It’s fair to say they’re under starter’s orders now, though the General Election of 2017 won’t begin proper until Parliament is dissolved, reducing the time spent on the campaign trail – something that will evidently come as a relief to the disgruntled Bristol pensioner captured on camera the day the PM made her unexpected announcement. By its very nature, a snap General Election can catch parties, pundits and broadcasters alike unawares, but by the time we get to June 8 we’ll still probably be as wearied by the campaign as if it had been one plotted and planned years in advance. In a weird way, the sheer surprise of Tuesday’s lectern moment outside No.10 means the media coverage has been more extensive than if we’d had the slow build-up to 2020 as politicos cream their collective jeans at the prospect of their own version of the Olympics coming three years early.
Theresa May’s decision has led to panic stations on several fronts, not least amongst her own party branches out in the Shires; apparently, numerous Labour seats the Tories had firmly in their sights for 2020 haven’t even had candidates selected yet. With only a few trusted insiders being privy to the Prime Minister’s intentions before the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, the luxury of time that the party machine imagined it had to pick the right people for the right constituency has been thrown into disarray as Westminster wannabes suddenly scramble for selection in the nation’s ugliest beauty contest.
The most acute difficulty facing Labour in the wake of the PM’s decision is working out the best way to hold onto seats in their northern heartlands that went against the official Labour stance on the EU Referendum and voted Brexit. This conundrum may provide UKIP with opportunistic hope, but speaks volumes as to the depth of detachment between Corbyn’s London-centric Labour and Labour voters outside of the capital. Given another three years, the party could perhaps have come up with a solution; confronted by less than two months, it seems an unenviable task.
Jezza has already pitched himself as the establishment outsider; it worked for Donald Trump and may well work for Marine le Pen, but though Jeremy Corbyn has always been an outsider, his career comfort zone has been firmly on the far left of Labour, which has never received mass acceptance from the electorate. The two most successful post-Attlee Labour leaders – Harold Wilson and Tony Blair – succeeded by either shrewdly holding the opposing wings of the party together through crafty wheeler-dealing (Wilson) or abandoning core party principles by going for the jugular of the Tory Middle England vote (Blair); Corbyn appears incapable of trying (and unwilling to try) either approach, which limits his appeal beyond his fanatical fan-base.
Theresa May’s befuddled reasons for calling a snap Election included airing her odd opinion that opposition to her ideas was somehow a treasonable offence; she needs to remember she’s not Kim Jong Un. On the other hand, the likes of oily Umunna on Twitter suggesting that sending the nation to the polls was somehow anti-democratic makes one hope such a clueless bell-end doesn’t throw his hat in the ring come the day when Jezza’s reign finally ends. What this seems to indicate is, that for all the talk of ‘the new politics’, tribal enmities have resurfaced already; May’s allergic reaction to an opposition having the audacity to question her authority and the rabid ‘Tory Scum’ rants on social media simply say it’s as you were.
The return of veteran Lib Dem stalwarts such as Old Mother Cable and Simon Hughes, casualties of the 2015 massacre and now hoping for a speedy return to Parliament, demonstrates the newfound confidence of the party whose electoral fortunes simply couldn’t get any worse. But Farron the Fish-Finger’s problem with traditional Liberal heartlands lost to the Tories last time round isn’t dissimilar to the situation facing Labour in their heartlands; many voted to Leave last June, whereas the Lib Dem leader has positioned his party on an anti-Brexit platform. The Lib Dems may capture seats in university towns as a consequence (if 2010’s tuition fees fiasco can be quietly swept under the carpet), but the west-country could be a different proposition.
Theresa May’s aversion to appearing in televised leader’s debates (which a British General Election somehow managed to get by without until 2010) could be seen as a mark of her reluctance to expose her limitations before a nationwide audience, though the lengthy arranging such programmes require means we might be deprived of an excess of them, anyway. The one-off experiment of 2010, when viewers were presented with the sensible line-up of three rather than the overcrowded stage of 2015, clearly benefitted the underdog, i.e. Nick Clegg. David Cameron baulked at the same concept two years ago, perhaps feeling that being limited to a couple of minutes per question when surrounded by six opponents might enable him to avoid putting his foot in it.
Sharing a platform with two party leaders – Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon – who wouldn’t even be in Westminster if elected, and two others – Nigel Farage and Natalie Bennett – who weren’t even MPs at the time (and still aren’t) was an odd and novel scenario that Cameron rightly figured would prevent him being too exposed in a way he could well have been if facing just Clegg and Miliband. But Theresa May won’t even submit to a seven-way debate. She does seem strangely averse to the limelight for a PM and one wonders how she can get her message across to the floating voter by avoiding the most obvious means of doing so now it has become established as part of the process.
The Tories have received a boost by the news that the universally unloved Gideon will be standing down, though the Labour cause probably won’t be helped by the loss of several MPs whose appeal wasn’t restricted to the cult of Corbyn; but at least the next six weeks still promise the usual car-crash moments a campaign wouldn’t be the same without, even if the end scene appears preordained.
© The Editor