, it could be as stable as any other. Like coalitions, it would consider the arguments more openly. Even tacit support could do it. Theresa May on the other hand might be telling her Cabinet what to think, ending up with all the mishaps of those Prime Ministers who think they are the only ones that matter, with a kitchen cabinet or the sofa for decision making. You might get one or two Cabinet member identified as restraining, as in the Blair-Brown duopoly.

Nevertheless a poll for Wales gives the Tories a lead, a situation not seen for 180 years. A vox pop effort in the street shows people saying they "won't vote for him", meaning Corbyn. Tim Farron has to say gay sex is not a sin early on in this campaign to try and fill the hole he jumped into since he became Liberal Democrat leader, now fuelled by tabloid journalism. The original question, I think, was from Channel 4 News when the journalist (Cathy Newman?) could see a difference between Liberal Democrat equality views and those of a card-carrying evangelical Christian. Seeing as he could say "not a sin" now, why didn't he say it then? Well, it is not important, but it shows how trivia can undermine: would he be so conflicted on a bigger matter?

For Corbyn to stop digging, he'd have to resign, with a rapid replacement via some emergency rules. It is not going to happen.

Now the first thing is that the first past the post system, and on the old constituencies, gives Labour some protection from outright disaster. However, there is a tipping point in constituencies, and this was seen in Scotland in 2015. It could be so in Wales. Indeed it could be so throughout large parts of England. I hardly think East Hull will be lost to Labour, despite Karl Turner, but it is quite possible that Hessle and Hull West could go Conservative now that Alan Johnson has retired. And such a tipping point activated would, the time next, start to implode in places like East Hull.

This is bleak stuff and I say it as naturally drawn to the Liberal Democrats. This is because the Liberal Democrats also face such a tipping point upwards, and so they are unlikely to achieve it to restore them back to some 60 seats. Indeed it is very difficult to get more seats once lost.

Here is the problem. The phase we are going through now, for EU opinion, is for those who voted Remain to say 'get on with it and see what happens'. Theresa May knows this. Later on, these voters, and those who just tipped over into leave, will start to see that we should stay in. Those, like me, who think we should stay for both idealistic and practical reasons are in a minority.

Our task was going to be to persuade others to realise we are going to be better staying in the EU. It is the fact on the ground, and we trade with it. If you pay for the benefit of it, and abide by the rules, you ought to have representation through the Council of Ministers, be in the Commission and opining through the Parliament. Coming out will be economically damaging, and the best option is to stay where we are. Coming out, we will not have a say on its level of integration in future, and we will be more and more on its outside, more and more having to accept what happens with no input. And staying in gives us our young people travelling all over Europe for work and non-work reasons, so freely and productively in every way, it gives us scientific co-operation, and it keeps us in this growing confederacy of internal negotiation and peace.

By calling an election now, Theresa May jumps the gun on this. Correct for her: she has taken the initiative.

It's not the other parties that are split, it is hers down the line. Here is how it was going to be: if Cameron had won the referendum - we stayed in - the Tory Party would have split there and then. By losing the vote, the Tory Party became nearly united and Labour looked divided and lost. But down the line, at the point of decision on the deal, the Tories would then split between the single market/ customs union side and the wholly out side. And with an effective majority of around twenty, any decision would have lost Theresa May her majority. The Tory Party this is, not the rest, who were either pro-EU or unsure. Because she might well get a decision at home in favour of the single market, she is deemed to be anti-single market. She is deemed to be attempting to get UKIP votes and seen therefore as 'hard Brexit'. Her policy direction seems to be that way, as calculated.

The problem is the rest of it, of course: the Tories and the dreadful funding/ management/ privatising of the NHS, the social care crisis, the education mess, transport inadequacies, the level of underemployment and fake unemployment figures, and people who are having to go to food banks because of the increasingly cruel social security system. This is what makes it so depressing, and why Corbyn is letting us down when he knows he is such a blockage to at least having a decent sized opposition.

This notion that he is 'moving the debate leftwards' is useless if the representation shrinks. Nothing is being moved, other than down a plughole. This idea of not this election but the next, that he loses of course but the troops will re-elect him leader to 'move the debate left', is just more woe for ordinary folk - yes the ordinary folk who are so foolish to vote for an authoritarian leader or, previously (we hope), the various stupidities of UKIP. Why do turkeys vote for Christmas?

The problem of Corbyn is demonstrated in a number of ways recently. For example, the decision making processes of Labour concluded that the Trident missile system is to be renewed. Corbyn cannot stomach it. So in an interview he doesn't support the policy, and immediately afterwards the Party issues a statement about its policy - contradicting its leader. Or Sir Keir Starmer makes a reasoned statement clarifying EU policy for Labour, after which Kwasi Kwarteng can demolish it in 5 seconds, saying this revision is now agreeing with the Tories and not what Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott had said previously (Channel 4 News, 25th April).

The Labour management of its party is a shambles, and it is this lack of governance that suggests he hasn't got a grip. In other words, the man (Corbyn) is a campaigner, not a leader, and he is simply putting people off. Contrast this with the grip Blair's Labour Party showed before 1997, and indeed throughout, and Blair's media presentation as leader in waiting.

So, those of us whose strategy was to 'educate and wait' regarding the EU opinion have been usurped. May has stolen our time, and we have to rethink. Tony Blair, turning up with his own "I'll vote Labour" and then not quite suggesting tactical voting, is vague - because he too has been caught on the hop. Those who would have formed a grouping to reverse the EU decision have all been overidden in strategy by this early General Election.

So it needs a rethink, and my rethink so far goes something like this. Theresa May actually believes in very little: it is her strength and her weakness. Assuming she gets a landslide, she will think she can do what she likes. Her leave position is more likely to seek economic continuation, close co-operation with the EU. She will probably be realistic over immigration. I don't buy it that she necessarily will do the 'hard Brexit', and for me it's not the point anyway. For me, a soft Brexit is stupid enough, because we may as well have representation and support the ideal in its concrete reality and get all its benefits. She was a Remain; her political power rests on slipping into leadership after the leave vote (she'd have done the same when Cameron would have lost power over divisions had he won; then her remain approach would have been via a General Election as well). So with all power she will be able to adjust back into that fairly uncommitted near leave/ near remain position.

So what happens in this scenario? Well, Blair saw this happen with his majorities: a party that is 'big tent' or stretches too far becomes unwieldy, and starts to split. She will have the manifesto mandate and all that, but the realities are still flexible. So the same division will come about. She will still have a majority, but the party will be increasingly undisciplined simply because it does have that majority. She will get her way, with big chunks of dissent among her own ranks.

Unfortunately, it does mean that those of us who would have us stay in the EU are probably stuffed: except for this. That there is likely to be a transition time in removing. That transition time will mark out the real losses that coming out will demonstrate. It may well be that an election happens during that period, one that involves a Tory Party in deep division and disarray, from which there can be a rethink. It is a small prospect, this, but the EU would not turn away a repentant sinner if the 'events dear boy' come about to change people's minds - where those who would have come out and quickly are disappointed, and those who'd have stayed realise that something has to be done to reverse matters.

Plus the other fact that a huge Tory majority will frighten the Scots. They will have about 45 MPs next time or so, with losses including to the Conservatives (and Liberal Democrats). It would serve Nicola Sturgeon to wait: wait until the arrogance of May as authoritarian and with the huge majority, plus powers of the EU to translate to Westminster and not the devolved assemblies (court cases coming up!), where that huge Westminster majority persuades the Scots that their best option is their own sovereignty, to be shared with the European Union.

For when the UK leaves the European Union, and no longer contributes to decisions that directly affect us, we will have lost not gained sovereignty. We will have lost it to a nowhere place, instead of investing it in supranational institutions.

Meanwhile, really, we should be voting in constituency after constituency in the best way to avoid an elected dictatorship. It is the best we can hope for. But the worst is, probably, a longer term best hope, where the Tory Party falls over itself and digs its own grave.

It is bleak. It is bleak because, in this election, all Theresa May has to do is what she is doing. She goes to occasional staged election gatherings, says very little, says the same thing each time, and leaves. She just needs to show her presence. The rest is left to Labour's mismanagement and lack of place in the current British EU situation, and the arithmetic mountain of Liberal Democrat recovery.

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