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Other common foes

02 June 2017

A RARE note of political realism can be read in the election leaflet of one Labour candidate, a sitting MP whom it is perhaps kinder not to name: “If re-elected, I will continue to hold Theresa May and her government to account. . .” No wild triumphalism here. The PR operatives for Labour and the Liberal Democrats will continue to speak of victory, and their activists may continue to dream, but, barring disasters, predictions of a thumping Conservative majority are holding firm. Opposition realists are merely working to reduce the majority by as much as they can.

The problem is that, even without the Conservative tactic of personalising everything, policy has become a minuscule element in this election. Labour, having failed to attract the middle-ground voters it lost in 2015, is experiencing the curse suffered so long by the Liberal Democrats: however winsome the policies it comes up with, few electors take them seriously; for why bother debating something that has such a slim chance of being implemented? As for the Conservatives, they learnt in the EU referendum that it was better to be vaguely inspirational than to give precise details that might be argued with. The social-care gaffe of a fortnight ago could have been avoided simply by excluding one of those awkward things, an actual figure. Fortunately, it was easy to restore confidence by talking of a cap — the amount to be determined once safely re-elected. Then back to business as usual, bringing Jeremy Corbyn’s name into every other sentence (unlike many Labour candidates) and producing untestable statements such as: “A Conservative government will establish Britain as the strongest country in Europe, in terms of economic growth and national security.”

Unusually in an election campaign, the cessation of electioneering after the Manchester bombing last week gave voters a reminder that politicians can behave like mature adults when a common foe presents itself. Is it too fond to hope that, when the General Election is out of the way, MPs will regard the other serious problems that this country faces with the same thoughtful unity? No party, however large its majority, has a monopoly of intelligence and experience when it comes to dealing with security, NHS funding, education, the social-care system, or negotiations with the EU. Mrs May called this election so that she would not have to rely on support from MPs and peers from other parties — and possibly the extreme wing of her own. If she is returned to govern, as predicted, both she and her political opponents would improve their standing immeasurably by showing that they can work together for the common good.

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