by Frank Schnittger
Fri May 24th, 2019 at 09:17:51 PM EST
Back in September 2018 I wrote in Theresa May: Dead Women Walking?:
Nothing undermines a leader more than having important members of their own side align themselves with the opposition: First Donald Trump rather pointedly remarked that Boris Johnson would make a great Prime Minister. Then Boris Johnson chips in that Theresa May's Chequers proposals represent the white flag of surrender. Now Rees-Mogg praises Barnier for his charm and remarked that Barnier and Brexiteers are agreed that Theresa May's Chequers proposals are "absolute rubbish."
How is the poor woman supposed to conduct a negotiation when her own side give such aid and comfort to the enemy? In a normal democracy, Johnson and Rees-Mogg would be excoriated for betraying their own side. But it seems anything goes when it comes to attacking Theresa May. She is the fall girl for a negotiation they are determined to see fail.
The longer this can be dragged out, the more likely a "no deal" Brexit. But that is a step too far in the machinations of Boris & Co. The first step is to saddle her with an unpopular deal, and then replace Theresa May without risking a general election.
Then sing "Land of Hope and Glory" loud and clear. Threaten the EU with dire consequences in the event of a no deal. Demand an extension of the A.50 deadline if that is required. Stomp your feet and hammer your fist on the table at an EU Summit. Go all apex predator alpha male. Fight them on the beaches...
Then present any deal, if one is agreed, as a major improvement on what May negotiated. The substance doesn't matter much. Presentation is all. You must be seen to have fought the good fight and brought home the booty, giving the Boche one in the eye for good measure...
All silly fun and games really, but also the substance of much politics. Any good stage play needs a villain, a Judas, and a Saviour - a white knight on his charger. The Dramatis personæ of epic struggle: Boris Johnson's Churchill to Theresa May's Neville Chamberlain, caught in the act of appeasement.
This is not a commentary on Theresa May's leadership qualities or her lack of them. It is her misfortune to have drawn the short straw in the Casting Director's allocation of roles in this epic tale.
And now the deed has been done. She has been scapegoated with an unpopular deal and Boris is about to ride to the rescue on his white charger. Little matter that no other leader would have done much better. That the deal represents the balance of power between the EU and the UK pretty accurately, and little "improvement" can be expected. Everything is now blamed on Theresa May and her "character flaws" while Brexiteers are exonerated of all blame.
Boris Johnson or whoever is elected Tory Leader will probably go to the country in the autumn while he is still in his honeymoon period, unsullied by any difficult compromises any further negotiations might require. He will campaign to achieve a mandate for a "no deal" Brexit if the EU cannot be persuaded to be more "reasonable" in the meantime. The argument will be that only the threat of a no deal Brexit will force the EU "to its senses" and bring those pesky Irish to heal.
Faced with the united will of the British people as expressed in the general election, the EU will have no option but to fold, or so the campaign spiel will go... In fairness, Boris Johnson will have little option, because any lesser stance will allow Nigel Farage's Brexit party to split the Leave vote and consign the Tory party to oblivion. The question is whether the British people will buy the Brexiteer snake oil one more time or whether it will turn to Jeremy Corbyn for a more "moderate" stance.
It will be a supreme irony if Corbyn - so long portrayed as the leader of the loony left - comes to be seen as the spokesman for the moderate centre advocating closer ties with an EU he has never supported. It also remains to be seen whether he will be nimble enough to pivot to a Remain stance, because I suspect the public will have lost its patience with the nuances of further negotiations followed by a confirmatory public vote.
It will be all or nothing, a clean break led by Johnson, or a decision to Remain, because the Tories have mucked up the opportunity of a constructive Brexit. Corbyn can argue it was a Tory referendum, called to shore up divisions in the Tory party, and now the Tories propose to ride roughshod over all others and deliver a Tory "no deal" Brexit. This is not what the people voted for and Corbyn can give the people an opportunity to say so by campaigning for a "new relationship" with Europe based on a reformed EU.
But somehow I doubt Corbyn has the strength and vision to do so. Campaigning for a "Labour Brexit" would ensure the opposition is divided, the opposition vote split, and ultimate victory for Boris Johnson. The First Past The Post single seat constituency system does not permit much nuance or uncertainty. Those with the clearest message will win.
Theresa May has been pilloried as the worst Prime Minister in recent history. But handed a poisoned chalice, with few friends and allies and many enemies and traitors she did what she could. I doubt Jeremy Corbyn has the leadership abilities to accomplish even that much. Most likely he will lead a divided opposition to defeat, and all because he has been unable to overcome a lifetime of Euroscepticism at a time when continued membership is clearly in the best interests of the UK.
It is not Labour's job to implement a Tory Brexit. In a general election you campaign for a vision of the future rather than Tory mistakes of the past. The referendum is now part of the history of a failed Tory regime. The people are allowed to change their minds, and a general election is THE occasion when they are normally given the opportunity to do so. It is not only the Conservative and Unionist Party which is in dire need of a change of leadership.