Theresa May hopes to win the General Election by remaining invisible to the average voter, cannibalising the UKIP vote and presenting the election as a plebiscite on her competence to handle the Brexit negotiations.
Public opinion, which the Tories assiduously monitor, is already settled on Britain leaving the EU. The Tory tactic is to deflect or delay discussion about policies in the sure knowledge that compared to Labour’s menu of popular measures the Conservative offering is pretty mean. In fact, her most attractive policy – an energy price cap – is stolen from Ed Miliband and directly flouts the neo-liberal economic regime her party promotes.
The paradox is that the real Theresa May, as evidenced by her role in the Remain campaign, is in favour of Britain retaining as much of its membership of the single market as possible. To this end – discounting the posturing around a hard or soft Brexit – she wants to retain the banking passport so treasured by the City and as much unfettered access to capital and labour markets as is compatible with managing the politics of a divided ruling class and a fractious Tory party.
Her solution to this problem is essentially theatrical. Hence the mindless repetition of ‘strong and stable’. In reality, her party, and our ruling class is deeply divided. It is only the Tory Party’s formidable discipline, its understanding that in presenting a facade of unity that they can continue in office and resolve their differences without the inconvenience of popular opinion intruding.
As an admirer of Jeremy Corbyn in all things I took to my allotment last week and naturally fell into amiable conversation with a fellow Digger, unted in our labours if not politics. A retiring Tory councillor, he confessed that his local party was irredeemably opposed to EU membership; was elderly; declining in membership and about to wind itself up. That is the measure of May’s problem. Her parliamentary party included perhaps as many Remainers as did Jeremy Corbyn’s but many of them are in the closet – unable to express their views for fear of their constituency parties and their electoral base and constrained by the electoral necessity to hoover up UKIP votes.
Corbyn, in contrast to May is out in public, greeted everywhere by enthusiastic crowds. He has always expressed deep reservations about the the way the European Union operates. His policy prescriptions – of public ownership, managed public investment and employment rights – would be impossible to implement if Britain were to be bound by EU treaty obligations. His resolute and immediate pledge that Labour would respect the wishes of the British people is an invaluable asset in maintaining Labour’s credibility and in keeping trust with the very large numbers of natural Labour voters who have been lost in the Blair, Brown and Balls years, who neither register to vote or vote.
Labour’s campaign focus on popular measures that would dramatically improve the lives of the 95 per cent is working. The Tory Party poll lead has sharply narrowed. But the drama of the headline figures overlay a set of simple statistics that show how the divisions among our rulers has checkmated hopes that the Brexit vote can be easily subverted.
Almost seven in ten people now accept that Britain must leave the EU while barely one in five favour blocking Brexit or stalemating it with a second referendum.
The artificially constructed media narrative around a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit has collapsed with only one in eight believing that the government lacks a mandate for a ‘hard’ Brexit. An absolute majority go along with the idea that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal.’
A crazy coalition of Remainers – Lib Dems on the make, deluded Greens and closet members of the Blairite reenactment society – have worked on the assumption that the principal divide in Britain is between a Brexit 52 per cent and a Remain 48 per cent. They are wrong. Corbyn is right when he said: ‘This election isn’t about Brexit itself. That issue has been settled.’
These findings change the landscape upon which the contending parties are conducting the remaining weeks of the election campaign. Labour, with its powerful manifesto pledges, some already promoted, other leaked and more in reserve, has taken greater control of the policy discussion.
But the picture is not without its problems for a progressive outcome. Illusions are widespread with progressive ideas mixed up with reactionary assumptions. For example, while almost a quarter think unfettered access to the Single Market is more important than controlling immigration four in ten think control on the movement of labour is compatible with tariff-free trade. This confusion reflects decades in which mainstream politicians of all stripes obscured the instrumental role of the EU in imposing the kind of neo-liberal policies pursued by right wing and social-democratic governments alike.
Labour’s new policy platform, twinned with a People’s Brexit in which jobs, employment rights, public ownership and a restored NHS and welfare state are possible, offers real hope that things can only get better.