Electioneering in the UK was stopped in homage to the 22 people who died and the many people injured in the bomb attack on a pop concert in Manchester on May 22nd. It didn’t stop the xenophobic call for ending immigration again despite the fact that the perpetrator was born in Manchester and, as the Mancunian brother of a young man, Martyn, who died in the blast said, probably talked like him. The brother added that he and Martyn were sons of a Turkish mother and the atrocity should not be used to demonise immigrants and ban migration. A kind word of sanity among the hate crimes which predictably doubled after the attack.
Despite the lack of campaigning, a major issue of this most divisive of elections was given oxygen by the perpetrator’s origins. One of the sub-issues is all the infrastructure which would have to be built if migration is not decreased drastically. An uncomfortable fact underlining this argument was that if the UK expats living in the EU were deprived of current reciprocal free health care arrangements in their particular part of lotus-eating paradise, it would cost the National Health Service (NHS) around £1 billion to look after them, given that the vast majority are pensioners. Who would you rather care for – the economically active who contribute to the NHS through their taxes or the rich pensioners who will return to the sun and their gins and tonics on the terrace after their free health care?
During the calm, the tide began to turn on the Tories who launched the election campaign with a 21point lead over Labour. That has been reduced to 3 in a YouGov poll published today (1st June). Corbyn’s rating as PM have even increased as May’s has declined slightly. This comes at a time when it is revealed that the UK is, with Italy, now at the bottom of the growth league table of G7 countries whereas just a year ago it was ahead of the US, Germany and Japan. This is the harbinger of worse to come, especially as a Brexit deal looks as far away as it did at the beginning of this sad process.
Not that in their manifesto, the Tories mention Brexit much. They tried to presidentialise, to coin a phrase, that unlikely specimen, Theresa May. It is a strategy which has been undermined by the lurches in her campaign – from her U-turns in pledges on social care for pensioners just days after the manifesto launch to criticisms for her non-appearance with real people while “campaigning” almost solely at staged rallies where her supporters hold placards with her name in large font and the party’s name in a terms and conditions small font; from her robotic, unsure behaviour belying her mantra of ‘strong and stable leadership’ to her refusal to debate directly with other party leaders – particularly damaging in a recent debate where Corbyn turned up and her party was represented by her Home Secretary more known for her scowls than her rhetoric or compassion.
May was interviewed on TV by Jeremy Paxman. He substitutes journalism for a rottweiler impersonation and, appropriately, this putatively strong, stable PM who would show these foreigners a thing or two in the EU negotiations which start 11 days after the election looked like a rabbit caught in headlights and simply mouthed her sweet vagaries. Merkel would make mincemeat out of her.
Having failed to make May look credible as the Great Leader, her strategists have put her on the Brexit message again, stirring hatred over migration and trumpeting the faux greatness of Britain instead of issuing a plan with sensible compromises for our European partners. The bottom line is that there has to be a deal with the EU yet, in the run up to Endgame, May and her team of misfits have managed to annoy most EU politicians and even hold up the arguments with them (or “threats” as the maythology goes) as a badge of honour, keeping the ‘red, white and blue’ Brexit going, the kind of ‘blood and soil’ nationalism Europeans who suffered disastrous consequences from that ideology in the past hate with a passion. This toxicity created by the Tories could, according to a chief economist in the know, end negotiations as early as September. No trade deal, no soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, no reciprocal health deals, no reciprocal migrant deal, no deals about security……a disaster waiting in the wings.
At the beginning of the election campaign, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the election could turn out to be “a huge political miscalculation” for May and the Tories. She could turn out to be prescient.
Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University but writes in a personal capacity.