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In June, May is taking a real gamble

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Apr 29, 2017, 12:29 am IST
Updated : Apr 29, 2017, 12:29 am IST

May’s own constituency voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AP)
 Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AP)

“Neighbours build fences
Lovers past tenses
Liars their defences
The play commences”
From The Son-In-Law Also Rises by Bachchoo

The May election takes place in June. My friend Clive James once wrote a book about Cambridge called The May Balls Are In June and I thought it was an accurate way to herald the coming UK general election.

Theresa May has called the election for two principal reasons. The Labour Opposition is in complete disarray and the opinion polls show that her Tory Party is about 23 per cent ahead of them. Moreover, 60 per cent of the polled electorate thinks she would make the best Prime Minister, ahead of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s 20 per cent. So why would she not call an election and increase her party’s majority from 12 to perhaps 50, 60, or as some Tory optimists predict, even 100?

Things may not work out that way. Other commentators, including myself, can see the gamble that Ms May is taking. Her second reason, apart from the lead in the polls, is that she wants a longer time to negotiate Britain’s departure from the European Union. If she wins the election, which seems almost certain, she will still be in power in 2020 and have two more years before the deal she gets from the EU can be challenged.

So what then are these risks she is taking? One mustn’t forget that 48 per cent of the British electorate voted to remain in the European Union. The 52 per cent that voted to leave were passionate about the UK’s independence from the European regulation-makers and from the EU’s absolute inflexibility on restricting the free movement of labour, which naturally gives rise to immigrant workers going from the poorer countries of Europe to the richer ones.

The people who voted to remain were just as passionate about staying in the single EU market, which imports 40 per cent of all British exports. They may even have a liberal instinct to keep the door open to immigrants without whom Britain would be denuded of 10 per cent of its doctors, a larger percentage of its nurses and over 25 per cent of workers in its catering, hotel and fruit and vegetable harvesting industries.

Ms May’s own constituency voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. The one UK party that still opposes Britain’s exit from the EU, and would press and vote for a second referendum to reverse the Brexit decision, are the Liberal Democrats. It would be ironic but vastly welcome if they put up their strongest candidate in Ms May’s constituency and manage to bring out the “remainers” vote as a majority and defeat Ms May. It would be the most dramatic reversal since the referendum and could be seen as divine retribution for Ms May’s hypocrisy in switching from being a Remainer to a Brexiteer in order to replace David Cameron as leader.

The Lib-Dems suffered heavily in the 2015 election. Their parliamentary seats were reduced by fifty to eight. Three or four of their stalwarts, such as Vince Cable who had represented Twickenham in London for three decades and Simon Hughes who had represented Bermondsey in London were unseated. They have now declared that they will stand in June and with 60 per cent of London opting to stay in the EU, they and the other Lib-Dems in “remainer” majority seats stand a good chance. Again it would be ironically just if Ms May’s June election brought back even more Lib-Dems to Parliament than there were before their nearly annihilating losses of 2015.

The problem with this prospect for the Lib-Dems is their present leader Tim Farron, characterised by the media with near contempt. One columnist called him “what’s-his-name” consistently. Another said his demeanour was more that of an assistant rat-catcher in some remote rural district and not that of a potential Prime Minister. The attacks are unfair. Mr Farron has been consistent in leading his party to signal clear opposition to leaving the European Union and has set out in clear terms the disaster of doing so.

Nevertheless, journalists have repeatedly attempted to trap the devoutly Catholic Farron by asking him if he supported same-sex marriage. He said he did, much to the relief of his liberal-minded members. The media wouldn’t let it rest there. They persistently challenged him to say if he thought gay sex was a sin. Whatever his personal adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic Church or his own convictions, Mr Farron came out, after the election was announced, saying in so many words that he didn’t consider it a sin. Sigh of relief from the Lib-Dem membership.

The Labour Party is caught in deeper dilemmas in this election. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has over the years as a backbencher and swinging politico declared his opposition to nuclear weapons. Now he finds himself the leader of the Labour Party and has to say whether he supports the nuclear component of Britain’s armed forces, namely the Trident submarines.

Thousands of trade-unionised workers are dependent on jobs related to the renewal and modernisation of these nuclear-carrying submarines. What’s Mr Corbyn’s attitude? Does he support Trident and the trade unions that pay for the Labour Party and whose members are dependent on Trident for their jobs? Or is he going to stick to his laudable moral stance on nuclear weapons and oppose the development of Trident?

Because Britain is primarily, as Napoleon dubbed it, a nation of shopkeepers, albeit in this age of weapons of mass destruction, any principled reservations about shopkeeping will inevitably conflict with its economic prosperity. The Labour heartlands of Britain’s north suffer from the decline of industry and, through collective perception or being misled by a biased media, blame the decline and fall on the presence of immigrants. They consequently support Brexit. Labour’s dilemma is how to keep them and its southern “liberal” support for staying in Europe happy and voting for the party.

That’s the problem with democracy — people follow their material interests as they see them and not the principles we want them to espouse. Where did it all go wrong?

Tags: theresa may, jeremy corbyn, european union, brexit