Allowing for the tiny sliver of wriggle-room left by Downing Street in its briefings that there will not be an election this year, the British General Election of 2017 will rest with those of 2007 (when Gordon Brown funked it) and 1978 (when Jim Callaghan missed his chance of avoiding annihilation) as one of the great might-have-beens of political history.
As the economy stalls, and jobs growth, investment, wages and the housing market all suffer from the impending Brexit effect, Theresa May and her Cabinet may come to regret not taking the tide at the high point.
Of course she had the Fixed Term Parliament Act as an obstacle in any case. Triggering a poll in, say, May this year would have required the Labour Party to live up to its bravado about being keen for a fight. The same goes for the SNP. Either party might, in the event, have found some convenient excuse to duck out of facing the voters at a moment of such spirited Tory revival. For the first time in decades, for example, the Conservatives look to be in a position to make headway in Scotland, while Labour’s position is so weak it could lead to an historic rout south of the border on the scale it endured in Scotland in 2015. So it seems there will be no early poll.
The chances are, therefore, that Labour has two or three years more in order to try and save itself, or to indulge in more fratricidal warfare. The signs are that many of its members favour the latter, and, indeed, see no difference between the two. Like another ghoulish reminder of the 1980s, some in Labour’s Momentum grouping are called for the “democratisation” of the party – a euphemism for a takeover by the extreme left. They are talking about persuading Unison to affiliate to Momentum. The fact that nowadays they are probably a majority rather than a minority doesn’t alter the fact that Labour is too far away from the centre of gravity of British politics to have any hope of winning a general election.
Given their continuing feebleness in Scotland, more than ever Labour needs to appeal to “Middle England”. Only rarely in its history has the party managed to win a majority of the seats in England. It has long relied on a phalanx of Scottish Labour MPs to get its leaders into Downing Street. Those days are gone. That it can now win Britain without Scotland and with Jeremy Corbyn as leader is simply outlandish.
When the moment arrives, as it now has, when the party feels it necessary to release a bland and meaningless “joint statement” by its leader and deputy then the prospects for the party look grim indeed. Rather like the days when the National Executive had to confirm that Michael Foot was indeed still leader of the party, this one reeks of the desperation in the party’s inner counsels. If all they can agree on that “no one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves and their spokespeople”, a tragic tautology, then the party looks pathetic.
The Tories may have missed their chance to thrash Labour this year, but, at this rate, even if they crash the economy, lose Scotland and Northern Ireland and crash out of the European Union they will still beat Labour anytime up to and including 2020. How did it come to this?
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