State Of The Nation: Peter Spencer Dissects Post Election Britain
Success has many fathers. Failure is always an orphan. RIP MAY.
And why go for a clean kill, when you can inflict death by a thousand cuts? Collective Conservative breath is held for the moment, but the Tories and their Fleet Street outriders cut to the chase when needs be.
And cuts, to the pound in your pocket, probably hold the key.
The nation was fed up with them. The May clique failed to spot that. Hence the manifesto. At least this suicide note was short …
Will its list of promises be shorter still by the Queen’s Speech? Probably. And will it make it through parliament six days later? Again, probably. Though in these crazy, hazy anything but lazy days of summer, everything’s up for grabs.
As to what turned the Tory 20% lead two months ago into a hung parliament, seems it was yoof wot swung it.
Eighteen to 24-year-olds are Corbyn’s core supporters. And they turned out in greater numbers than any time since 1997, when the young, frisky, sexy Tony Blair (remember him?) also gave them hope.
Between then and now social media has gone stratospheric. But commentators and campaign organisers can’t access virtual trends so easily. Which is why no one saw this coming.
Come exit poll on The Night, press pens in counts across the country and in every party headquarters reverberated to gasps of astonishment.
It’s easy to be clever after the event. But politico turned hack George Osborne’s description of May as a ‘dead woman walking’ was not just a sacked ex-chancellor getting his revenge. More a statement of the obvious.
How long can she last? By telling her backbenchers she’s really sorry for the total cock-up she inflicted on them and on now ex Tory MP’s she’s bought herself time. But a week is very much longer in politics than when the phrase was coined by Harold Wilson half a century ago.
It’s said, but denied of course, that Boris Johnson and other potential leaders are fluttering round like so many vultures. And if at any point her parliamentary party decides enough is enough, to borrow her own phrase, then it’s curtains for her.
Maybe she’ll make it to the party conference. Maybe not. An autumn general election could be on the cards. Maybe it’ll all be over by Christmas, like in 1914. Sure about that? Current conventional wisdom’s as rubbish as a wheelbarrow full of Reichsmarks.
Think of Theresa May’s certainties. Strong and stable government? Not. And Labour/SNP coalition of chaos? Morphed into Tories snuggling up to Northern Ireland’s DUP.
Try as they might to brush aside worries about their role as honest broker between unionists and nationalists, top Tories are stung by one of their own turning against them. But former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major’s view matters – he worked hard enough on the Good Friday Agreement to understand the legacy of mistrust and resentment hanging over the peace.
Profound social policy differences between the Conservatives’ liberal wing and creationist, anti gay marriage, anti abortion, climate change denying DUP members are another toxic ingredient in an already disagreeable agreement.
And it’s not as if these Ulster Unionists are up for being handcuffed into coalition, like the Lib-Dems with Cameron. Having insisted on something far looser, they’re free to walk any time they choose. Like the Liberals in the 1970’s when they got tired of the Lib-Lab pact, eventually ushering in Margaret Thatcher and 18 years of Tory rule.
The likely medium term outlook is chillingly reminiscent of the final phase of the Callaghan administration, when the green benches on the government side reeked of death.
And here’s another neat little irony.
During those sweaty, paranoid months it was Ulster Unionists who offered the struggling government its last lease of life. Their support in return for a gas pipeline across the Irish Sea. An ask too far for Jim Callaghan.
Instead, sick and infirm MP’s were regularly ferried in by ambulance to get successive knife-edge votes through. On the final night, one terminally ill Labour MP was so determined to save Sunny Jim’s skin he planned to struggle through the division lobby – though he knew the effort would almost certainly kill him.
To his credit, Callaghan refused to let him. But this episode conveys the whiff of desperation. Then, as now.
All this as the nation supposedly squares up to the EU 27 for the most far-reaching and potentially perilous set of negotiations since World War Two.
Hard not to think back to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ’Tis but a scratch, he says when having an arm chopped off. Only after three more amputations does he concede it might be a draw.
But there’s little schadenfreude in Brussels, Berlin or Paris. EU movers and shakers’ priority was not a May or Corbyn victory but the clear-cut result essential to meaningful Brexit talks. A no deal would damage them as well as us.
Our spurned partners on the continent now suspect the new British disease is lemming fever. And they don’t want to catch it.
The decidedly dapper Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, with London Broadcasting and Sky News. He’s interviewed every Prime Minister from Harold Wilson to Theresa May. Aside from his reporting duties he’s also a talented author. Follow him on Facebook & Twitter
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