Perhaps Sturgeon’s bloody mindedness and political myopia will be her own downfall. To her, the primary narrative for a second ballot has been that Brexit is entirely against Scotland’s democratic wishes, as Scotland voted by a significant margin to remain. Had she agreed to drop the referendum question and team up with English parties, there would be a chance that the Tory juggernaut could be halted. So now the question is not whether the Conservatives can win, but by how much. With opposition forces disparate and divided, and the scuppering narrative of the electoral overspend coolly evaded, the Conservatives now have the green light to mount their snap election charge, and potentially capture the sort of electoral support that has not been witnessed since the Blair or Thatcher years, administrations that were able to massively change the course of the country, politically.
By Alexandra Phillips l May 8, 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh
LONDON-Why did May call a snap election anyway?
As a professional Spin Doctor I can tell you one thing. However close to the truth a political statement sounds, it can only ever be partially reflective of the truth. Every decision taken by a politician has multiple influences. Politics is an ongoing balancing act. Every pledge must fit into the mosaic of a manifesto, the national budget and sate a number of stakeholders, from the electorate (through appealing to as broad a demographic as possible) to party MPs and membership, as well as being able to tether to foreign relations objectives and withstand media scrutiny.
So, when Theresa May stated she was calling a snap election to solidify her mandate to deliver Brexit, what she really meant was never before had the time been so ripe for a Conservative Government to exploit the potential of burgeoning poll ratings to partially wipe out the opposition, dodge a few uncomfortable truths, sidestep an impending second Scottish independence referendum, deal with the log jams in the House of Lords, exhibit brute force over the party and create a right wing hegemony that would enable the transit of many policy ambitions through parliament. She had already reaffirmed that she had the mandate for Brexit via the referendum and had given countless assurances that she would not call a general election. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. That’s spin, and I for one am rather impressed by her gutsy U-turn. The very fact that she’s in a position to call a snap election is surely testimony to her savvy leadership thus far.
Of course, as a righty, I am also rather pleased that by extending the rather weak majority the Conservatives currently command, we should see the sort of governance that leaves an enduring mark on the country, from education reforms, to energy security, as well as extraction from Brussels’ tyranny via a strengthened negotiating hand.
An opposition in disarray
The speed with which May called the election was also impressive. It left the parties across the floor scrambling to respond. Rather than being able to put their heads together and agree to block the motion, and not wanting to appear the sole enemy of democracy, they knee-jerk accepted the move that, for Labour especially, could leave the party reeling from their worst results in decades.
Only the Liberal Democrats, having been decimated in the last general election, are likely to profit from Labour’s vote shed, finally grasping an opportunity to add to the 8 seats they retained from 57 in 2015. The left of politics saw all parties bar the odd politician unanimously support Remain in the EU referendum. You would imagine, then, that in a General Election designed to shore up support for Brexit, an ideological collaboration via a Grand Coalition of the left would be justified and forge the only force by which the Conservatives called by stalled, via a tyranny of numbers. Yet, the only party to call upon the concept of forming a Grand Coalition were the Green Party, and the prospect was quickly shot down. The sheer pace at which things moved again seemed to make such monumental decision making nigh on impossible and no coalition agreement was mooted. If anything, the fact that the parties on the left could not unite at eleventh hour says more about their loyalty to their own party brands than supposed ideology on the left wing of politics. The primary bogeyman no doubt was the SNP. Without courting the powerful Scottish bloc, where all but 3 seats are held by Sturgeon’s independence party, any sort of grand coalition would not really stand up against the Conservative’s projected numbers and would need the 56 representatives the pro-independence party currently hold. But it would, of course, come at a price, a second Scottish referendum, which all but the SNP themselves oppose.
Perhaps then Sturgeon’s bloody mindedness and political myopia will be her own downfall. Had she agreed to drop the referendum question and team up with English parties, there would be a chance that the Tory juggernaut could be halted. To her, the primary narrative for a second ballot has been that Brexit is entirely against Scotland’s democratic wishes, as Scotland voted by a significant margin to remain. But she now faces 5 years of Conservative rule, way beyond the two year timeframe ascribed to negotiations to leave the EU, meaning May not only would have the power to enforce a hard departure, but also make a success of it. Had Sturgeon forged a successful left wing alliance, I am in no doubt that a ruling coalition would have pushed to reverse many of the facets of Brexit, even watering down leaving to a point where the initial decision was essentially nullified. Yet, now, twinned with what we can anticipate will be May’s emboldened stature post a Tory landslide, it’s hard to see how Brexit will be anything less than resolute unless May herself decides as much. If politics were chess, May has gone full blown Kasparov, leaving the so–called ideologues on the left arguing in her wake. I cannot help but admire her.
Is May trying to pave the way to water down Brexit?
Rumours in the Conservative Party among a select few, however, have suggested that May, who publicly backed Remain, actually wants to chaperone extra Europhile backbenchers into her own ranks in order to enable her to water down the terms of Brexit without too great a democratic opposition. Something tells me that this is codswallop.
For a start, May’s entire proviso for calling the general election is to inundate the Commons and wash away the Remainers on the opposition benches currently stymying her progress. It seems illogical to tear into your own party fabric to do such a thing when you can so easily scapegoat your opponents.
Secondly, May keeps an extremely limited and tight privy council, so anyone suggesting that they know her mind is likely stretching the truth somewhat. The very fact that she had been able to keep plans to call the snap election so close to her chest and surprise the entire nation, yet be so immaculately prepared herself, endorses the viewpoint that she is a clever operator and master of subterfuge. Considering her own party were not aware of her plans, it seems strange that all of a sudden, post-revelation, certain individuals claim to be aware of secret motivations. Equally, the time period simply does not allow CCHQ, whom I am told had no idea about the move, any time to draw up such a discriminate candidates list.
Finally, and this is the key point, the main figure in her privy council is as Brexit as they come. While certain elements of the media have pointed towards her husband’s job in The City and speeches he made in favour of remain, as well as the fact that she herself was on the opposite team, something tells me that her support of the ‘In’ campaign was simple, tactical politicking. After all, nobody really believed Leave would win, and would have imagined Cameron would continue to run the country and maintain the Status Quo. Any serious and senior politician facing down their own party leader and prime minister would have realised it could well be suicide, and those that did back Brexit were conviction politicians already heavily on record opposing the European Union. Yet, for a once Home Secretary who was adamant about scrapping the Human Rights Act, now a pre-requisite for EU membership, and who keeps as sole counsel an ardent Leaver, and who appeared only a handful of times at only big ticket referendum campaign events, the argument that she is in her heart pro-remain seems less convincing than the fact that she may secretly have been a leaver all along. Twinned with other policies that tend to go hand in glove with the overarching ideology of many Thatcherite/Gladstonians who backed Leave, I would put money on May being an arch classical liberal not losing any sleep over giving Brussels the bird.
Calling an election and getting a massive majority would allow May to enforce a whole system of right wing policies.
The other narrative: 20 seats investigated and a majority of just 16!
There is another narrative that Americans are less likely to be aware of, and that surprisingly has received little airtime in the UK: The case of the dodgy seats. The Conservatives are being investigated for election overspend in as many as 20 seats, something that constitutes criminal activity, seeing 12 police forces pass investigations to the Crown Prosecution Service. With a majority of only 12 MPs, and with the results from the investigations by various police forces and the electoral commission due to surface in June, a cry of horror from all other parties that, had the Tories adhered to the law, they would not be the party of Government, was surely in the pipeline. It was an atomic bomb waiting to go off. Not only that, but the man responsible for overseeing the campaign and the gross overspend is none other than May’s right hand man, the power behind the throne. It’s a narrative that is so striking it is perhaps surprising that much more has not been made of it. You’d imagine that in any other country, such allegations would propagate mega headlines. But the thing about the British is that we can exhibit surprisingly double standards when it comes to such things. Saving face is still a peculiarly strong urge within a country that otherwise seems to lack strong patriotism and is highly self-effacing. I can only imagine what the same set of circumstances would provoke in other countries.
So now the question is not whether the Conservatives can win, but by how much. With opposition forces disparate and divided, and the scuppering narrative of the electoral overspend coolly evaded, the Conservatives now have the green light to mount their snap election charge, and potentially capture the sort of electoral support that has not been witnessed since the Blair or Thatcher years, administrations that were able to massively change the course of the country, politically. History was made on 23rd June 2016 when the UK voted to leave the EU. That history will be consolidated on 8th June, when the UK will usher in its first decisive right wing victory in over 3 decades.
Alexandra Phillips is former Head of Media for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the political party in Britain that successfully campaigned to leave the EU and was aide to its charismatic leader Nigel Farage. She left UKIP after the referendum victory and joined the Conservative Party in order to ensure other big political ambitions are met in the U.K. She is a political advisor and communications consultant in London. Ms. Phillips is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.