DUNCAN MacLAREN. UK General Election: clever cunning or miscalculated folly?

Apr 20, 2017

Theresa May’s snap general election decision can be seen as hypocritical in that she ruled this out consistently (and as recently as 20th March) until, the Anglican vicar’s daughter hinted, God told her while hiking in Welsh Snowdonia over Easter to go for it since there was ‘no unity’ in the Westminster Parliament to allow her to obtain the best deal for the UK out of Brexit. No unity? For a Government which hasn’t a clue where it is going and is regarded as incompetent by the international community and national political class alike, how can it command unity? That requires knowledge of the possible outcomes from the Stygian political journey the UK is about to take with a hard Brexit.  

What May actually means, but didn’t mention in her robotic Downing Street speech, is that polls showing a 21 per cent lead for Tories over Labour (in England mostly) will provide, if the stars are aligned properly, a massive majority for her to pursue whatever Brexit she desires without being hindered by a Labour opposition. Not that the Labour opposition under Corbyn, who has personal ratings that would sink the Titanic, has been exactly dynamic. It is generally agreed that the SNP with its 56 out of 59 Scottish seats is a more effective and intelligent opposition than UK Labour. But to allow Labour to sink even further will allow the Tories to rule over the Disunited Kingdom even longer.

Of course, by ‘unity’ May could really have been referring to her hard-line Brexiteers who make Marine Le Pen look like a democrat. They are the ones who call for an end of all “this ghastly EU legislation” and wonder why the House of Lords was more worried about “these (EU) foreigners” working in the UK rather than the expat Brits, omitting to mention that many of them voted Brexit and, frankly, deserve what they have coming to them. These xenophobes who enflesh the concept of the Tories being dubbed “the nasty party” are wary of the Remain-voting May. In their narrow minds of perfervid English nationalism, she might compromise on migration to remain in the Single Market after all; she might cough up the £60 billion bill to leave the EU in exchange for other trade deals; and might sacrifice Gibraltar for other EU trinkets rather than go to war with Spain as St Maggie did with Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas, a suggestion by former Tory leader, Lord Howard. She will be hoping for less of that breed of Tory and more of one cast in her own image which can best be characterised as chameleon-like.

The question remains whether her strategy is cleverly cunning and successful enough to persuade English Labour voters, many of whom voted to leave the EU, to vote Tory or whether, in the words of Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, it will turn out to be “a huge political miscalculation”. As far as Scotland is concerned, May must know she will gain little and could lose the last remaining Tory MP, Scottish Secretary David Mundell (also known as ‘Fluffy’) who has a small majority in his Borders seat and is seen as Westminster’s man in Scotland and not Scotland’s man in Westminster – not a good look through tartan specs.

Even the reputation of the effervescent leader of the Scottish branch of the UK Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, an open lesbian and feminist, has been tarnished recently by her support of the so-called “rape clause” in the new child benefits scheme produced by the Westminster Government. This policy states that women will receive child benefit for the first two children but only for a third if they can prove you have been raped! The 8-page form from the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) states that applicants can receive benefit for a third child “through providing any available evidence of a conviction for rape or controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship, where this relates to the conception of your child”. Compassionate, isn’t it?

There has been justified uproar from women (and men) throughout the UK but especially in Scotland which has only one MP of the Tory Government which introduced the policy in a budget announced by former Chancellor, George Osborne. The Tories will try to win support from those who support the Union (with England) and that, not Brexit, will be their main rallying cry but the rape clause will haunt them. They will gain support from many of the English living in Scotland, members of the Orange Lodge, Rangers supporters and some very old people but won’t achieve anything like a game-changing majority.

Labour may lose its single MP – who does not even support Jeremy Corbyn as leader – and face annihilation in the council elections in May which will bring to a decisive conclusion Labour’s hold over its Scottish fiefdom. The Liberal Democrats who used to believe in Home Rule for Scotland are now as Red, White and Blue as the Tories and their only MP was accused by a court of law of lying while Secretary of State of Scotland under Cameron’s coalition government. Both instances of duplicity could diminish their chances of resurrection. Meanwhile, the SNP is still, after ten years of power in the Scottish Parliament, riding high in the polls and pollsters don’t see that changing much in the general election. Those who are honest know that the SNP Government is managing Scotland in terms of services much better than strike- and crisis-ridden England and serves to protect Scotland from the worst excesses of Tory policies. The Tory brand is still toxic in Scotland and the Scots might relish in making Scotland once again Tory-free as they did in answer to Thatcher’s destruction of the Scottish industrial base.

However, all this could be put into a state of even more complicated flux through voter apathy. By General Election day, June 8th, Scots will have had six ballots, whether referenda or elections, since 2014 and most of the English four. Much of the feeling of the populace at large was summed up by a BBC TV vox pop from a Bristol woman simply called ‘Brenda’. She said indignantly when told of the snap election, ”Oh, for God’s sake, I can’t honestly, I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment. Why does she need to do it?”. As a commentator tweeted, “We are all Brenda from Bristol now”.

Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University and based in Glasgow. He is writing in a personal capacity. 

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