There’s been a distinct upsurge of activity this past week that has made even the most casual of observers aware it really is that time again – that time when honourable members suddenly cease to treat the electorate with contempt and want to be our friends. After two years of not merely reneging on promises but actively ensuring the major promise made in 2017 was discredited and discarded, there is an abrupt about-turn. For many who were happy to see out another three years tormenting and torturing a castrated administration in the insularity of the Westminster bubble without the need to attend to any actual business, a General Election was what they most dreaded; some reacted by jumping ship; those that remained onboard now have no choice but to submit to the firing squad and hope the bullets miss.
Both leaders of the main two parties have seen to it that their respective broad churches will now only contain an increasingly narrow congregation; many of the enemies within have opted out, and the approved replacements sing from a specific hymn-sheet. All Tory wannabes must be Brexiteers; all Labour wannabes must receive the official Momentum stamp as subscribers to the cult of Corbyn. Any deviation from the script will no longer be tolerated. Both Boris and Jezza have concluded that incessant questioning of their visions from the ranks of their own parties has been an inconvenient hindrance to the master-plan. Yes, the Lib Dems have benefitted from this Stalinist approach to internal criticism, but it seems the next Parliament could possibly contain a record number of independents no longer welcome in their former homes thanks to the purges. One might wonder why they don’t form a new party and…oh, I forgot; they’ve already had a go at that.
The undeniable feeling that the campaign is now well and truly underway has been accelerated by the television debates of the last seven days. The first head-to-head on ITV was unique in that it gave us something British viewers have never seen before – the Tory leader and Labour leader alone, bereft of the little siblings demanding the same level of attention. But the constrained nature of the format, cramming everything into a time slot that can’t have amounted to much more than fifty minutes if one takes the two ad breaks into account, didn’t do either man any favours.
Whenever both Boris and Jezza appeared poised to either expose their inadequacies or emphasise their Prime Ministerial credentials, the host would cut them short and move on to another question. Granted, the incumbent PM attempted to overcome this by engaging in his regular habit of continuing to speak even when asked to stop, but it meant the viewer came away from it no better informed than they were before it began. Boris seems to have adopted ‘Get Brexit Done’ as his equivalent of ‘Strong and Stable’, whereas Jezza dodged the question of where he would stand in the event of a second referendum on each occasion. There were also uncomfortable moments when both men inadvertently provoked laughter from the studio audience. The only impression most watching at home probably received was how poorly-served the electorate is when it comes to the party leaders.
A similar impression must have been made following the special edition of ‘Question Time’ on Friday, when the franchise was extended to the Lib Dems and the SNP. The latter was an obvious inclusion if we are to be reminded this is a nationwide Election and not solely restricted to England; but the presence of Nicola Sturgeon is always a tricky issue. The SNP are not a nationwide party. Sturgeon may well be queen of her own castle, yet voters south of the border cannot vote for her or anyone standing for her party. Nevertheless, as a seasoned campaigner, Sturgeon was probably the most polished performer during the QT debate; she was also probably relieved that enough years have passed since she succeeded Alex Salmond, thus sparing the party the kind of curse that the private life of Jeremy Thorpe placed upon the Liberals for years. Ultimately, however, it matters not if Sturgeon impresses viewers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, for her message is largely irrelevant outside of Scotland – with the exception of any under-the-counter deals done in the possible event of a Hung Parliament.
Boris and Jezza had a little more breathing space in this debate than they’d enjoyed in the first; the two-hour timeslot meant each leader had thirty minutes to sell their respective parties to the public. This campaign so far has been marked by the PM attempting to come across as a serious statesman – something he spectacularly failed to do during his stint at the Foreign Office; but he’s clearly struggling to play the straight man after successfully playing the clown for so long, and were the Tories not in possession of such a comfortable lead in the polls, the thought that party members might just have elected the wrong leader could be putting them through what Labour members went through in 2015.
Jeremy Corbyn at least finally came down off the fence and declared he would be ‘neutral’ should Labour get into office and rerun a scenario we’ve spent the last three and-a-half years languishing in the miserable shadow of. We all know where his true feelings regarding Brussels lie; but his dithering over this particular issue and doomed, deluded hope that he can appeal to enough voters beyond the faithful to form a majority Government could cost him more than any ineffective TV appearances.
And talking of ineffective TV appearances, the QT debate will perhaps best be remembered for the way in which it finally exposed Jo Swinson to the British public as the clueless charlatan she is. If Nick Clegg momentarily charmed an electorate tired of Labour and mistrustful of the Tories back in 2010, this Lib Dem leader couldn’t even manage to convince in the half-hour she held the platform. Perhaps imagining her relatively recent election as the bright young replacement for an old dodderer might airbrush her part in the worst austerity excesses of the Coalition, Swinson hadn’t bargained that both host and audience hadn’t forgotten. She struggled to justify her actions when confronted by them, and equally struggled to justify the anti-democratic intention of cancelling out the votes of 17.4 million members of the electorate.
After raising their profile by moving from a People’s Vote policy to an all-out ‘Scrap Brexit’ mantra, the Lib Dems are now beginning to realise not everyone sick of the Brexit saga necessarily believes we should just act as if the last three and-a-half years never happened; many believe that concluding we went through all that for nothing isn’t that great a strategy. There has to be something at the end of it. Jo Swinson’s sixth-former-at-the-debating-society delivery and unconvincing arguments just made her look out of her depth, and quite possibly condemned the Lib Dems to collecting not many more seats than they have already.
Away from the TV debates, the manifesto fairy stories are tumbling down from the magic money trees like bird droppings from branch to bonnet. For now, the parties are Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football and promising not to move it before his foot makes contact. But we all know they will move it; and we all know we’ll end up flat on our backs. Good grief.
© The Editor