May’s Mission: Erase Cameron, Unite the Right and Destroy Labour
If voters are going to punish Theresa May for her opportunism, they have a funny way of showing it. According to YouGov, in the first poll of the general election campaign, her party now has twice the support as Labour. As many are preparing to mark the twentieth anniversary of the party’s greatest landslide, Labour is on the verge of its biggest post-war defeat.
The first days of the campaign have been marked by ritual posturing. A mere thirteen MPs voted against the government’s motion for an early election, yet few opposition MPs have completed an interview without criticising May’s opportunism.
May is refusing debates. No doubt the Mirror will resurrect its famous chicken suit, which is almost a national institution. Process issues will not win an election. They make for good tweets though.
To opponents May’s reasons are spurious but to her they are natural. Her general election is Act Two in the Brexit drama.
All political careers end in failure. May’s will too. But for now she is intent of burnishing herself against other’s failures. Cameron was a failure and May is determined to crush his legacy.
In contrast to her old boss, the prime minister’s form of modernisation is instinctively conservative on social issues tempered by a less Thatcherite economic message that softens the extremes of globalisation, with more regulation in the energy market, ratios for higher pay, and industrial intervention. Osborne’s deficit target was ditched and will not reappear.
So the former’s decision not to re-contest his Tatton constituency acts as a rather pathetic epilogue to the Cameron era.
The last two times Britain has voted for a change of government they have done so on a promise of continuity and change
The referendum reunited the right. Mission complete, Nigel Farage retired to spend more time with Donald Trump, making his party a footnote in political thought. His successor might talk of holding the government’s feet to the fire but May has created so much capital that few voters feel UKIP necessary any more. YouGov showed them dropping to 7%.
The final mission of May’s election is to destroy the Labour party. It was perhaps the rumours that Jeremy Corbyn wanted to resign before 2020 that eased May into her decision.
Putting aside her opponent's Brexit woes, she will be further aided by two things. The first is that Labour has a clutch of popular policies. Popular policies are to Labour what the top of the mountain was to Sisyphus: false hope.
Labour always has popular policies. Neil Kinnock had popular policies but never waved from the steps of Downing Street. Ed Miliband put his popular policies on a headstone. It turned out to be his political tombstone.
That the left can produce popular policies does not mean there is a progressive majority. Michael Howard fought the 2005 election with a series of targeted, popular polices. What he did not have was coherence. Now to get attention he has to threaten war against a long-standing ally.
The last two times Britain has voted for change it has done so on an equal promise of continuity. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron earned credibility by pledging to keep the governing party’s key spending commitments for two years. Helped by the collapse of their opponents’ lack of economic credibility, they were then able to be radical in other areas.
Whatever the realities of this government’s economic performance, Corbyn does not have that luxury. He is about as likely to promise to continue this government’s policies as a cat is to bark or a dog to miaow.
In the same sense that voters often want contradictory things from government, they believe contradictory things of parties: they often believe that Labour will help them personally but not the economy as a whole. The latter usually wins. Corbyn must find the horse before he can parade his cart.
Hopes of a Brexit or Trump-style upset are misreadings of both
So Corbyn’s intentions of running an anti-establishment campaign helps May.
Hopes of a Brexit or Trump-style upset are misreadings of both. Trump led Clinton on economic competence. Promised by Brexiters that it would be so easy, voters felt - incorrectly in my opinion - that a vote to leave was a safe way to stick two fingers at the establishment without too much instability.
Corbyn has six weeks to sell a meaningful economic narrative that goes beyond platitudes. He can "heart" the NHS and hate rigged systems as much as he likes; Twitter can work itself into a frenzy about the evils of Tory rule but, unless Corbyn intends to go out every day and reassure voters how, in a Brexit world, the economy is safe with Labour, he might as well sit at home with a few box sets until June 8th.
John Major won re-election in 1992 on the basis that his was a new government. Stability and change at the same time. Brexit - and the short-term economic stability after the vote - allows May, not Corbyn, to become the change candidate because she appears to offer security. Ironic, huh?
And this is what May wants: 1945, 1979, 1997, 1917. A transformative election and a new Conservative dominance. It would be nice if someone in Labour's campaign noticed.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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