General election sketch: How to throw away a majority
On the downside, the Tories could get pushed around by the DUP on social issues, and potentially jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. On the plus side, Downing Street might well get a new renewable heating system
If this election proved anything, it’s that the British public are tremendously protective of their fields of wheat.
Politicians should take note. You can introduce half a decade of austerity, you can bring back fox-hunting, you can even appoint Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Just leave the fields of wheat alone.
It all started with a throwaway line in a TV interview. “I have to confess,” Theresa May told ITV, even though no one had made her confess anything, “when me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat – the farmers weren’t too pleased about that.”
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Why did May have to say it? Was it gnawing away at her? Did the soft rustling of tell-tale wheat keep her awake at night? It was a disgusting revelation. Theresa May: putting the wheat into wtf.
So that was that. Ever since May let slip her role in the greatest act of political sabotage since Watergate, there was no coming back. Wheatergate was always going to be her downfall.
As you reap, so shall you sow. In the days since, watching her bounce around in TV interviews, she’s certainly not looked particularly strong or stable. She looks like a clown that’s pretending to be a politician that’s pretending to be a clown. Though, in defence of clowns, they usually have the ability to improvise.
The Tory campaign was probably best summed up by a line from May’s interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil. Looking distinctly uncomfortable, the PM said: “I’ve set out my vision for that strength in negotiations and that stronger plan. And the choice is who’s going to be doing those negotiations, me or Jeremy Corbyn.”
The argument presented by the Tories was that, as someone with extensive experience of government, May was best placed to lead. The problem, it seems, is that many people didn’t like where they were being led.
After all, political experience only counts if it demonstrates wisdom. Imagine you got trapped in a sewer, then bumped into someone who had been surviving there successfully for years. They knew where to scavenge for food and how to find a place to sleep, but had never managed to escape. Would you elect them as your leader? You wouldn’t usually leave the bull to clean up the china shop.
So Theresa May lost her majority, and was then forced to contemplate a deal with the DUP. As Michael Fallon put it: “Just because they are agreeing to support us on the economic issues and the big security issues facing this country doesn’t mean we agree with them on everything.”
Well indeed. But it seems a risky move. On the downside, the Tories could get pushed around on social issues, and potentially jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. But on the plus side, Downing Street might well be on its way to getting a new renewable heating system. So swings and roundabouts, really.
But then, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, this election didn’t go brilliantly for anyone. In Bute House, a downbeat-looking Nicola Sturgeon told the assembled media she would need time to “reflect carefully on the result”. Which seemed reasonable, given the result.
The FM’s event had been delayed because advisers realised that Tim Farron was due to speak at the same time. Scrambled phone calls followed. What could they do? Would it go ahead? “He’s already speaking,” someone reported. “How long will he be?” a staffer asked.
“No one cares about Tim Farron,” someone else pointed out, reasonably.
“Can you let us know when it’s over?” someone on the other side of the room asked. Indeed, could they let us all know? Because at present, looking around the fallout from the election, it’s hard for anyone to see an end to the current chaos. Except for Tim Farron, that is.
For David Mundell, the result offered a clear verdict on the constitution, with the reappointed Scottish Secretary announcing: “Indyref2 is dead because that’s the verdict of the people of Scotland.”
Interestingly, Nicola Sturgeon also took it as a judgement on the constitution, warning: “The Tory cabal kicking up a hard Brexit approach is dead in the water.”
Whether being dead in the water is worse than just being dead was unclear. Probably being dead in the water is worse, because as well as being dead, you are also in the water. That’s probably a question for constitutional lawyers.
And so, days after the vote, Sturgeon continued to trample all over May’s credibility. “The idea that the UK led by this prime minister and this government can just blunder into negotiations starting one week today, I just don’t think it’s a credible proposition.”
This showed a surprising degree of naivety on the part of the First Minister, given that every indication so far suggests the Tories are perfectly capable of doing exactly that. In fact, every indication so far suggests the party will blunder into negotiations with the same unbridled enthusiasm as a young Theresa May trashing an unsecured field of wheat.