What an Election week it was! It began with Len McCluskey’s U-TURN – or more like a 15 point reverse direction with bumps into a few lamp-posts on the way - on Labour’s prospect of winning the election. He changed from saying that “200 seats would be success” to “optimism” after seeing the Manifesto – all very strange when he’d been in the Manifesto meeting and he’d made his pessimistic remarks after the document had been published. No wonder he seemed giddy. I hope he thanked Dave Prentiss for his fast, terse, corrective tweet: “Success = Labour Government”.
But all of Len’s gyration looked relatively “strong and stable” when it was followed by an even more astonishing U-TURN – Theresa May’s decision to make a major change in “her” (mark the possessive) Manifesto after it had been published, by declaring now that there would be a cap on the amount that anyone might pay in respect of social care. There’s no figure for the “cap”, of course. It would be a pity to spoil a costings-free Manifesto with any precise sum.
And then came another big surprise – the apparent emergence of a new party in the Election – the Theresa May Party.
This was suggested by a letter I received from Theresa May, addressed to me personally. This letter makes no mention whatever of the Conservative Party. Indeed, the words appear nowhere in the letter. Instead, Theresa urges me to vote for Theresa Villiers, “my” candidate (note the possessive again) for this Constituency.
Virtually the whole letter is devoted to the Brexit negotiations, why Britain needs “strong” leadership for those negotiations, and how there is no way we will get that from Jeremy Corbyn.
There is virtually no reference to any policies relating to what is going to happen in this country, and, of course, no reference whatever to her U-TURN on social care. It would be futile to think that the recently published Manifesto tells us what the Conservatives intend, for it too has been described by her as “my Manifesto”. So is this letter confirmation that here is a new Party on the electoral scene – the Theresa May Party?
I’ll be interested to hear how many millions of voters have received the same letter. Clearly I am only one among many to whom Theresa May has sent her letter. But has she sent it to voters in every constituency? And if she has, did she refer to Boris Johnson as “my” candidate, or Michael Gove, or Philip Hammond, or various others who are hardly kindred spirits of Theresa. We know the Tory Party has become a one-man band, but did she have to show such self-importance at a level which would have made Thatcher blush?
As for those who persistently ask Labour candidates if they will put a picture of Jeremy Corbyn on their election addresses, it’s worth noting that on the Theresa May letter there is no picture of “my” candidate, only one of her.
So May’s mail-shot to the masses is further evidence of her determination to win the election by whatever means she can (single-handed if necessary), starting with the calling of a “snap election”, calculating this is the best time to exploit Corbyn’s unpopularity for her own advantage. All her talk of needing to unite the country to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations is eyewash. She got overwhelming support in the Commons on article 50, the key vote. However, what she initially wanted was to refuse any opportunity for the Commons to vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. So much for the “sovereignty” of our Parliament, about which so much was said in the EU Referendum and afterwards.
With the country facing a major threat if the Brexit negotiations do not deliver a satisfactory outcome, it would have been monstrous if the Commons did not enjoy the same right to vote on that outcome as all the Parliaments of the EU Member States. Theresa May was forced to concede that, but there is no doubt what her original intention was.
By comparison with Theresa May’s antics, Len McCluskey’s seem small beer, but Labour could have done without them. It defies belief that he did not know the content of the Labour Manifesto before he made his first statement. It may be that he was reminded of what he said a year ago about the need for Jeremy Corbyn’s poll ratings to improve, which they have not done to any serious extent. Tom Watson was right to emphasise the size of the mountain Labour has to climb, but he did couple that with a declaration of the determination of the Party to climb it!
What McCluskey could do
Perhaps the best thing Len McCluskey and his union could do now for Labour would be to urge its 11/2 million members to make a major effort at the grass roots to win back those Labour voters, and especially working-class ones, to return to the Party and prevent the serious damage which the Tories will do to them if they gain unchallenged power.
The Tories have already done enough with their policies to expose the phoney notion of May’s claim to be the “voice of working people”. Some voice: 4 million children in poverty, 31/2 million families being worse off than they were in 2008, cuts of benefits to the most disadvantaged, a freeze on in-work benefits which means a pay cut equivalent to the inflation rate for millions, Mrs May’s obsession with extending selection in education making nonsense of her promise to see no-one “left behind”, ending universal free school lunches, a housing crisis, and an undefined cut in post-retirement benefits. How much more evidence do those Labour voters who supported Brexit need to convince them that whether we are in or out of Europe, it is what the UK Government does or fails to do in our own country that matters most?
And when Brexit shrinks the economy (as even Brexiters think it will until we become “Global Britain” in some glorious future age), and revenues shrivel as a result, does anyone seriously think that May will give priority to maintaining the NHS and other vital public services out of the reduced funds?
Not a Presidential Election
There is one other major reason why every effort must be made in the days before 8th June to secure the election of the local Labour candidate, no matter what the polls might say about Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of popularity with voters as a whole: This is NOT a Presidential election, however much Theresa May and the doting Tory newspapers might want it to be. In the Parliamentary democracy of the UK, we elect a House of Commons which provides a Government and an Opposition, not a Head of State. It would be appalling if the many very able candidates standing for Labour should fail to be returned not for a lack of merit or dedicated effort on their part, but because their Leader cannot secure sufficiently broad trust and support. Labour would, obviously, be seriously damaged, but our democracy would be disabled too.
Three of my youngest friends are candidates in Labour seats - two which, in what we used to call normal circumstances, we would be likely to hold ,and one in which my friend will have a very tough fight on his hands given the likelihood of UKIP voters returning to the Tories, or simply not voting. All three candidates are very able and capable, have not been “parachuted” into the constituencies, and have built up careers outside the “Westminster bubble”. They, and many more like them standing for Labour, must become the MPs who will give us a Parliamentary Party that will win the support and respect of the voters and give us the government the country so desperately needs.
I look at them and think “Leaders come and go – but you stand for the timeless, practical, progressive values of Labour and THAT is why you must prevail in the interests of our Cause and our country”.