Yesterday, with a smile on her face, Theresa May destroyed the Labour party and they didn’t even notice.
Emerging as the sole candidate for leadership of the party she did something astounding and lead it in a step leftwards. On the face of it there’s no reason to do this. Labour are in such disarray that even if she’d stepped up and announced she was going to pursue a baby-eating agenda she’d probably still have kept some of the Conservative’s current 8-point lead in the polls.
Instead she looked at the soft-left – those who’ve had a year of being called Red Tories and Blairite scum, and who’ve been told over and over to fuck off and join the Tories – and said, “Oh yes, you’re welcome here”.
Momentum have spent a year telling centrists that they’re not welcome in Labour, so somebody who actually understands politics, rather than just Facebook memes, has stepped up and made a home for them. She also, at a stroke, killed dead the notion of Labour splitting and forming a centre party with the Lib Dems and the left-wing of the Conservatives. Theresa May has firmly plonked herself into that political space.
If there were a general election now and, across the board, 10% of Labour voters from May 2015 decided to back the Conservatives then that translates to 36 seats lost by Labour – they’d have 169 fewer seats in the house. Hardly an effective opposition. Even if Labour clawed in 80% of the people who voted Green in 2015 they’d still be down 22 seats, 143 behind the Tories.
On top of that Labour are vulnerable to UKIP; a quarter of Labour voters were pro-Brexit and, other than tell them they’re stupid, Labour has down nothing to address their concerns about immigration. An additional 5% of Labour supporters choosing to vote UKIP would mean, even with the Green vote, Labour would be back to 36 seats down on their current parliamentary position.
(UKIP, incidentally, wouldn’t win a single extra seat if they gained 5% of Labour’s supporters in each constituency – they’d just split the Labour vote enough for the Conservatives to win…there’s a lesson there)
The Conservatives are also potentially vulnerable to UKIP, firm Leave supporters concerned perhaps that May will be too reluctant to Brexit. In isolation 5% of Conservative voters moving to UKIP would see the Tories drop 13 seats (11 of which would be picked up by Labour, and only 1 by UKIP itself).
This is why May is making firm Brexit noises…but as she’s a Remainer herself she gives hope to others; at least hope of a sensible, controlled Brexit rather than the mad rush that people feared from Leadsom. She plays both sides of that game far better than Corbyn’s my-lips-say-Remain-but my-eyes-say-Leave sham.
In all of this Labour are shouting for a snap general election, not because they think they can win, but because they want the chance to clear out a few “Blairite” MPs. If the party wants to be anything more than an ineffectual opposition party then they have a chance this week – possibly their last chance – for Corbyn to step down gracefully and throw his support behind a more moderate candidate, for much as he may dislike the right-wing of his own party it turns out they’re needed.
If he fails to do that then he will just be the next person to self-destruct in front of Theresa and, casting ne’er a clout, May will out.