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To the polls    

01 November 2019

THERE are many reasons to lament the calling of a General Election on 12 December. The foremost is the confusion with a second referendum on the decision to leave the European Union. This election, in the eyes of politicians and voters, is almost entirely about Brexit. It is not the confirmatory vote that many have been asking for. The three years since 2016 have shown, if nothing else, that the wisdom or otherwise of quitting the EU ought to be tested entirely on the precise nature of the deal. Whatever politicians say in the coming days, there is no Brexit deal in place, debated, amended, and agreed by Parliament. It is hard, then, not to be cynical about the enthusiasm with which Boris Johnson’s circle has pressed, in his words, “to offer [themselves] to the judgement of the people of this country” at a time when the only thing by which they can be judged is what they say that they will do. (See below what we said 100 years ago about politicians’ trustworthiness.)

Another lamentable prospect is a beauty contest between Mr Johnson and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Intense PR efforts will no doubt be made to disguise the fact that one leader is a pragmatist directed by ideologues, the other an ideologue masquerading as a pragmatist. The result, however, will still be several weeks listening to two political leaders whose grasp of principle wavers between erratic and non-existent. We would welcome a further spreading of the trend, spotted at the last election, of omitting party leaders from election communications.

There is also the distinct possibility that this election will change nothing. Mr Johnson clearly believes that a split Opposition will grant him a working majority. But nothing is certain in these volatile days. His belated olive branch to the moderates in his party might have come too late to disguise the party’s fanatical tinge. Moderates in the Labour Party are similarly uneasy. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have presented themselves as a sanctuary for the disaffected: this works, until policies have to be agreed. It is more than possible, then, that the country will wake on Friday 13 December to a hung Parliament, with a Brexit battle still to be fought. One faint hope is that, given the unpopularity of Brexit, each party will seek to gain an edge through enlightened extravagance on the neglected issues of the day, such as the environment, criminal justice, under-developed countries and their displaced citizens, welfare and benefit, and so on.

It is hard to put out of mind the exchanges and the contrivances of the past few weeks; but the restoring of esteem for democracy, to use Mr Johnson’s phrase, has to begin now. The resignation letter of Heidi Allen MP on Tuesday spoke of “broken politics” and a “nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace”. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of pouring petrol on the flames of the current debate. Parliamentary candidates have an opportunity to model a better way in hustings and electoral addresses. The prayer of the Church ought to be that they take it.

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