27 September 2018
Jolly Rafting Weather
Who is for what?
By J R Thomas
Perhaps Mrs May is a much more subtle operator than we have all assumed. Why on earth, we all say, did she have that election in June 2017 and blow away a perfect good working majority? What on earth was in her mind? But look at this another way. Mrs May is not actually very good at the Prime Ministerial job. (If you don’t think so please feel free to write.) In her heart she knows this, but she really wants that job; she is for whatever reasons a very ambitious and determined politician. What will best prevent her many and manifest rivals from challenging her for the keys to the famous black door, at a time of great political turmoil and in a party riven from top to bottom?
She looks around her; she has one enormous piece of good fortune. Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn puts the wind up Conservatives more than any other Labour leader, ever (though Harold Wilson scraped into office with a fearsome, and as it happened, entirely false, reputation in 1964). So, here’s the solution. Call an election. Mess it up on a massive scale. At a stroke she has made Mr Corbyn even more the bogeyman of Tory bedtime and put her party on a very knife edge of losing control at Westminster. Now, Mrs May has transformed her control over the Conservative party. It is an astonishing coup. If her party, never noted for bravery, moves against her, she calls a vote of confidence; and if she loses, she calls a general election. And she has made Mr Corbyn and his Labour Left look electable. It is brilliant. “Rock the Tory Boat, boys, and down we all go.”
What perhaps she had overlooked was the ability of Labour, or at least Jeremy’s Labour, to misplay any winning hand. Theresa made them look like a party of government; JC, in perpetual revolt, now against himself, quickly undermines any such impression.
So what does Theresa do next? For the time being she is perhaps safe. Six months from Brexit Day and no deal agreed; no party of the even slightly sane wants to change leaders at this point. But once Britain has chopped the ropes at Harwich and Dover and Newhaven, and we head out into the open oceans, Mrs M will started to look expendable again. Mrs May is undoubtedly a player of the great game, but is she any good at it? Her strategy now seems impossible to understand. But The Shaw Sheet may have the answer. Next step, she distances herself from the Conservative Party, and outmanoeuvres Mr Corbyn at the same time, by creating a new grouping of the centre. So forget all that old Tory rubbish about a home owning democracy. Let’s get the poor back in council housing where the government can paint all the exteriors a nice uniform light cream and evict anybody who plays Def Leppard, or Mozart. An end to austerity if you please, so let’s get tax rates up to pay for new social programmes. What else? Cut down on defence spending, and get those pesky railways back under Whitehall control, and ban … (full schedule to follow, but basically anything the public seems to enjoy). It’s Conservatism, Jim, but not as we know it.
As a programme for a leftish centre government it’s not at all a bad raft, and the remains of the Liberal Democrats could cling to it as well. Ms Soubry and Ms Morgan might scramble aboard to add extra ballast to the vaguely right side. Even Mr Blair, much rumoured to be contemplating a saintly return to UK politics, might hoist his colours to such a ship of the centre. But Mrs May has overlooked another thing. The Conservative Party. Not really a mass membership party anymore, about a third the size of the Labour Party. But in terms of votes, thirteen million voters turned out in 2017 to support a party of low tax and national pride and strong defence and free enterprise and self-reliance. The New Theresa Party will leave those voters wondering where the Conservative Party went. Did it close down? Even allowing for those who will vote for anybody to keep out J Corbyn, it is likely enough Tory inclined supporters would stay at home to sweep Labour in at the next election, with the Terry and Tony Party left with nul points. Exit at that point Mrs May and no Theresa statue in the Central Lobby of Wesminster.
Which, inevitably brings us to Brexit. Sorry, but there is after all no avoiding it at this point. The Euro brawl transcends party boundaries, at least in the major parties. Here Mrs May has had yet another piece of luck. Mr Tusk’s dubious taste in Instagramming, and the generally yahoo behaviour shown by European leaders in Salzburg last week, caused a temporary coalescence of her party around Mrs May, if only on the basis “if the Premier is to be insulted, that’s our job”. It is truly remarkable, and one day deserves a book, as to how the bizarre tactics of the Euro negotiators have played into the hands of the Brexit lobby. In a seemingly effortless way they have added considerable fuel to the Leavers’ arguments as to why Europe is a club Britain really would not want to be in. Salzburg should have given Mrs M the perfect excuse to toughen up her stance, to drop or modify Chequers on the grounds that she was not being taken seriously, then she would with one bound be free of that weight around her neck. Will she seize it? Not so far…
Meanwhile, in Liverpool. Here is another leader out of step with the party he leads. One of Mr Corbyn’s guiding political principles has been dislike of the European experiment. He has voted and campaigned against it at every opportunity. Yet here he is at his party conference, going along, and only slightly reluctantly, with measures designed to ensure that any reasonably imminent Labour government will attempt to reverse the result of the Referendum and stay in the EU. Given that a majority of Labour voters outside the south east seem to have voted Remain, maybe he does not care what the party in Westminster or even conference says, or maybe that conundrum is best left in the Too Difficult pile. Maybe, like Theresa, he will do anything to get the keys to No 10. We have said here before that Jeremy is not as politically unsophisticated as he is often represented in the popular prints. He knows there are enough problems leading the Labour Party and keeping Momentum hidden behind the curtain without looking for more. Europe and all that can be tackled when it has to be tackled; in the meantime, it still remains the best opportunity to gangplank the Prime Minister, and her party, and get the chance to fight another general election.
So there you have politics in Britain today; UKIP’s leader in dispute with UKIP’s ex leader as to who he can be friends with; the Liberal Democrat’s leader musing on how most gracefully to exit; the leader of the Labour Party going along with policies he apparently profoundly opposes; and the leader of the Tory Party opposed to her party on almost everything it believes in. And Mr Junker wants us to stay in Europe?