In a political era categorised by political uncertainty, it’s highly ironic that we are now heading into a general election wherein we already know the outcome: a big, big Conservative majority.
It’s not so much a question of what the outcome will be, but rather a question of what the pre-established outcome will look like. How big will Theresa May’s new majority be? How many seats will Labour lose? Will the Liberal Democrats steamroll over dozens of Remain constituencies? Will the SNP lose seats in Scotland? Will Jeremy Corbyn resign on June 9th? Rather than cheering on a potentially incoming Labour government, or a coalition, much of my life over the next seven weeks will be devoted to miserably calculating just how fucked our country will be at the end of it all.
Not only that, but this fresh election will be held on June 8th – the day before my first exam, meaning that I won’t be able to stay up to watch the results, and that there’s a distinct possibility that my attention to Film revision will be somewhat lacking. June 8th is also a particularly irritating date to choose because it’s 22 days before my 18th birthday; basically, I will be the only person in my friendship group who won’t be able to vote. Unless there’s yet another dramatic change in circumstance, my first vote cast in a general election will be in 2022.
I even made a skit about it within an hour of the announcement. I think it’s pretty neat.
It’s frankly bizarre, therefore, that that could not be further from the truth.
Theresa May is a woman who only became Prime Minister because of her predecessor’s ineptitude, and because of the ritualistic self-sacrifice performed by each of her leadership opponents last summer. She does not offer an interesting or unique vision for the country, or even for conservatism; her politics are simply a rehash of One Nation Toryism, blended with rigid authoritarianism and populism. She is resigned to carrying out a policy which she doesn’t – or didn’t – support (or maybe she did, who knows?), and almost all of her other policies are either ripped from elections past, or from Ed Miliband’s 2015 manifesto. She is an opportunist who casts herself as a safe pair of hands, despite repeatedly lying to the public and changing her mind on key issues – like holding an early election. She is unequivocally disliked by an entire region of the UK. On a personal level, she is uninteresting, lacking in charisma and humour, and warrants about the same level of interest during Prime Minister’s Questions as a rice cake. Under normal political circumstances, Theresa May would not win a general election.
Yet, she will. Easily, and resoundingly.
Theresa May’s apparently impenetrable popularity is entirely dependent on two factors: carrying out Brexit, which a majority of people voted for; and the continued weakness of Jeremy Corbyn, whom a majority of people seem to dislike. Regarding the first, small matter, whoever succeeded David Cameron was going to implement Brexit, because to not do so would have been political suicide. While the exact look and feel of Brexit is down to May, it’s unlikely that either the economy or our current society would be much different under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, or Andrea Leadsom – or Jeremy Corbyn.
Secondly: Corbyn. Theresa May is extraordinarily lucky to have been paired against an opposition leader who is fundamentally unsuitable for the job of Labour leader, let alone Prime Minister. Even if she were up against Ed Miliband she might run into some trouble – but Corbyn? Too much ink has already been spilled decrying his leadership, too many vicious words spoken. I don’t need to say anything further that hasn’t been said many, many times already.
In short, May’s popularity largely derives from being a beneficiary of exterior circumstances, which would have had the exact same impact for any other Prime Minister. Perhaps the situation will be different in post-Brexit Britain, when she will have at least three years to pursue her domestic policy goals, such as the reintroduction of grammar schools and tackling tax avoidance. However, as we know all too well – the future is impossible to predict.
With that being said, this entire post is dedicated to my resignation to political inevitability. Surely there couldn’t be another outcome, right? Surely we won’t see Jeremy Corbyn elected as Prime Minister on June 8th? If one were to apply post-2015 political logic, the answer would be yes, as it’s the most unexpected outcome.
While I very much doubt that eventuality will occur, I think it would be unwise to rule out any last-minute political earthquakes which could damage the election for May. Perhaps the long-lingering story of electoral fraud from the 2015 General Election will rear its head again. Perhaps Trump will start a war. Perhaps Corbyn proves popular. Perhaps the Queen dies.
Labour do hold several potential avenues for attack against the Conservatives. Theresa May’s self-imposed image as a safe pair of hands who wants to get the job done is now completely out the window, and Labour should exploit that the best they can. She’s also ruled out taking part in any TV debates. While he’s not the greatest live debater, Corbyn should jump on TV debates with enthusiastic, open arms, declaring himself to be the man taking his case to the people and pitching a Labour government, while the Prime Minister runs away hiding. Labour should keep up their steady stream of policies, which have been quite good, and have also enjoyed public support. They should actively publicise the fact that they are the party standing up for the 99%, not the 1%. Theresa May is a leader who is dedicated to upholding a failing political order, they should say, one which has operated at the expense of working people for far too long. Harness the people vs. the elites rhetoric which worked so well last year, even if many of us deride it.
And, perhaps most importantly, they should hire a fucking battle bus.
It won’t be an easy ride, but they do have the opportunity to put some dents in the Conservative War Machine, perhaps helped along with back-door conversations with Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon. The only alternative outcome I could see is a three-way Labour-LibDem-SNP coalition, which could end horribly. For that to happen, Labour and the SNP would need to hold their current number of seats – 230 and 56 respectively – and the Liberal Democrats would need to gain 32 seats from the Conservatives to put the coalition over the 326-seats-for-a-majority. A three-way minority coalition government. That is incredibly unlikely to happen, but, y’know, so was Brexit, and so was Trump. Seven weeks is a long time in politics.
While one may dare to hope, it is perhaps a good thing that this election is happening, and that Labour will lose. As the title alludes to, it will be a baptism by fire for Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing political project. The words of his allies, of Momentum, and of loyal Labour members, the words highlighting how Corbyn can win a general election, will be put to the test much sooner than anticipated. There will be no exception if they prove false.
In hindsight, the 2015 loss wasn’t as big a deal, because the Conservative majority was so slim that they could continue to easily influence government policy – not to mention Labour’s packaged appeal still somewhat intact. Now, both of those things are being flung out of the window, forcing the party to truly build itself back up again, as it did during the 1990’s, so that we can see a visionary Labour government elected in 2022. Before a party can move forward, a party must suffer.
June 8th will be a baptism by fire for this “new” Labour. Or, as my friend said this morning, a cremation.