General Election 2017

Theresa May should use her power wisely

However you slice it, it is hard not to see Mrs May sitting pretty in Downing Street on June 9.

BY Walter Ellis | Waltroon   /  20 April 2017




You can’t always get what you want. If you don’t believe me, listen to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – though it is hard to know what either of these two egoists wanted that they didn’t get, including, it would seem, the gift of everlasting life, albeit it as Dorian Gray in reverse.

Make the best of what you do get would be the Christian, or Polytechnic liberal studies retort. You may be bankrupt, or on your way to the death chamber in Arkansas, or about to be bombed by the Russians or Americans in Syria. But there’s always hope. Never give up.

Right.

In Britain, the Labour Party has to hope that the general election will not leave them like a fly squashed flat on a car windscreen. They go into the campaign with their lowest ratings since, I would imagine, 1931, when, having been “betrayed” by Ramsay MacDonald, they won just 52 seats against 470 for the Conservatives and 35 for the Liberals.

As it happens, this is the kind of result some psephological extremists are forecasting for the June 8 election – maybe a few less for the Tories and a few more for Labour, but not so different from 1931. And they may be right – especially about the Liberals, or LIb Dems.

Come June 9, Theresa May will almost certainly hold on to her job as Prime Minister. If she doesn’t, expect the Pope the following day to declare his defection to the Church of Scientology. She may even have an overall majority stretching into three figures. For the Tories, it will be the start of the years of plenty, which traditionally end in famine.

Jeremy Corbyn [please Gawd!] will vanish into history as the worst Labour leader since Michael Foot, who at least knew how to write and as a young man campaigned against appeasement.

For the Lib Dems, there will either be a revival that makes them, along with the SNP, the last (forlorn) hope of Remain, or they will carry on as an irrelevance, led, if that is the word, by Tim Farron, the preacher from Preston, who came into politics after a spell teaching at St Martin’s College of Higher Education (motto: I know Him in whom I have believed).

The Scottish Nationalists will, I suspect, be taught a lesson that – inevitably – they will not learn, still less take to heart. Their 54-strong Westminster parliamentary contingent could drop to 50, or even lower, leaving them shriven but still shaking their fists. But I could be wrong – it’s been known.

Let us assume that the final tally works out something like this:

Conservatives 372
Labour 180
Lib Dems 25
SNP 48
Others (including the Northern Ireland parties) 25
Tory overall majority 74

What would this mean for democracy in the UK – apart from opening the way for Boris Johnson to be moved to Culture, Media and Sport? First, it would not reflect the wishes of the British people on the issue of Brexit, which nearly half of those who voted in last summer’s referendum rejected in favour of Remain. Arguably, it would mean that most voters were in favour of “getting on with it” – in other words, accepting the reality of Brexit and seeking the best possible outcome.

But which best possible outcome? Will Mrs May, or David Davis, or Boris give us more information during the campaign than was contained in the recent white paper? Presumably not. The PM has said several times that she is not prepared to show her hand in advance of the upcoming negotiations, still less provide a running commentary – and we know, until she changes her mind, that her word is her bond. So she will be asking us to trust her instead. She sees the election as not so much a setting out of the Tories’ programme for government than a vote of confidence in her not to screw things up with Brussels.

If I were Jeremy Corbyn [please Gawd, no!], I would present a coherent line, agreed with Keir Starmer, on the Single Market, the Customs Union and immigration. Instead, of course, he will whitter on about the NHS, free school meals and the need to ditch the nuclear deterrent.

If I were Tim Farron, I wouldn’t let up on Europe. I would stress – not concede – that Brexit must happen but insist that the settlement be one that takes into account the views of the 48.2 per cent, not just those of the 51.8. There are millions of Tories out there who voted Remain and wish their voice to be heard. If just half of these switched, albeit tactically, to the Lib Dems, who knows what the effect would be? The PM, we are told, believes that a huge Tory majority will enable her to soften up on Brexit and open the door to a series of necessary compromises. But so would a strong showing by the pro-Remain parties. What matters here is what the British people want, not that Theresa May should be able to boast of scattering her enemies.

Of course, the result may not be anything like the one I have set out above. The Tories might win more seats, or fewer. Labour might surprise everybody by not melting down, or it could liquify entirely. The Lib Dems may rise from the grave and win 50 seats, or the SNP, after their Stirling Bridge triumph in 2015, might go down to defeat at the electoral equivalent of the Battle of Falkirk. But, whatever way you slice it, it is hard not to see Mrs May sitting pretty in Downing Street on June 9.

She should use her power wisely.