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Theresa May calls a snap General Election for June 8th

Ask me this morning if there would be a general election, and I’d have said no. The stars were aligned against it, and yet here we are, stumbling about with our ghast well and truly flabbered. Her shock announcement caught everyone on the hop, and Westminster and its echo chamber are gripped by elation and despair. Elation for the Tories who think they’re going to storm to a huge majority, and for the LibDems who expect to regain a lot of the seats it lost, and despair for Labour. Tom Blenkinsop, for instance, has already announced he won’t be defending his Middlesbrough South seat.

Already, the reasons for calling it have been churned through. The slim majority making her vulnerable to persistent awkwards opposing her domestic agenda and Brexit, the uncertainty whether Tory electoral fraud allegations might result in a slew of by-elections, and the ridiculous poll leads different companies are chalking up for the Tories, when you lay them out like that it makes you wonder why we didn’t see it coming. After spending months chuntering about not facing an effective opposition, today she moans about Westminster being too divided and offering too much opposition, singling Labour out in particular for threatening to vote against her deal. Pathetic, really.

Clearly May thinks she’s going to win. She has reasoned that any seats the Tories stand to lose to the Liberal Democrats will be made up from others taken from Labour. It’s difficult to see how she could be wrong, but this is politics we’re talking about and it lately has had the tendency to throw up a few surprises. Optimism, however, has to be grounded otherwise it’s merely a polite term for delusion. With the political weather against Labour, are there opportunities to turn it around?

There is the naked opportunism of May’s move allied to politics fatigue. As a rule, electorates do not favour overt self-serving though, given the state of polling, any backwash from people who’d change their mind on this basis is going to be negligible, unfortunately. Since last June, her personal ratings have been better than that of the her party’s. Because of her super serious I’m-a-grown-up image, I think she’ll get away with it. Yet it might not be as straightforward as the thinks. Many Labour MPs in vulnerable seats have spent time digging in. Their campaigns are going to be very local emphasising their community leadership creds and the like. Easy to do if you were already a constituency-focused MP, less so if you’re a phantom who manifests only when a general election seance summons you. Thirdly, May’s one-nationism makes her vulnerable when she’s pursuing a sectional path. I agree with Theo Bertram, Labour should play hardball. It’s too late now to do the dirty digging, but it’s not like the government haven’t handed its opponents plenty of ammunition. The Tories are going to go big with the IRA stuff? Fine. We should go big with their rape clause, and keep doing it. Having a good programme, and Labour has a good programme, doesn’t mean eschewing sharp, shocking messages. The Tories don’t hold back, after all, and we can expect a few dead cats if things start going awry.

Then there are events. Trump in Syria, Trump and North Korea, if these bubble over into a something much more serious, they could hurt May. Remember the Iraq debacle continues to cast a long shadow over British interventionism, as Dave found to his cost. It wouldn’t be wise to rule out the consequences of the French presidential elections either. If Jean-Luc Mélenchon surges through to the second round, that straight away undermines the media’s Labour unelectability thesis. Most people won’t notice then, but if the outcome is a Mélenchon or Le Pen presidency then there will be consequences for our general election, particularly around Brexit – what with the left favouring a reformed EU, the far right leaving it. In this eventuality, a sense of growing crisis on the continent can’t not have an impact.

And that brings us back to Brexit. The first two-thirds of May’s premiership saw her wriggle and avoid saying what it was, beyond empty platitudes. Political necessity has decreed this untenable and we’re getting a sense of it in dribs and drabs. However, she cannot get through the next six weeks merely repeating “red, white, and blue Brexit” and “we’re going to get the best Brexit deal” nonsense. This presents an opportunity for her divided opposition. For a number of reasons, a progressive alliance is a non-starter, not least because the LibDems cannot be trusted. However, there is some room for a wee bit of cooperation between them, Labour, the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. All the parties want as soft a Brexit as possible, so there is no reason why they cannot arrive at a common position. With Remainers more motivated to turn out, as council and Parliamentary by-elections have demonstrated this last year, there is a possibility tactical voting on this basis could thwart May’s ambitions and stop them in their tracks. A people’s Brexit sounds facile, but something like that to oppose May’s corporate Brexit could work.

Labour are in for a very tough time, and things look grim. Yet it doesn’t have to be a cakewalk for the Conservatives. They can be denied their majority, they can be beaten, but not without an incredible effort and smart strategy. It’s going to be a rough six weeks.

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