The PM's dominance might look total, but she could come unstuckby Nick Cohen / March 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
You don’t need opinion polls to tell you that Theresa May “can call a general election any day she chooses and win by a landslide,” as Tony Blair put it to me the other day. The opposition is falling apart so fast you can almost hear the seams tearing.
The polls still give you a feel for how sweeping her victory could be, however. Despite being in mid-term and presiding over a sluggish economy and visibly failing health and criminal justice systems, a Conservative government with laughably inadequate Foreign and International Trade Secretaries enjoys an 18-point lead over Labour. May leads Jeremy Corbyn in every nation and region of Britain, north, south, east, west and all places in between. Women prefer May to Corbyn as well as men. The young as well as the old. The upper and middle classes prefer her, as you would expect. But her popularity among the working class is also extraordinary. Blair’s former aide Theo Bertram collected the data and concluded Labour’s core vote was “collapsing on a scale that is worse than any point in history.” Everyone who has been denounced by the left for not being left enough can enjoy a bleak irony. The far left claimed to be the true voice of a fantasy working class. Now it controls the Labour Party, the actual working class is repelled as it has never been repelled before.
Grandiose claims that we are living through unprecedented change are justified for once. The British are particularly inclined to resist them. They search for familiar parallels which prove there is nothing new under the sun. And on the face of it, there is nothing new about one-party dominance. The Conservatives ruled Britain pretty much continuously from 1885 until 1905. They ruled on their own or in coalition nearly every year from 1916 until 1945, and enjoyed sole power from 1951 until 1964, and from 1979 until 1997. New Labour broke the pattern of Tory hegemony for 13 years—a success neither right nor left can forgive.
When one-party rule sets in, the country makes an accommodation with its rulers. I do not just mean the usual place- and rent-seekers, who hurtle towards the controllers of public money like wolves towards their prey. Rather, voters who don’t much like the government accept its rule as inevitable. Someone has to run the country, they mutter, and only Salisbury/Baldwin/Macmillan/Thatcher/Blair seems able to do it.