‘Sir’ Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ Aussie election guru, thinks Tory HQ a pushover. Like an arms manufacturer dealing with the MOD, it’s money for old rope. Treeza May is so very different from David Cameron that she’s employed the same old conman, and he’s recycling the same old slogans. Pity Jezza’s brother’s a meteorologist, otherwise she could even re-use the slogan about the Opposition leader stabbing his brother in the back.
Our excitable ‘strong, stable’ PM seems to be moving into a manic phase right now. It’s not serving her well. When Cameron talked of “a coalition of chaos”, and employed actors dressed as salmon to follow Ed Miliband in public (Salmond, geddit?), he did, bizarrely, sound plausible. Treeza’s use of Crosby’s re-heated sound bite simply sounds silly. What prospective coalition?
And yet. Crosby may be a lazy old plutocrat, but this time, and purely by accident, he may be on to something. The “coalition of chaos” might be a thing.
The real “coalition of chaos” is, of course, the Tory Party, in which predominantly Remain-voting MPs, led by an ostensibly Remain-voting PM, has been hijacked by the far-right ultras in the party (and their UKIP paramilitaries). Brexit means Brexit is the very definition of chaos, throwing all our laws, our trading relationships, our medical research, our financial services, our universities, our motor manufacturers, and much else into real chaos. They have no idea where they stand. They can’t plan for the absolutely unknown future. That’s 100% gold plated chaos, and we have it right now.
But the vicar’s daughter, brought up in the smug, hypocritical wing of the CofE, can’t see the mote in her party’s eye. She wants to project a project of chaos onto the other side.
Certainly her opponents aren’t exactly giving a masterclass in sly strategic thinking, nimble tactics, sparkling speeches, nifty stunts. But that’s just a failure to be competent. A long way from chaos.
The chaos we need is the counter-chaos that can stall the Tory-Brexit project.
We were pretty close to it. If Corbyn had refused to back the vote on an early general election, and used guerrilla tactics to make May’s parliamentary strategy difficult, frustrating and time-consuming, that would have edged it closer. The Electoral Commission dossier might have compelled the CPS to charge sitting Tory MPs with electoral fraud, causing a series of by-elections in difficult seats. Sticking to the 2020 election timetable, the Tory majority could have been hacked back, and Brexit exposed as the dangerous delusion it is. Moreover, the cuts from 2010 on are only now really beginning to be felt. Austerity itself was about to become palpably real to voters, and harder to explain away.
But that might-have-been moment has passed.
So now we need a concerted, cross-party campaign to re-engineer a chaotic House of Commons. That means disciplined tactical voting to try to prevent Tory gains, and to re-take as many marginals from them as possible.
She might look like queen of all she surveys, but May has some disadvantages in this election. The overwhelming sense that this will be a pushover for her could induce complacency and depress turnout. And to win big, she needs a high turnout.
Brexit did significantly raise turnout on the previous year’s general election, and it also added new voters to the electoral roll. But will they turn out again, in a general election? No one knows. For if May wants to energise the voters who voted Leave, she needs to make this a Brexit election. But the more she makes it a Brexit election, the more she motivates Remainers to get out there and vote.
This matters in our ‘First Past the Post’ voting system, but in odd, unpredictable ways. The Leave and Remain votes were not distributed evenly across constituencies, but pile up in some, and are thinner on the ground in others. John Curtice, who has crunched the numbers on both voting patterns in 2015 and the 2016 referendum, says that he cannot see how, in many seats, the Brexit vote might make a difference to the outcome. Moreover, this election will be fought on current boundaries, not the 2020 boundaries which will give an additional advantage to the Tories. The reality is, we have no way to gauge how things will move.
The campaign proper has not yet started. The rules governing how broadcasters cover it have been loosened, giving more room for interpretation to editors. We know what the partisan press will do. We know that the Tories will spend big on social media, particularly Facebook.
But this won’t just be a replay of 2015, still less of 2016. We once saw voters parroting Tory slogans that “Labour broke the economy”, and “Tories will bring down the deficit”, and Labour simply lacked the means to correct them before they passed into that deadly deceit, “common sense”. In 2016 simple phrases like “Taking Back Control” resonated in ways that the bloodless Cameron couldn’t counter. But this time, voters are taking the piss out of Tory slogans, groaning and gurning on Question Time, or churning out “strong, stable” memes on social media. We know how the trick’s done, now.
In this election there is no hope of a normal outcome. So to preserve democracy, which means ensuring that the battle goes on, we need to produce chaos in the next Parliament.
Because right now, “strong government” means something very dangerous.