What Star Wars’ Death Star tells us about the election 2017
PUBLISHED: 17:31 07 June 2017 | UPDATED: 17:32 07 June 2017
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The thing that has made the Conservative Party the most formidable election-winning machine in political history is also its fatal weakness; its blithe assumption of authority.
It may come as a surprise to those of you who only know me from this column to be told that politics is not the abiding obsession in my life. It may or may not come as a surprise to those of you who know me primarily from what for want of a more accurate term we’ll call my ‘comedy career’, to discover that comedy is not the abiding passion in my life either. My real abiding passion, the one I’ve had with me since early childhood, the one which predates even my obsession with music, is science fiction.
I make no apologies for this nor do I intend to take up valuable column inches persuading those of you who regard sci-fi as adolescent nonsense that you’re wrong (although you are. So very, very wrong). I’ve been an avid reader, viewer, listener (and indeed now author) for as long as I can remember. It serves both as a refuge from real life, and also, sometimes, an extremely revealing lens through which to view real life.
That’s not to say that science fiction doesn’t have some regrettable habits. There is, for example, what Doctor Who fans refer to as ‘reversing the polarity of the neutron flow’. This refers to pulp sci-fi’s tendency to exploit made-up technology to conjure a fatal and easily exploitable weakness in the Bad Guys’ plan (last year’s mega-budget Star Wars spin-off Rogue One was commissioned at least partly to explain why Luke Skywalker was able to destroy the supposedly invulnerable Death Star back in 1977). This usually manifests itself in a scene in which the hero (or the hero’s more scientifically literate sidekick) studies some sort of computer readout before saying ‘You know how the evil aliens have a Thing They Do? Well maybe if WE do the thing they do but BACKWARDS then the aliens will all die...’
This SF trope, the ‘their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness’ sprang to mind this week as I found myself transfixed by the mesmerising spectacle of Theresa May and the Conservatives making an entire Cruft’s worth of dogs’ breakfasts out of their election campaign.
In many respects, the thing that has made the Conservative Party the most formidable election-winning machine in political history is also its fatal weakness; its blithe assumption of authority. Its assurance that the Tories are the natural leaders; that while other parties might win the occasional election and form the odd government, this is nothing more than a fleeting aberration which will correct itself in due course. Normal Conservative service will resume shortly.
The power this gives the Tories at election time can’t be overstated. They carry the totems of office as if they were born to it, because in many, if not the majority of cases, they actually were. They are the political wing of The Establishment, in pretty much every context in which that word can be applied in this country. Labour (and its predecessors) may on occasion have had a stab at running the country, but the Conservative Party owns the country. It’s a completely different level of authority, and it can, in all circumstances other than a Tory meltdown (or a Labour tsunami) make the issue of winning the actual election seem a mere formality. Yes, yes, jolly good, you voted, now run along and let us get on with it, there’s a good electorate.
It’s the ultimate electoral weapon, when it works. When it doesn’t work, it can blow up and take the whole battle station with it. Right now it’s not working.
The Tories’ shambolic approach to an election they called for purely partisan purposes is genuinely startling. Did they believe that a 20+ point polling advantage over Corbyn’s Labour meant all they had to do was turn up? This doesn’t even feel like complacency. We’ve seen that recently enough; it was complacency which left David Cameron scrabbling to form a coalition in 2010, belatedly realising that the fact that people didn’t like Gordon Brown and that it was therefore the Conservatives’ ‘turn’ wasn’t enough for him to win outright. This feels more like a pathological smugness, the belief that victory was so assured that they could not just get away with a half-baked manifesto but that they could turn on the very demographic that’s been propping them up for decades: the elderly.
That there was something included in the Tory election literature which could even be construed as ‘dementia tax’ was crazy; the fact that Tory pundits and press statements began to refer to it as such was all but suicidal.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the age range, a last minute internet push resulted in somewhere between 300,000 and half a million under-25s registering to vote in the final 24 hours. The Tories have depended upon the apathy of the young almost as much as on the reflexive support of a large percentage of the old. Lose one and they might get away with it; lose both and they could be in real trouble. 20+ points has become single digits, and it’s not over yet.
Look, I’m under few real illusions at this point; I know that polls, when they’re wrong, are almost invariably wrong to the left, with respondents unwilling to admit support for right-wing parties for all sorts of sociologically and psychologically murky reasons. But watching the Tory bandwagon’s wheelnuts loosen has been hugely entertaining if nothing else. The knowledge that right now, Theresa May is certainly regretting calling this entirely unnecessary and self-serving election is making life a little more bearable. And whatever happens on June 8, her own position has been weakened. Anything short of a Corbyn victory and she’ll claim it’s been strengthened, of course, but she’ll know the truth and so will we. She called this election for purely selfish reasons and thus far has succeeded only in exposing her own inadequacy as a campaigner and leader.
In these last days, call your friends, ask them their intentions and tell them to look at the figures for their own constituency, the only place their vote will count or be counted. Tell them there’s no shame in voting tactically; that what my comedian pal Ian Moore referred to on his Full English Brexit blog this week as ‘the footballisation of politics; supporting your team belligerently and regardless of performance’ will not serve us this time. Because even if we can’t agree on who deserves to win this election, Theresa May and the Conservatives sure as hell deserve to lose.