Pots and kettles in bonkers Britain

Just when you think the political goings-on couldn’t get any weirder after Britons voting for Brexit and Americans electing Trump, we are now facing some seriously weird s*** in the run-up to the UK’s general election on 8 June 2017.

Welcome to bonkers Britain. This is going to be a long post.

Full disclosure: As a foreign national in the UK I have no vote, but my political beliefs are best summed up as: they’re all as bad as each other.

Let’s have a recap of how we got to where we’re currently at:

Last year, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, we had a Leave campaign that had Boris Johnson on its side, who didn’t exactly appear convinced of the side he’d picked, who appeared motivated more by his own personal ambitions than any sincere ideological desire for Britain to leave the EU.

Then on the Remain side we had Jeremy Corbyn, who didn’t appear convinced of his position either: he might have been able to win party leadership, he wasn’t going to be able to switch the party line from Remain to Leave, so he half-heartedly campaigned for Remain while visibly unable to hide his reluctance to do so.

Speaking of people’s inability to hide their true feelings, no one could have looked more miserable than the likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson on the morning of their ‘victory’, the day after the Brexit referendum. They looked defeated, then attempted to stab each other in the back which only served to defeat themselves and each other.

This in turn made way for (now former) Remainer Theresa May, who subsequently became the country’s Prime Minister and as such Lead Brexiter.

Question: How ****ing bizarre was all that?
Answer: clearly not quite bizarre enough, as illustrated by what happened next.

Newly-appointed-not-elected Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly spoke with determination when asked if she was going to call an early election: No, she wasn’t. She insisted. Nopety-nope-nope-nope it wasn’t going to happen. Then she announced snap elections.

The moment she did that is incidentally also the moment she stopped sounding determined in anything she said, including that dreadful “strong and stable” mantra someone made up for her and her party to repeat ad nauseam. Perhaps Tories think that if they repeat those words “strong and stable” often enough, people forget how divided the country and how unsure its future has become since the Brexit referendum they called. The problem is, none of the people coming out with those words “strong and stable” appear convinced, let alone convincing, when uttering them.

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Perhaps conviction no longer matters. Or principles, for that matter — just look at Zac Goldsmith. Remember him? He’s the only man in London driving a Toyota Prius who isn’t an Uber driver, loves Bollywood movies (but can’t name any), attacked Sadiq Khan long before Donald Trump thought it was cool to do so (note: it isn’t) and it was just as ugly and disgraceful back then as it is now.

Goldsmith triggered a by-election after standing down as a Conservative MP over his party’s decision to allow expansion of  Heathrow Airport. This triggered a by-election in which he stood as an independent candidate and lost, but still… for a moment even I had been fooled into thinking that at least he had principles and stuck by them. Until, of course, Theresa May called a snap election and Zac decided to stand as a candidate… representing the Conservatives… despite that party not changing its stance on Heathrow expansion. Go figure.

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Given the short notice for this election, parties haven’t had much time to write manifestos and compile their lists of candidates. Jeremy Corbyn does appear to at least have a party manifesto that he believes in — well most of it, anyway — and plenty of support for that manifesto from the party members who elected him as Labour leader, but if he wins the election, how many of his future parliamentary party will back him in converting that manifesto into policy? The Labour party just isn’t the one, single, united party he needs it to be to succeed both in this election and, should he win that, in a possible government under his leadership. What if he ends up in a similar situation he is in now, with too few frontbenchers and too many backbenchers? Which in turn leads to the question: If Labour wins the election, how many of their manifesto commitments will they be able to realise?

Moreover, Corbyn’s current popularity has been fuelled by the popular belief — among his most fervent supporters, at least — that somehow he is a breath of fresh air in UK politics, offering hope particularly to young people who weren’t even born back when he became a members of parliament. So how can he be this breath of fresh air in politics when he’s been an MP since 1983? His closest allies Abbott and McDonnell have been MPs since 1987 and 1997 respectively. Before they entered parliament they worked for trade unions, as civil servants and/or in local government. These people are the very definition of career politicians, they are every bit as much members of an ‘old boys network’ as they claim their Conservative opponents to be, and they’re no less disingenuous either, for instance by speaking out against the very grammar schools and private education they enjoyed themselves and/or sent their offspring to.

Corbyn supporters may proudly boast of his record as this backbench rebel who often voted against his own party whip, but why, then, did he stay in a party that sought to do so many things he disagreed with? Yes, in 1998 he voted against tuition fees, but the fact remains that it was his party in government that introduced them and he stuck with that government and with that party. Yes, in 2003 he voted against going to war in Iraq, but he never joined Clare Short in (eventually) stepping down as a Labour MP. In the end, yes, he launched a leadership bid… but that wasn’t until 2015. Until then, however many times he may have gone against the party whip, he effectively continued to endorse it for many years by way of neither leaving or challenging it. Doesn’t that disqualify him from being the man of integrity or conviction politician some would like to paint him as? And how much more or less credible does it make him than Theresa May?

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May and Corbyn aren’t the only ones with credibility issues, so is LibDem leader Tim Farron. You see, deep down Tim Farron believes homosexuality is a sin. But he can’t say that out loud, because that’s not really a nice Liberal-Democrat-kind-of-thing to say, is it? So at least he no longer says out loud, but when asked directly whether he (still) believes homosexuality is a sin, he is as yet not quite capable of answering “No”. Which is at odds with what his party officially stands for, but if he as party leader can’t wholeheartedly commit, how does he expect voters to?

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The p***-poor campaigning on all sides may be down to the awareness among politicians that not a lot will effectively change except the names and faces of who to blame. Just look at that favourite campaign topic, the NHS, for which they all claim to care so much: the SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales aren’t faring any better at running the colossus in their home nations than the Tories are in England. So whatever they’re claiming… remember that none of them have been able to run it well whenever and wherever they’ve had the chance to.

But there’s something else about this p***-poor campaigning that’s genuinely worrying me, even though you, reading this, may think I’m about to enter conspiracy nutter territory here: I’ve seriously come to believe that quite a number of prospective parliamentary candidates don’t actually want to win this upcoming general election. Actually, let me rephrase that: I think each and every single one of them aspires to win the particular seat they are running for, but I think a number of them perhaps don’t want their party to win the overall majority that would put them into government.

The majority of current members of parliament did not want Brexit. Before the Brexit referendum last year, something like 75% of MPs was in favour of the UK remaining in the EU and 25% preferred leaving the EU. Then The People spoke, or at least those people who had made the effort to register to vote and turn up on the day of the referendum to cast a ballot, and The People — well, a marginal majority of them — opted for the UK to leave the EU.

I can see why the government subsequently went to court over invoking Article 50 without having a parliamentary vote, because the constitutional obligation to hold a parliamentary vote meant individual MPs had to vote against their personal convictions and/or against the wishes of their own constituents. It’s understandable they were reluctant to do that.

Among the PPCs standing for election, and among those that end up getting elected and becoming MPs later this week, the balance of candidates who, in their heart of hearts, would rather not see the UK leave the EU, may not be as pronounced as it was among MPs on the eve of the referendum. But I still think the majority of them would prefer to see the UK in the EU. I reckon that they want to fulfil their personal ambition of becoming (or remaining) MPs, but that they certainly don’t want to be part of any government that goes down in history as the one that effectively takes the UK out of the EU, because of the potentially disastrous consequences this will have on the country. Hell, I would even go as far as to say that I reckon many MPs in favour of the UK leaving the EU still don’t want to be part of the government that actually does the deed of taking the UK out of the EU. (Note: The LibDems are avoiding this issue by stating they are against Brexit regardless of last year’s referendum result, which pretty much guarantees them a spot in the opposition, because should there be a hung parliament after Thursday’s election, it’s unlikely they’ll be invited for coalition talks due to their Brexit stance.)

I haven’t spoken to any MP or candidate to find out whether my assertions here are correct. It is nothing other than a sinister gut feeling I have and the thought that, actually, you know, it’s the only way I can make sense of the repeat blunders and blusters on all political sides that make up this awful election campaign. What other reason could there be for Tories and Labour looking so god awful? Why, as a party, would you let someone wearing your colours make a fool of themselves in public and then say “hey, that was great, go make another media appearance and do it again”? The only way that makes sense to me is that you have an agenda that says “let’s try not to win an outright majority here.” I would even go as far as to say there’s a precedent here:

UK general election 2010. Gordon Brown looked like a flailing mess unable to crack a genuine smile — until after losing the election, when his entire demeanor and body language had suddenly changed to that of the most relaxed guy in British politics.

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You may think I’m bonkers for entertaining the thought party politicians would either design a campaign to fail, or sabotage a potentially winning campaign. You may think I am downright crazy for expressing those thoughts out loud. But hey, this is bonkers Britain where Remainers-in-charge have become Leavers-in-charge (supposedly for the sake of the country), where no (devolved) government succeeds in running public services or regulating privatised ones particularly well, and where we’re in the midst of an election campaign with folks campaigning for people, plans and ideas that they don’t actually seem to support themselves… so if I look crazy, at least I don’t look out of place.

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I can’t tell you who to vote for on Thursday. I have given you my they-are-all-as-bad-as-each-other rant featuring reasons to not vote for any of them, and yet I still hope you go to the ballot box on Thursday… because I am a hypocrite and I do passionately believe that you should never waste your right to vote – not even in wicked elections in bonkers Britain.

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