Swinson, Corbyn and the SNP have condemned us to five years of Boris’ Britain, and they are not going to enjoy it

Sean O'Grady
Getty

I cannot really improve on the cliché du jour: “turkeys voting for Christmas”. I know that, according to the British Election Study, 50 per cent of the British now call themselves “floating voters”, and that everything is febrile and unpredictable and volatile and all that. Turnout in the dark damp polling day from students and older voters is difficult to predict. I know that the representation of the people act and the obligation on broadcasters to offer meticulously unbiased coverage will give extra profile to the smaller parties including, especially, the Brexit Party. And we’ve not ever had an election like this, at a time like this, on in issue like this, ever.

All to play for, then? Maybe. It is certainly what that clucking idiot Jeremy Corbyn thinks – “We’re going out there to fight an election campaign, and I can’t wait”. Jeremy Corbyn says Labour MPs are ready to back a general election – “This is the end of the debate, and we’re going out there to win”. With more (selfish) justification, it is also what these other clucking imbeciles, Jo Swinson and the SNP, believe. They’ll probably do “well”, increasing their representation in the House of Commons and, in the SNP’s case, adding to pressure for a second Scottish independence referendum. But they will also bring upon themselves and the rest of us five years – or more – of Boris Johnson doing what the hell he wants with an overall Commons majority.

By Christmas Day, Britain will be well on the way to a hard Brexit. The Labour party will have fallen into another of its post-election defeat civil wars, and the Tories can get on with delivering the long-delayed Thatcher Fourth Term – liberalising and deregulating the country to create the lusted-after Singapore on Sea, a no-deal Brexit, if needed, and with no interference from parliament or the EU commissioners along the way. God, Johnson could be in until 2029!

Every single pledge and promise given to the likes of Caroline Flint or Jo Swinson about no deal or workers’ rights can be abolished under a Tory-dominated Commons packed with Europhobic Thatcherite zealots. The “moderates” will stand down or be purged. It’s over for the welfare state.

The Johnson family, friends, cronies and hangers on will able to enjoy an exceptionally festive champagne break at Chequers like no other. The rest of us can cry into our Baileys.

Make no mistake: Swinson, Corbyn and the SNP have condemned us to five years of Boris’ Britain, and they are not going to enjoy it. Everyone knows the only reason Labour backed it was because the Tories were going to win the vote on a snap election anyway – thanks to the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. They had a choice of looking cowardly or pretending they are “up for it”. Labour carries, therefore, less of the blame. Still, it is a terrible mistake by most of the opposition parties, and a wonderful gift for Boris Jonson. Only Carline Lucas of the Greens talks much sense publicly. She knows the planet won’t be a winner either.

Yet the single salient fact in this election is the 12-point opinion poll lead the Conservatives enjoy over the Labour Party. Even with everything that has changed, British general elections are still basically won and lost in Labour-Conservative marginal seats, many in the Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire. The rest is quite distracting noise.

Farage and Swinson will be able to tear chunks out of the two major parties, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru can do the same with more potency in Scotland and Wales. But mostly the smaller party insurgencies will take place in safer Lab/Con seats, and not enough. The net result will probably be a net swing compared to the 2017 election from Labour to the Conservatives. Johnson will win about 5 per cent less of the vote than Theresa May, say, but Corbyn will lose about half of the votes he won so impressively in 2017 – about 15 percentage points down. That adds up to a very a large swing indeed in historical terms.

It is also possible that Labour could actually go backwards in the 2019 general election campaign, as a similarly beleaguered Labour Party did in the 1983 general election, the previous low point, at 27 per cent or so of the popular vote. Corbyn’s Labour, in other words, could plunge to its lowest vote share since 1918, when they got about 20 per cent. They are certainly divided and confused enough to make fools of themselves, though I freely admit the Tories have more than their share of clowns too. The “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit that served them so well in 2017 will not work again; and recent real-world electoral tests suggest that it just alienates both sides of the argument.

The closer the Tories get to 40 per cent, and the closer Labour slumps to 20 per cent, the more chance Johnson will win big in parliamentary seats – beating David Cameron and John Major’s previous modest majorities (of 12 in 2015 and 22 in 1992 respectively).

It is all something of a tragedy. In her many defences of her bold, i.e. foolhardy, move, Swinson argues that the votes in a parliament sadly aren’t there for a second referendum, and there never will be unless (obviously) the Commons is suddenly flooded with liberal Democrats. Not on 18 per cent of the vote, it won’t.

The point is that the opposition parties have and had Boris Johnson exactly where they needed him – caged. Labour and the Lib Dems could have played hardball with Johnson. They could have said that they would nod through his Withdrawal Agreement Bill – conditional on a confirmatory vote through a Final Say referendum. Eventually he would have caved, because he always does; Boris will sell anyone out, even himself, to stay in power. We’ve seen that a lot. Instead, the turkeys have gifted him a snap election, an election on his own agenda, and the project of remaking Britain in his own image.

I can only repeat the words of Neil Kinnock in the final desperate moments of the 1983 election as the Tories headed for a landslide, which were prophetic. I make no apology for quoting them in their full, chilling, form, and challenge anyone to say it better now:

“If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain – when healing and relief depend upon payment.

“I warn you that you will have ignorance – when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

“I warn you that you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.

“I warn you that you will be cold – when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

“I warn you that you must not expect work – when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

“I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

“I warn you that you will be quiet – when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

“I warn you that you will have defence of a sort – with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

“I warn you that you will be home-bound – when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

“I warn you that you will borrow less – when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

“If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday –

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old.”

You have been warned, and you’ll know who to blame – not Johnson so much, who is only doing what comes naturally, but the tactical ineptitude of Swinson, the SNP and Corbyn.