Cats In A Sack Politics

Barely a week since the vanity election of Theresa May was called, and already we see what’s going to happen.

Tories are pack animals. Polite, oh so moderate Open Britain, which bent over backwards to be inclusive has been deserted by Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve.  Why? Because Open Britain started to do something – something that targeted Ultra-Brexit nut job Tory MPs.  And when it comes to anything that might hurt their pack, they run back snapping and growling to their own.  Because a Tory win – and big- beckons.  And that matters much more than the national interest.

We see clearly that Brexit, whichever side individual Tory MPs are on, remains in their eyes primarily a struggle for the soul of the Conservative Party.  To hell with the country. The sad, and revealing, thing is this: that the rest of us, the non-Tories, ever thought otherwise.

For we, too, have heard the starting gun, leapt off the blocks, and promptly set about beating one another up, leaving Brexity Tories to stroll their way to a landslide.

In this election there are only two major parties standing.  The Brexit Party, and the Anti-Brexit Party.  And now we have to start acting like that.  Our cats in a sack act is politically inept.  Worse.  It is morally culpable.  Brexit will magnify Tory distain for public services, and serve as a cloak to cover their privatisations, cuts and handouts to their own, and we are aiding and abetting their assault and larceny.

So let’s examine the Anti-Brexit Party.

The Anti-Brexit Party is fractious.  So are the Tories. But we revel in our divisions. We yell them from the rooftops, and parade them in public for the general derision of the electorate.  Oh, the vanity of small differences!

Labour has a leader who is temperamentally unsuited to the role, an inexperienced and divided Front Bench, a sullen PLP, and a mass membership too many of whom mistake a big friendly rally for success.  But it has the greater number of MPs, and most of its voters, and almost all of its MPs, are Remainers. This is simply a fact.  No Anti-Brexit Party can do without Labour, and properly empowered, Labour has some big hitters, with solid, ministerial experience, who could be a huge asset on the campaign trail.

The Liberal Democrats have played a poor hand (8 MPs in 2015) very well.  They have been able to use Brexit to erase memories of the time they had a strong hand, and squandered it, in 2010.  Brexit has energised them, never mind that they have their own Eurosceptic wing.  They have emulated the Tory trick of looking united in public, and it works for them.  But they cannot win this election, and even those of them who believe that they can replace Labour as the Opposition must know this to be a long term goal, not remotely achievable in a few short weeks from where they stand now.  So if they really are an anti-Brexit party, they have to start thinking about how to co-operate with others.  Which primarily means Labour.

Scottish and Northern Irish politics has different dynamics to England and Wales.  Where nationalism is involved, they have little interest in a ‘progressive alliance’, as it is irrelevant to their primary cause.  In any case, they (Ulster Unionists excepted) aren’t an impediment to the Remain side, and this general election will be decided by what happens in the regions of England and Wales.

And there’s the Greens.  Only one MP, but she punches way above her weight.  The Greens have genuine local traction in many places, and have shown a constructive willingness to lend their voting strength, where it might be useful, to other parties.  We saw this in Richmond, where the Lib Dems were able to defeat Zac Goldsmith, and we see it now in Ealing, where they plan to assist Rupa Huq for Labour.  Examples of mature, clear-sighted political strategising from which bigger parties ought to learn.

So what is necessary in this election campaign is that the Anti-Brexit Party needs to stop attacking its own side.  Labour – leave the Lib Dems alone, no matter how irritating you find them.  Lib Dems – so you don’t like Corbyn? He doesn’t matter.  Stop irrelevant attacks on Labour and train your guns on the enemy.  Everyone on the ground start cooperating.  If it’s a Lib Dem seat with an anti-Brexit MP, Labour shouldn’t stand against them.  If it’s a Labour seat, ditto.  In marginals, especially three way marginals, make a hard-headed assessment of which party has the best chance of taking, or retaining the seat, and make it happen.  If Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin could work together in the 1940s, surely this kind of enlightened self-interest could work?

And imagine the difficulty the Tories would have facing a United Front?  If their narrative faced a single, carefully-honed, counter-narrative?

Imagine.  Because odds-on, we’ll be fighting, cats in a sack style, until we emerge, bloody and limping on June 9th into a world even bleaker than the one we woke up to on May 24th 2016.

And it’ll be our own fault.

First published by Yasmin Ali in her blog All Human Life Is Hereabouts on 26th April 2017

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