So Theresa May has done it.
After saying the country needed stability and that she would let Parliament run its course, she’s had her head turned by positive opinion polls and she’s going for a land-grab general election on 8 June.
With all theatre she is becoming known for, she announced on the steps of Downing Street this morning (Tues), that she will be seeking a snap general election, “as the only way to guarantee stability and certainty for the years ahead”.
I have to be honest and say, I’m stunned. I had thought that the cloud of election fraud hanging over her party would be enough to put the Tories off of seizing the moment and going to the country.
May herself said had enough to be getting on with – with the Brexit negotiations and another Scottish Referendum to navigate. Smelling the chance of an early landslide, she wisely avoided ‘doing a Gordon Brown’ and instead has struck while she thinks her iron is hot. She’s even willing to forgo the built-in advantage election boundary changes will give her party.
It’s no secret that I support the policies of Jeremy Corbyn. I’d thought the country had three years to change their minds about him and turn around the abysmal opinion polling which is almost certainly behind today’s shock announcement. Now he has just seven weeks. Let’s be honest, it looks grim.
Labour could oppose the breaking of the fixed term Parliament act, which was supposed to guarantee Governments don’t pick the timing of general elections to fit opinion polls. May will need a 2/3 vote in Parliament before she can call an election but Labour cannot, in good faith, vote against a general election since it would, in theory, be a chance to remove this corrosive Government.
Seven weeks is ridiculously soon to have a whole election campaign.
Labour has recently unleashed a raft of great policies, which I think would have eventually made a difference. Free school meals, opposing grammar schools, £10pn minimum wage, making big businesses pay their bills on time, more social housing etc all vote winners but turning around the tanker of public opinion will be challenging, to say the least. As someone wisely posted on Twitter after the announcement: “It’s not a socialist response to shit your pants”.
Now is the time to stand up and demand a Britain that looks after all communities, not one that simply feeds the well fed. Now is the time to fight back against the ideology of austerity and bring in a government carries out its duty of care. Now is the time to protect the rights of workers and migrants, the LGBTQ community and the vulnerable.
Make no mistake, if you think Theresa May has been reactionary so far, just wait until she has a five-year mandate and a 100-MP majority.
The massive opportunity May’s move presents is that Labour now MUST pull together and utilise the largest party in the Europe to get out and talk to everyone who will listen and even some who won’t. According to shadow chancellor John McDonell, 1000 people signed up an joined the Labour party in the hours after May made her announcement. There’s no place for debates about our leader – that will now be decided by the nation. Those who are convinced that Corbyn stands no chance may as well feign loyalty for a few short weeks and then they will get their chance to gloat. But surely even they will see no value in undermining anyone other than the Tory Party for the next few weeks? If Labour doesn’t win, we can talk about what happens next but that’s a battle for a day that hopefully won’t come.
The genius of May’s move is that she knows Labour have not sorted their stance on leaving the EU. The leadership, for fear of being labelled undemocratic, have followed the Tories down the Brexit drain with far too much enthusiasm for many. This wouldn’t matter so much in three years time when Brexit has been allowed to run its disastrous course, but now, while Labour is in as much of a mess as the Tories over leaving the EU, the only option for pro-Europeans is the Lib-Dems, Greens or the SNP. Labour needs to work out a policy that makes space for remain voters (48%) and it needs to do it very quickly. This is one of the only ways they can rapidly change their prospects.
There is no time for despondency or pessimism. The Conservatives are pragmatic and relentless in their striving for power. They will do or say whatever they need to do or say. They know what riches are in it for them and the people they work for.
We on the progressive side of politics need to be as relentless in working for the people we care about. The people who are bleeding after seven years of Tory austerity, the people who are fearful on the streets and in their places of worship because their races, religions and nationalities have been weaponised, the people who already being left behind and don’t fit into a catchy acronym.
Sorry to bring in my customary football analogy but I was in the Ataturk Stadium, when my team were 3-0 down at half time. I know that all things are possible.
Maurice Mcleod is a social commentator with Jamaican/Swazi heritage. He is director of his own communications company, Marmoset Media, and writes regularly for The Guardian and The Spectator among other titles. He is also vice chair of campaign group Race on the Agenda. Maurice often appears on Sky News as a talking head and writes about social issues, race or politics. He tweets as @mowords
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