Saturday, 5 May 2018

Of Council Chambers And Echo Chambers

Alastair Campbell will never grasp, any more than will the monomaniacs on the other side, that his private obsession with Brexit has nothing to do with any kind of election, except to the limited, but possibly decisive, extent that it will lose the Conservatives seats to the Liberal Democrats, greatly increasing the chance that Labour will be the largest party in the coming hung Parliament. 

Beyond that, though, Brexit exists outside politics altogether. It has been hived off to a Department where even the lights are not on, and which is headed by a Secretary of State who is for all practical purposes retired. Everything else carries on as if he, it and the issue did not exist. 

On the same night, Labour took Leave-voting Kirklees and became the largest party in the Remain-voting former Conservative flagship of Trafford. Remainers in the South will switch from blue to yellow over Brexit, and that could very well be crucial, but it does not affect the voting habits of anyone else.

Campbell will never understand that. But he does need to be reminded that Labour has done a lot better at these local elections than it often did at local elections under Tony Blair. In those days, when the Conservatives won local elections, then the State broadcaster used to run the Tory Meltdown story as if everything had gone according to plan. It used to drive the Daily Telegraph up the wall. Now, however, when Labour wins local elections, and the State broadcaster runs the Labour Meltdown story as if everything has gone according to plan, then the Daily Telegraph joins in. They, The Times and The Guardian have for all practical purposes merged. 

Secure in the knowledge that very few people read more than one of them and that almost nobody reads all three, those newspapers' articles have become impossible to tell apart without checking, and they perfectly represent the line of the State broadcaster. That is of course the line of the Government, as well as of the large number of Labour MPs who were elected on the strict understanding that, like political journalists of the same vintage, their job had nothing to do with boring old politics. 

Thus, that line leaves no room for the economic policy debate that Britain was not allowed to have for 20 years until the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, nor for the foreign policy debate that Britain was not allowed to have for 70 years before the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn. (By the way, in the swings and roundabouts of these elections, the noisy, right-wing Labour machine in the West Midlands has done exceptionally badly. A period of quiet reflection would be in order there.)

Corbyn is the problem for having dared to open up those debates, and for thus commanding a body of support that equals that of Theresa May, who presents no such problem of original thought. Those two bodies are evenly matched, but neither is large enough to win on its own. That the Conservatives have held Wandsworth ought not to be news, still less a cause for crowing on their part. Their Councillors there used to enjoy four figure majorities. Those days are gone.

But no one who has now voted twice for May or her preferred candidate is ever now going to vote Labour, and no one who has now voted twice for Corbyn or his preferred candidate is ever now going to vote Conservative. Each of those now accounts for 40 per cent of the electorate. Another hung Parliament is inevitable. That is where Britain now is. That is what Britain now is.

But Labour won these particular local elections by a country mile. It was howled down in derision last year for suggesting that a near miss was a win. The Conservatives deserve at least that for their assertion that victory resides merely in not having been wiped out.

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