(corrected Aprol 25th)
This last year has been a busy one for anyone in politics. One year ago the SNP retained its hold on the Scottish parliament. Last June, the David Cameron government committed harikari over Brexit and just when it seemed things were quietening down with a low profile election, Theresa May blind sided everyone by calling a snap election for June 8. This last year was already memorable but now it has become historic, if not seminal for the 60 million inhabitants of these islands.
More than Atlee’s 1945 victory or the 1979 and 1997 elections that led to Thatcher and Blair’s long reigns, this one won’t change the UK it will dismember it. In springing a snap election, May has made a shrewd if cynical move. Far from being in the country’s interest, this throws red meat to her ill disciplined back woodsman while blind siding her hapless opposition already hamstrung by an unelectable leader in Corbyn. The fact that it has stolen any thunder from May’s local elections is irrelevant.
The whole demographics of the selection are different to any previous. Queer, as once heartlands such as Tory Surrey or Labour Lancashire were taken as red and the election hung on a few dozen marginals. The fact that they started campaigning in Bolton North East shows that Tories believe that these former Labour heartlands that voted strongly to leave the EU are ripe for conquest. Not just Croydon but Sunderland and Hartlepool are likely to return Tory MP’s this time round. They may even succeed in places like Perth and Berwickshire from under the SNP’s noses. About the only downside for the Tories is likely to be a resurgence of Liberal Democrats in the South west. Condemn the Tories if you would like but they do understand aspiration. These days the average voter is aspirational.
My own dire prediction is 170 Labour, 30 LibDem, 55 SNP and a landslide of almost 400 Tories. Labour is already a rarity in South-east England. But watch for the blue erode islands of red in the Midlands and North as well.
It should surprise no one that the Tories are brutally pragmatic enough to exploit a 20 point poll lead by calling a snap election.. What is surprising is that their main opponents appear to have learned nothing from their 1983 debacle and are again sticking their heads in to the demographic sand.
Time was that the “party of the working man” could indeed rely on the votes of workers.
But with the exception of train crew, teachers and council workers, few are unionised and fewer vote Labour as a matter of course. Dockers, miners, footplate men or riveters, they are all history now. Though poverty still exists, the average British worker has a house, car, a 42 inch HD TV and suns himself in Lanzarote or the like. These “Labour values” which Corbynistas tout are only being kept alive by Fabians and the dispossessed in an ever shrinking minority. However unpalatable Blairism may seem to the faithful, he showed the Labour party a 21st century future. A future on which it seems hell bent on turning its back.
Exploitative and Cynical though May’s decision may seem, anyone else faced with a similar open goal would have handled the ball in to the back of the net. But why all but 13 Labour MP’s should have supported her, requires deeper analysis. If ever Jim Callaghan’s jibe about Turkeys voting for Christmas applied, then it is to this hale clamjafrie, about to get their collective jotters.
So this Summer, expect to go back to the future by about 30 years. May has already shown she can be as autocratic as Thatcher. And with a similar 100 plus majority, there will be nothing to restrain her. But the bad news is there will be no democratic counterweight like the miners to keep her honest, nor any new flood of North Sea oil money to boost living standards and keep people happy. As the economic drag of Brexit becomes more apparent and the NHS slides further out of control, white elephants like Trident or the carriers will be parred and belts tightened. It will be around then that the folly of ignoring the protracted crisis of the Northern Irish Assembly, the request by this Scottish Parliament for a further referendum and the comeback from ignoring friends like the Irish within the EU, will come home to roost.
Isolated outside and autocratic inside the UK, May’s government will become evermore Anglo centric and hanker for some form of Churchillian greatness that died a century ago. While this may play well in the home counties, those newly blue Brexiteer heartlands “oop North” suffer as investment continues to drain to London if not Frankfurt.
Worst of all will be the “Ultima Thule” of the cultural colonies of Ulster and Scotland which back woodsman Tories especially, have never understood, since “making the world England” is their only philosophy. Give both places 5 years of untrammelled Tories with May at the helm, then watch Ulster fold quietly into the Republic and Scotland finally go its own way in a velvet divorce. By then May will be too busy holding a fractious Tory party and a fractured England together to worry about losing them. Gung-ho Unionists would do well to avoid celebrating any repeat of 1983 and give sober consideration to a century prior to that. At its imperial height, the UK parliament included 103 seats in Ireland with over 80% of them held by Irish Nationalists. Within two decades, Ireland was independent. May’s myopic grab for irredeemably English power will launch Scotland on a similar path one century later.