Brexit seems to have taken a bit of a back seat in the campaign at the moment, though it’s still doing better than climate change, which barely rates a mention in the mainstream.
So, here we are, planning to jump off the top of the EU cliff, basing all our hopes on a parachute supplied by that well known firm of tissue-thin paper manufacturers, Tweedle, Tweedle & Fox. Early on in the campaign, May claimed on the Marr show (30/04/17) that this election is “about the future of the country. It’s about the national interest”. Difficult to think of a general election that wouldn’t be about the country’s future, actually – or the national interest either for that matter – but, essentially she called the election to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit a “red, white and blue Brexit” or perhaps a bilberry yoghurt Brexit with a crunchy nut topping.
But then May also claimed that (as always) it’s about the economy, stupid: a strong and secure economy which is somehow going to create highly paid jobs (doing what, exactly?) for workers with no rights. Because it’s a well-known fact – isn’t it? – that taking away workers’ rights always leads to stronger and more secure jobs, higher pay and better working conditions. Sorry, what was that you said about Alice in Wonderland economics? Oh no, my mistake, that was that well known radical left-wing agitator, Ken Clarke. Anyway, according to May, that all depends on getting the Brexit negotiations “right”. Yes, that’s right – those negotiations led by the diplomatically skilled Tweedle brothers, Johnson and Davis. (Which one is Dum? So hard to tell.)
The LibDems have been absolutely clear all along that it’s all about Brexit. They can’t promise to stop it , of course – but they’re planning to place a mattress underneath our estimated touch-down point. Or two mattresses. Or a trampoline.
On the other hand, Labour’s message – its official message, that is – is that this election was never just about Brexit: It’s about the NHS, it’s about the rich paying their share, it’s about tenants’ rights.
But here’s the thing: even Brexit isn’t about Brexit. Pretty much any issues you care to name, including dealing with challenge of terrorism and combating climate change, will be affected by our termination of EU membership. No doubt the consequent disruption to (aka “exciting opportunities for”) our economy will provide the Tories with yet another set of excuses to punish the poor, the sick, the disabled and anyone dependent on the state or sector to pay their wages or fund their care. One of the greatest ironies of all is that it’s the Tories who argued for years that it was better to have a bigger cake, albeit unfairly divided, than a small socialist cake – yet now their leadership is working overtime to convince us of the benefits of a really, really small cake. Still, at least it will be a strong, stable and secure cake,
Corbyn and his team have made the call that fighting on a stop-Brexit agenda will be counter-productive for them – and, it’s just possible they may be right. Certainly, their vision of what a post-Brexit Britain might look like seems to be helping them gain ground. And as May herself helpfully reminded us, the Tories only have to lose 6 seats for Corbyn to become Prime Minister. But which six might they lose? Well, I’m still hoping that there are enough pissed-off Remainers voting tactically to make a very Liberal dent in May’s majority in the south-east of England, but not so many elsewhere that they cost Labour too dearly. Then, if the Greens can pick up another few seats, we could actually be on our way to a coalition of common sense.
So the campaign began with Brexit, is gaining energy from Labour’s vision of post-Brexit Britian, and the aftermath will, at least initially, be all about Brexit (or non-Brexit)… but how big an effect will the Great British Brexit divide have on the final outcome? We won’t know that for sure until, constituency by constituency, the ballot boxes are opened.
Post election update: Hoist by their own petard.
While it suited neither of the main parties to talk in any depth about the details, Brexit was still very much a factor. I would argue, for example, that a large part of the credit for the youth vote goes not just to the tuition fees issue, nor the matter of Corbyn’s authenticity: no, what happened in June 2016 was that the young woke up to the fact that things you’ve taken for granted can be snatched away from you by elections.
In the end, the Tory Brexiteers were hoist by their own petard. They peddled the line that Brexit wan’t in any way going to be problematic: au contraire, it was going to be splendid, exciting, wonderful. So, when May called the election saying she needed a “strong hand”, those who have swallowed that line were genuinely a bit mystified. The Brexiteers couldn’t spell it out to them, because that would have involved admitting that the “scaremongers” were right all along.
Corbyn took advantage of this, by producing a manifesto at least partly predicated on the idea that UK plc will not be a complete basket-case when we leave the EU – and the Brexiteers, having for months encouraged the view that you can have anything you want as long as you believe in it enough, didn’t really have s strong basis for attacking him. When it comes to matters of economic reality and what economists (a sub-class of the dreaded “experts”) have to say about it, the Brexiteer Tories have been having their cake and eating it for over a year and finally it stuck in their gullets and choked them. And maybe that’s the closest we’ll get to any kind of social justice till the next General Election.