We have the power to thwart May's strategy
PUBLISHED: 17:31 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 07:43 23 April 2017
Editor-at-large Alastair Campbell issues a cri de couer for the pro-European cause
This is an election like no other I can remember. First, there is no obvious reason why we are having it. Second, there appears to be near universal agreement as to what the outcome will be. Democracy UK style 2017. Weird.
Last Saturday, in her YouTube Easter message when she managed to channel herself, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen, Theresa May said the whole country was uniting behind Brexit after a difficult and divisive debate.
Three days later we were apparently so divided we need a general election to settle the issue of Brexit once and for all. Er ... like the referendum was meant to.
Let nobody swallow the line that there is some noble high motive to her going back on her word not to call an election. There are two reasons why she has done so. The state of the Labour Party. And the reality of the Brexit negotiations. The first gives her confidence. The second gives her nightmares.
On Labour she has decided that of the two leaders of the two main parties only one would ever be chosen as PM by the country. Or was she worried Jeremy Corbyn might go before 2020, when, under David Cameron’s gimmick of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the general election should have been?
On Brexit, what is the rush if we are going to get the great deal with the EU she has been promising? What is the rush if Liam Fox’s trips to the moon and back are going to deliver these great Global Britain free trade deals far and wide? She has two years to negotiate post the triggering of Article 50 ... so why not do the deals, show how great she has been, and then go to the country in 2020? The timing could not be better, surely?
Well, no, because she knows already that she will not be able to secure any deal which, as promised by David Davis, delivers the same benefits as membership of the single market and the customs union. He knows, she knows, we all know, it just won’t happen. They also know, and we know, that come 2020, even with the best deal available, we will still be in a transitional phase, and she will be unable to stand before the people and say she has delivered what she said she would.
Today she has a small majority, and it contains MPs who might just want to take a look at the deal she comes back with before deciding whether to back it.
The gambit she launched on Tuesday is about exploiting Labour’s current weakness to deliver herself a landslide so that whatever deal she gets – including no deal, with all the damage that entails – she has the backing of the ranks of hard Brexit MPs she hopes to get installed.
It is about having a mandate for Brexit At Any Cost, whatever the harm to Britain’s real national interest.
There was a touch of the Erdogans about the way she said that one of her reasons for going back on her word was the fact that Labour had said they might vote against whatever final deal she reached, and the Lib Dems would never stop fighting against Brexit. Perish the thought that an Opposition should oppose or hold to account! Perish the thought that she should be given anything other than a blank cheque by the whole country as she goes into the most difficult, complicated and unpredictable negotiation any Prime Minister has had to engage in.
She has calculated she cannot lose, and will still be PM come June 9. She may be right. She has calculated the landslide and the huge majority, because of the state of the Opposition, are there for the taking. On that, we have to make sure she is wrong.
Because for all her talk of Britain being united, whether in her Easter message or in her Brexit White Paper, I have never known the country so divided. Millions remain angry about Brexit, fearful about the route May is taking, and voiceless when Parliament had already so heavily voted in favour of the Prime Minister’s’s plan.
Those millions – and let’s hope they include some of the millions who couldn’t be bothered to vote last June – have it in their hands to stop her getting the landslide and the untrammelled power she wants. It means opposition parties being just that. The Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens holding firm to their pro-Remain stance, Labour hardening its position to make sure the party is offering a clear and genuine alternative to the Hard Brexit that will damage most the people and areas Labour traditionally represents, and the chance to reject May’s deal at the end of the process.
It means the broadcast media, overly influenced by the Brextremist Lie Machine of Dacre, Murdoch, Desmond and the Barclays, being far more challenging, not allowing May to hide either behind the vacuous soundbites – Brexit means Brexit et al – or behind the claim that she can’t tell us what deal is acceptable because it gives away her hand.
It means above all making sure that ‘Brexit At Any Cost’ becomes a huge negative for any Tory candidate who wants to stand up for it.
Every candidate of every party must be pressed to say whether they believe that if the deal does not match up to the promises made in advance, the country has the right to change its mind.
If they can’t, we might as well ask what is the point of representative democracy at all?