The Stolen Election & the Accomplices

The June 8th election will set a new low for political manipulation in British politics. It is run only for the short term advantage of the Conservative Party being a classic cut and run while you are ahead move which the Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to prevent from happening. Historically May scored her biggest victory over the Lib Dems and Labour when they failed to defend the Act. The Tory gamble came off, as neither party had the political courage to call Theresa May’s bluff and vote against the election. The failures of Tim Corbyn and Jeremy Farron will be lasting.

This is the stolen election and a historical turning point. Unless Theresa May had stitched up the vote on the Early Election bill, unlikely as Tim and Jeremy are not going to do a deal openly with the Tories, she was gambling when she called the election, calculating she could get away with it despite the Fixed Term Parliament bill requiring 5 years before a general election – and promising the date would be May 2020.

Theresa May lulled the other parties into planning long term, and they were  caught out by the loop hole in the Act which allowed an early election – if two thirds of M Ps voted for an early election Bill, which needed 434 M Ps voting for it to pass. As the Tories did not have a two thirds majority only if Labour voted for the bill could this happen. Labour voted for the Bill, thus triggering an election which could only help the Tories. All the problems which were gathering around the Tory party notably election fraud allegations, the economy and major policy areas including prisons, May’s former job as Home Secretary making her responsible, were removed at a stroke.

The debate on 19th April, provided a sharp insight into why politicians are unpopular and seen as shifty and unreliable. The government claimed they needed a Brexit mandate, baloney as parliament had given them the mandate voting for Article 50, and the Deal would be open to scrutiny by voters in 2019. Allowing an election this year means that a Tory victory on June 8th would allow them to ignore the voters after 2019 for three years. The Labour decision to let her off the hook and support her cut and run proposal puts May in charge of the agenda. Labour again failed to be an effective opposition.

It is worth noting that Corbyn and Abbott voted against repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act on a Commons motion of 23rd October 2014, so would have been consistent in denying May her repeal and demanding she honour her promises of an election in 2020. This was not what  Labour did, and their votes on the Early Election Bill condemned them again to following a Tory Policy. As did the Lib Dems, the BBC report on May calling the election stating that ‘the main opposition parties have said they will support it’. Not apparently the SNP though, which abstained, but the Lib Dems did not and one important result of the April 19th deabte is to cast doubt on whether the Lib Dems are an opposition party.

The handful of Lib Dem M Ps could not stop the Bill, only Labour could do that, but a vote against would be symbolic and challenge May’s claim to have broad support for seeking a mandate to rule the country. She did not need a mandate on Brexit, and making this a single issue campaign was machiavellian. The argument that an election a year after the Brexit deal would be destabilising is laughable, May is simply avoiding being held to account and the Lib Dems could have embarrassed both Labour and the Conservatives, by voting to uphold the FTPA. But Tim Farron’s group of nonentities decided to to abandon their principles and one of the few things they achieved in the Con Dem Coalition. It is a sign of the times that the man who claimed credit for the FTPA, Nick Clegg, did not manage to vote at the end of the debate.

Moreover Farron steadfastly refused to make a commitment not to go into coalition with the Tories.* Compass and  others who want a progressive alliance should take note. The SNP hammered Farron in the House of Commons debate, as their strategy requires them to destroy Labour and the Lib Dems to produce a Tory – SNP fight north of the border. Had Farron committed not to line up with the Tories and abandoned the Orange Liberal line that took them into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 that would have enabled him to build a presence in Scotland. That he did not do so gave the Nationalists exactly what they wanted.

What happens to the Lib Dems is only a side show, but ensures that this election will be the worst for the progressive movement since 1931. Labour is hamstrung and failed to reject the poisoned chalice of an election which John McDonnell said the Party would take two years to prepare for. It has compromised as in the New Labour years but this time leaving the Blairites to its left over Europe, not a situation the party can benefit from. Meanwhile Farron’s ambiguity on a Tory coalition demonstrates he at least is not going to offer a challenge to Labour as a progressive force whatever his position on Europe.

Theresa May is clearly a limited Prime Minister, but as a party leader she is the Lewis Hamilton of political operators facing the dodgem car twins of Corbyn and Farron as they demonstrate that tacking to the right is the only option in town. For progressives, there is nothing to ally with however desirable the Compass strategy of holding back the Tory tide might be. As the Early Election debate on April 19th showed, there is now a dominant Tory Party as there was in the Thatcher years. Bringing it down will require more than a Progressive Alliance which has no basis in reality, and no parliamentary ability to stop Theresa May when marching into the Division Lobbies against her is what is required.

Since writing the original article, the Lib Dems have issued a call for raising a 1p rate of income tax so a future Liberal government can fund the NHS. This was the central claim in 2010, dropped in 2015 and pure electioneering as there is no chance the Lib Dems can win an election. But an indication that they are playing a parliamentary game of pretending to be interested in the NHS, which they failed to do when in government. The record of the Coalition is now being air brushed from history. More pertinently, they are aiming to take Labour votes by issuing a misleading but plausible attack on Corbyn’s record on Brexit. However there is no attempt to address why the Lib Dems voted for the election, when they could have shown themselves completely anti tory by doing so. In the debate Farron refused to say whether he would go into coalition with the Tories. The debate on 19th April avoided most of the big issues. But on this issue, Farron’s refusal to answer the question was a telling one. Especially as he used the unlikelihood that the Tories would need their help to avoid the question.

However the Guardian carried an interview on April 22nd in which Farron stated the Lib Dems would not go into coalition with either party, ie after the Party voted for the election. The reasons he refused to answer SNP M Ps on the 19th was because a hung parliament was not on the cards and so he did not have to speculate what he would do in that case. The Party has consistently refused to apologise for the Coalition and its deeply reactionary politics, and should  parliament become hung – and only if the Tory Party splits can Brexit be denied without a referendum – then a tactical alliance between the Lib Dems and Tory Remainers and others would be sensible. Indeed if a progressive alliance is ever going to happen then to work with the Tories over Remain would be acceptable. However if the Tory strategy of wooing UKIP voters and getting a massive majority for 5 years works, then all the bets are off. And we will have to return to the issue of why Labour voted with May saving her from a humiliating defeat – and triggering an election most experts think it will lose badly.

Trevor Fisher

14th May 2017

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