Election notebook #7: New Forest, New Labour; & Mrs May goes to war

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2017

I’ve spent the past 5 days in the New Forest. Back when I was a mustard-keen young political activist, I used to look askance at party members who took holidays during election season (where was their dedication?). In fact, I booked it months ago not giving a second’s thought to the significance of 4th May. Does that make it better or worse?

It means I’ve been partially insulated from the past week’s events. I even ended up googling myself on Friday evening to find out my own election result (in a liberal-free area of Crawley, where I finished last, even trailing the Greens by 3 votes. We, rightly, stood to fly the Lib Dem flag there, but didn’t work it at all. I’m happy to say that my home patch of Horsham Hurst, where I’ve done my bit, remained Lib Dem).

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We left for our brief sojourn on 1st May, the 20th anniversary of New Labour’s huge landslide victory. It seems so long ago. I was a student at the time. And so convinced a Labour member that I requested a postal ballot to cast my vote in my home seat of Bootle, in Merseyside, then the safest Labour seat in the country.

Why? Because I couldn’t bring myself to vote Lib Dem in Oxford West and Abingdon, even though I knew it was the tactically smart way to defeat the Tories, but knew that voting Labour was a silly way of splitting the anti-Tory vote. Well, it made sense to me (at the time). Like I say: a long time ago.

I also recall winning the college’s sweep-stake. From memory, I predicted a Labour landslide with a 150-seat majority, in reality a significant under-estimate, but no-one else believed the opinion polls. Not after after the 1992 debacle. That doesn’t seem quite so long ago.

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Next time I looked at the news, I found that Theresa May had declared war on Europe. This, in retaliation for European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s gossipy leaking to a German newspaper scorning the Government’s approach to Brexit negotiations.

All too silly. Mrs May is known for her hatred of being briefed against. Mr Juncker is not known for his sober discretion. A grown up really needs to take both of them in hand: “Jean-Claude, stop telling tales on Theresa. You know she hates it. Theresa, don’t retaliate. You’re supposed to set an example.” So much for strong and stable.

But, of course, the right-wing press lapped it up. Here was the British Prime Minister sticking it to the foreigners, a brazen display of last-refuge patriotism which does nothing at all to help the national interest, but so much more to advance the Conservative self-interest. More fool Mr Juncker for giving her the opportunity. More fool any of us Brits who reckon that this is the way we’ll get a good deal from our biggest trading market.