No question, the General Election of 2017 is Theresa May’s to lose. So what’s in play that could spring a surprise?
If we start at the top of the country, will the SNP hold on to all of its current 54 seats? Given that 2m voters said no to independence in 2014, some of them are bound to be irritated with Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum.
And when you consider the million or so who voted Brexit in 2016 you have an interesting prospect of perhaps one-third of SNP seats being up for grabs.
But then it gets complex, because Scotland used to vote Conservative, until it started to vote Labour. Its most recent history is with Labour, but why would the Scots be any less chary of Jeremy Corbyn than the rest of us?
As you move south, into the north of England, previously Labour strongholds that might have been prey to UKIP will now, surely, be more open to at least a temporary devil’s pact with Theresa May. There would be nothing new about the working class voting Conservative – at least one-third of union members voted consistently for Margaret Thatcher.
Everywhere that voted Brexit there will be mixed emotions. Jeremy Corbyn’s betrayal of his own lifelong antipathy to the EU – supporting Remain in the referendum campaign – only adds to the worry that he can’t be trusted to lead.
Who can you turn to?
But hardline Labour tribalists who voted Brexit can’t even turn to the other leftist options – the LibDems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru – dedicated Remainers all, still hoping for a reversal of the decision to leave the EU.
And talking of Plaid Cymru, what will happen in Wales? 52.5% voted Brexit, yet all their ‘leaders’ are staunch Remainers. Calls for an independence referendum could, conceivably, scare voters into the arms of the Conservatives, just to send a message. Despite Wales’s historic alliance with Labour, don’t write off the possibility that they could turn, even temporarily, to the Conservatives.
Northern Ireland is even more complex. The Unionist parties frequently support Conservative policies. But the six counties voted Remain. And Sinn Fein has made heavy inroads. Following the March Assembly election, confusion has increased. At least this is one area of the UK where Jeremy Corbyn will not be seen as a problem. His name will scarcely be mentioned.
London, though, will probably ignore the Corbyn conundrum and vote to show Mrs May what’s what and who’s boss. Mind you, although you hear heart-rending outbursts of emotion re Brexit, those voting remain in the capital didn’t add up to quite 60%. So it wasn’t as cut and dried as you might think.
Still, London appears to move further left with each generation. Counter-intuitively, the rich bits are solidly Labour, as if to say, ‘Comrades, we stand shoulder to shoulder in your struggle – from our £Multi-million homes’. In Kew, West London, signs go into windows at each election – ‘Tories not welcome’. Well, that’s ok then, because there are no Tories; they withered on the vine in 1909.
The south east generally is harder to get to grips with. Many well-off middle class parts vote Labour, while places like Surrey are more conventionally conservative. Will the Remainers who are usually Conservative want to send a signal to Mrs May that ‘hard Brexit’ is unpopular? If so, how will they do it?
A Lib-Dem revival?
Here, and certainly in the south-west, is the greatest opportunity for the LibDems. They could return to Parliament with more than double their current number of Members – somewhere between 20-25.
The truth is, though, that no-one really knows. It looks like a shoo-in for a Conservative landslide, but a majority of 50 seems a more likely outcome.
On the other hand, we’ve seen shocks before. No-one – Conservative party workers in particular – expected David Cameron to defeat Gordon Brown in 2010. And after the unpopular coalition, no-one expected Cameron to increase his lead so he had a working majority, albeit slim, in 2015.
In 1992, John Major was a figure of fun for the media, the grey man who wore his underpants over his trousers. Neil Kinnock was the harbinger of a brighter future – a sensible but ‘true Labour’ leader with a passion for education (real passion, unlike Blair’s soundbites) and derision for the hard left and its entryist agenda.
But Major won, and he won big – with more of the popular vote than Margaret Thatcher achieved in three elections. It was Kinnock’s to lose, and he lost it through an act of unexpected hubris. Addressing a rally as if he was a rock star in his prime, he shouted: “Well, all RIGHT!!!” And then he repeated it, over and over. It was excruciating.
It is May’s to lose
So could May have her own hubristic moment? Actually, she will have many; she does it all the time, and it is very unattractive. Every time she talks about ‘strong leadership’ we know she is talking about herself. And we don’t like that, we Brits.
Then again, if May continues to refuse to debate on television – and given that it’s a new concept in the UK, and somewhat faddish, it is entirely a political judgement for her; no democratic deficit involved – Corbyn might come across as a much more attractive candidate when debating with similarly leftist party leaders who haven’t an ounce of true leadership charisma between them.
The real test for Theresa May is how she comes across on the stump. John Major clearly connected with ‘the people’ in 1992 when he took his soap box off the bus, stood on it, and addressed crowds in town centres. He connected with them in a way the media neither saw nor understood. They were too busy – as they are with Corbyn now – painting him as a cartoon character.
The difference is that Major was authentically himself, a slightly diffident, almost humble character, well aware of his roots (not in wealth). But he was confident of the rightness of his cause, and he communicated that.
Theresa May is no longer authentically herself. She has been coached, and whoever coached her has got it wrong. The Theresa May who stood up to the Police Federation is the one we should be seeing. Theresa May the self-congratulating bully could end up surprising us all. Certainly, it is her election to lose.