The end of the phoney war is now in sight. The Conservative combatants in the general election have indulged their training exercises, which are to close squares round Boris’s deal and find evermore reasons to belittle Corbyn. Labour is engaged in its eternal war between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, with the current outcome in the balance. The ScotNats bare their teeth at everything south of Hadrian’s Wall, and their leader is obsessed with the Marlovian ideal of rule over an independent state, “Is it not passing brave to be a king?” And ride in triumph though Edinburgh? The LibDems have announced a pact with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, which will have the effect of confirming the Green leader in her Brighton seat and otherwise do little to enhance the LibDem effort. A pact that challenges the target seat Bristol West (Labour majority 38,000, much of it Somalian) will cut neither mustard nor ice. The polls assure us that the Conservative Party has a decent and growing lead over Labour. But a shadow is cast upon these preparations. We have yet to learn of the numbers and battle stations of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
We are told of stunning numbers of recruits to his colours, especially in the North. Boris could say, like Richard III, “Cold friends to me! What do they in the North/When they should serve their sovereign in the West?” Farage daily addresses packed gatherings, all of them well-disposed to him. Will would-be MPs take his shilling? Actually, not all, because they will have to shell out some of their own money to pay for his name and sponsorship. A candidate for office must pay a deposit of £500, which will be returned if 12.5% of the electorate vote for him/her—that’s a rather high bar for new candidates trying their luck in highly contested parliamentary elections. There are other expenses, which will not be small. So we can expect a late crop of “on second thoughts.”
The great question is the composition and size of the Faragist army. Is he “marshalling the phantom army of Wenck,” or “mounting the impossible Steiner counter-attack” (Trevor-Roper)? We shall know by Thursday, November 14. After that the official election arrangements take over. They are hard, legal, and real, going far beyond the PR announcements which have fed the public to date. The State has firm charge over the election process, though not its press releases.
What we know is the propaganda war, now reaching heights of intensity. The arguments put forward by the Government come from the folklore of the Right, and would have been familiar to Coriolanus. They go like this: “If you vote for party A, which you like, you risk letting in party B, which you loathe. Best then to vote for party C (which is our party).” I do not think that this primitive reasoning will carry the masses. People might just think, “I’ll vote for the party I like, and damn the consequences.” That would be as unpredictably English as the result. Gina Miller, the leader of the guerrilla movement, advocates tactical voting as the way to foil Boris’s plans. Tactical voting was all the rage in Margaret Thatcher’s third term, seen by the liberal left as the only way of unseating her. The savants of the Observer and Sunday Times gave tactical voting their full blessing. Thatcher went on to her greatest victory, thus refuting a prospectus that now grimaces at Boris Johnson.
And everything could turn on a single constituency: Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the Prime Minister’s seat. He has to guard a modest 5,000 majority, and there are local issues to inflame the electors. There is speculation that Boris could contest another seat, and there are plenty to choose from: Philip Hammond, for example, the former Chancellor, has just announced that he is standing down from the resonantly-named Runnymede and Weybridge. That would be a plum easily picked, with a majority of 18,000. But Boris has given no sign that he plans to switch seats, and nominations must close three weeks before the election. The electors will then know who they can vote for.
[Image by RGY23 from Pixabay]
Ralph Berry writes from England.