ONE would think, after a while, that Britannia would have had enough by now: the vote on Scottish independence in 2014, the general elections in 2015, and the great Brexit disaster of 2016.
One would also think the men and women of 10 Downing would have learned something. Having waltzed through the first two polls, David Cameron gambled the third would be a cakewalk: he called a referendum no one wanted, except the sort of Euro-bashers he had referred to as ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘racists’. It turns out there were more than he’d imagined.
In the same vein of Tories in tailcoats telling the masses what to do — then watching in shock as the masses come back with their own result — we get this week’s sad song. Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap election no one wanted, thus diving in the same pool Cameron drowned in.
The knives are already out for Theresa May.
The logic went that a fresh majority would ‘strengthen her hand’ going into Brexit negotiations. She has accomplished the opposite: coming to the table with neither majority nor momentum, and facing EU officials trying not to smirk. The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator scoffed at “yet another own goal”, adding, “I thought surrealism was a Belgian invention”.
Nor does the surrealism stop here. In recent weeks, May made much of her opponent’s sympathies for the IRA. Like any self-respecting autocrat, she also threatened to rip up human rights laws after the Manchester and London attacks. Yet she finds herself scrambling for an alliance with the DUP, a smallish Northern Irish party that is backed by the Ulster Defence Association. The UDA is, to borrow a term from Pakistani parlance, a banned outfit that enjoyed killing Irish Catholics. In making grimy deals with the DUP boys, May not only risks alienating Catholics and nationalists, but upsetting the entire Northern Ireland peace process. Perhaps we’re too hard on Islamabad — even Whitehall mainstreams maniacs for seats.
Then again, these are desperate times. By cobbling a coalition and refusing to resign, May is pretending the past week — dubbed ‘May-hem’ by the press — never happened. But the knives are already out for Theresa May (who became prime minister only by the grace of Boris Johnson getting knifed during his leadership bid). She’s, therefore, done well to retain professional plotter Boris as foreign secretary; the man’s lust to become prime minister is as uncontrollable as he is. Even should she make it, however, a ‘hard Brexit’ already sounds soft.
Which brings us to Labour wonder Jeremy Corbyn, the winner who lost, the loser who won. The Tories may well be the largest party in parliament, but it is the Labour Party — having bled seats in every election since 1997 — that made the biggest gains. This is heartening.
Firstly, per one commentator, Corbyn defied “the political, media, and economic establishment” to breathe fresh life into the debate. Not that all three didn’t attack: the press smeared him as a dangerous nutcase, his party threw up defectors and deserters, and the economists called him a relic from the ’80s where socialism had gone to die. Yet he sidestepped all the noise for the grass roots, and made his case directly to the people.
Second, whatever the West’s anxiety over the right’s rise, Corbyn again demonstrates there’s a genuine buy-in for leftist party platforms — Spain’s Podemos, Greek’s Syriza and France’s centre-left En Marche have racked up massive gains in no time.
In fact, the anti-Corbyn was never Theresa May; it was and always has been Tony Blair, just as New Labour was always a mishmash of spineless, centrist nothingness. But though Blair’s lack of principled positions won him elections, it also left hundreds of thousands of Iraqi war dead. Though he continues to plan a comeback, it’s hoped this election spells the final curtain call: as much for New Labour as for Blair’s piranha grin.
Finally, perhaps the single greatest takeaway of this election is the power of young people to shake up the system. Among the stats doing the rounds is a purported 72 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds coming out to vote for taxing the rich, spending on health and education, killing tuition fees, and ending foreign wars. Regardless of whether Corbyn delivers, it is a manifesto of hope in a world made sick by its Trumps, Putins and Dutertes.
It reminds us of all that’s missing from our own conversation: where the left has disappeared, where shiny buses trump quality education, and where the youth vote is expected but seldom understood. May we take heart from this election’s overused Shelley poem: “Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number.”
Concludes Shelley, “We are many, they are few.” In times like these, that’s something to hold on to.
The writer is a barrister and co-host of a current affairs show.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2017