Theresa May has lost her snap election, even if she wins it.
When it was called, it looked like the greatest foregone conclusion in election history. Prime Minister May’s standing among the public could hardly have been higher while Labour under Jeremy Corbyn appeared divided and archaic. The unassailable would crush the unelectable as the Conservatives were set to sweep to a majority of even 200.
Theresa May had called her ‘snap’ election deceitfully. Her true aim was to cover up the EU’s confounding of her plans for Brexit, as I explained immediately she made her announcement in Why is she Frit? Despite this, even the Labour leadership thought the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Tory domination was confirmed in the local election results on 4th of May. It was not just that Labour did badly and the Tory polling lead was humongous. UKIP collapsed. Should most of its 4 million Brexit-lovers swing behind Theresa May, as seemed inevitable, a tremendous victory was assured, thanks to Britain’s winner-takes-all electoral system. Eventually, it would turn out badly for her, I predicted, but her immediate triumph seemed certain.
Oh, wonderful confounding! In one of the strangest of elections, it is Corbyn who has captured the anti-system, anti-elitist spirit of Brexit while the Prime Minister embodies the crepuscular condescension of the old regime. He appears to be the populist and she the hateful elitist. He is the energetic insurgent seeking change and she is the evasive, manipulative representative of the status quo. With the polls swinging wildly, who knows what the outcome will now be? UKIP supporters in crucial northern constituencies are not natural Tories and might break for Labour or simply abstain. If so, May’s hopes of a massive plurality could prove to be no more than dust.
I am among those caught up in the embarrassment of upturned expectations. Just before the election was called I finished a book on the causes of Brexit and Trump that, among other things, looks at the remarkable similarities of last year’s campaigns – the referendum and the US presidential. Both the rebellions of Brexit and Trump, were marked by an apparent ‘authenticity’. They seemed to be the ‘real thing’ demanding change, while both the Remain campaign in the UK and the Clinton bid for the presidency were alike in being contrived and ‘artificial’.
But the UK’s Leave campaign was divided. After the vote Theresa May stormed through the detritus of potential Conservative candidates to grab the premiership. In doing so she seemed to personify a new majority. A remainer, she spoke for the millions of Remainers who had secretly wished in their hearts to leave the EU. At the same time, May’s message to Brexiteers was that she would deliver the full Monty – the people have spoken, she was their chosen vehicle, her Brexit would mean ‘Brexit’. Assisted by the Daily Mail, May’s commuter-belt ‘anti-elitism’ was reinforced by a far-reaching ‘one-nation’ conservatism, an endorsement of Brexit’s social ‘revolution’ and a ruthless destruction of the Cameron-Blairite cohort that had led the UK for the previous six years – or was it nineteen?