The Progressive Post

Party before country

12/05/2017

I am a passionate democrat but this election is completely unnecessary, a direct consequence of the depressing and disastrous result of the referendum on membership of the European Union, when David Cameron put party before country.

 

Once Theresa May became Prime Minister it became clear that, like David Cameron, she was beholden to the so-called ‘Brexiteers’, the people who were desperate to leave the EU at any cost. She abandoned the Conservative manifesto promise and announced that we would withdraw from the Single Market and the Customs Union and that “No deal for Britain was better than a bad deal for Britain.” In one fell swoop she undermined the future success of our country.
For months Mrs May was asked if she would call an election, learning from the mistake of Gordon Brown in 2008 when he didn’t ask the country for their approval.  The Prime Minister was resolute – at least until last month when she asked the Commons to agree to dissolve Parliament and the vast majority of MPs voted in favour of dissolution, including the Labour benches.

Why the volte-face The Prime Minister’s announcement caught everyone off guard. She said the country needed strong leadership and whilst “the country is coming together, Westminster is not”, she spoke of MPs and peers “threatening a (future) deal,” hoping “our resolve will weaken”.

To suggest that Westminster should “come together” at her behest is wrong. Good governance demands a strong opposition to hold the government to account, and that is precisely what has been lacking under the current leadership. To imply that Parliament was seeking to undermine the Brexit decision was pure populism and sadly far from the truth – the triggering of Article 50 was passed by a majority of 384 in the Commons.

Theresa May believed that the stars were aligned for a Tory victory. Labour’s position in the polls had been disastrous for months and this emboldened her to call an election. The referendum revealed deep divisions amongst Labour supporters and the election of Jeremy Corbyn threw the Party into an existential crisis. When the election was announced, the Conservatives had a 21 point lead over Labour in the polls (the party’s largest in Government since 1983) and the Prime Minister was way ahead of the Labour leader in the personal ratings.

Any prime minister wants to strengthen their hand against the opposition, but in this case perhaps the Prime Minister’s most formidable opposition before the election was on her own side, both fervent ‘Remainers’ and long-standing Eurosceptics. It will be impossible for her to please all of her MPs with the Brexit negotiations, but a bigger majority will give her strength within her Party and will weaken the hand of Labour and the other opposition parties to influence the outcome.

Some argue that a Government with a bigger majority will be able to dictate terms to the EU. They are, of course, profoundly wrong but this does not stop the populist prime minister playing what Jeremy Corbyn rightly called “party games” when she suggested that Brussels bureaucrats were trying to interfere in the UK election.

The prime minister’s constant election refrain is “the country needs strong and stable leadership” and the Conservative’s campaign is focused on Theresa May rather than her Party. She has engendered huge personal trust whilst her Party is still considered by many as only for the rich. The polling, the focus groups and the doorstep conversations show that Labour’s leadership is our main weakness.

Whilst Labour is trying to discuss policies which would improve the lives of the people we seek to represent – the many not the few – the Conservatives relentlessly focus on Brexit knowing that when people think about Brexit – top of their list of concerns – they feel a need for strong leadership.

The county council elections in May were disastrous for Labour and we lost Mayoral elections in the West Midlands and Tees Valley, which were, until recently, Labour strongholds. UKIP haemorrhaged their votes to the Conservatives, reuniting the Tory right and taking with them some former Labour supporters attracted by Theresa May and Brexit. UKIP, like many populist parties, had served its purpose by influencing the policies of the mainstream parties. In Scotland, the Conservatives fulfilled polling expectations and came second behind the SNP with the clear message that those who want to remain in the United Kingdom put their trust in the Tories.

I am told that miracles do happen, but it is highly unlikely that Labour will win the General Election. The question on most people’s lips is how many seats we will lose. Such a defeat would be a catastrophe for the party but also, and more importantly, for the British people and our values. Public services, already struggling, will wither. Without a strong opposition in the House of Commons, the government will be able to railroad policies, no matter what the consequences, and the divisions in society exposed by the referendum will not heal. The economic consequences of a hard Brexit will be dire for the country and its citizens.

A few people talk of a Progressive Alliance and there’s a ‘Best for Britain’ tactical voting campaign to defeat MPs who are in favour of a hard Brexit. These actions will have little if any impact. The future for Labour and for the UK look bleak, especially for young people. To mitigate disaster we have to fight to win as many seats as possible for the benefit of the country and my party.

We have to work for hope, not fear.

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