The Tories seem confident of an election win, but the question is how will they do it? To provide the detail, here is Patrick Maxwell.
Boris Johnson is stuck in a corner. Parliament has outlawed no-deal, and also blocked a snap election. Labour, who have been calling for an election for around two years, have now backtracked with the preposterous excuse that they fear Boris Johnson might win and therefore pursue no-deal. In essence, they fear that they may lose. Now all the opposition parties have declared their hatred towards the idea, and show little signs so far of changing their stances. In a strange way, however, this filibustering may well play into the Prime Minister’s come the election, on whatever date it is held. Much has been written about the mastermind of Dominic Cummings in No10, and he may well be playing an extremely long game here. In many ways, the result of an election may have nothing to do with Cummings. Remain MPs may be sealing their own downfall.
Johnson, the optimisation of the English establishment ideal, has always tried to position himself as an outsider. He was a scholar, not an oppidan, at Eton, you see. He studies Classics, not PPE, at Oxford. His meteoric rise from the newsrooms to the corridors of power has been frank. His bumbling manner and enchanting persona hide the deeply complex side to our Prime Minister – who will lend his support to whichever political movement furthers his career. During his time as London Mayor, he portrayed himself as a liberal, internationalist conservative figure. Meanwhile, in the Leave campaign, he played up the immigration hate rhetoric to unforeseen levels. Whatever mask he puts on during this next phase remains to be seen.
Johnson’s message to the public is simple: Let’s get Brexit done, and get rid of this delaying, anti-democratic Parliament. I could write many an article on how these pledges are both unrealistic and dictatorial. I’ll save you that for now. Unfortunately, this strategy may well work. While Parliament tries to extend Article 50, Johnson’s clear rhetoric of moving onto a domestic agenda beyond Brexit is appealing to many.
The Northern working-class votes are those which Johnson wants to capture most dearly. Dominic Cummings knows from the Leave campaign that stirring up images of nostalgia, resentment and racial prejudice can be golden vote-winning tactics. He knows that he cannot get away with anything in a campaign, and knows how to shift voters’ perceptions in a way that no political operative has managed for decades. He plans to wage a culture war, focusing on issues such as transgender rights and ‘political correctness’ to inspire rage among reactionary voters.
Cummings is an avid reader of Sun Tzu, whose famous work The Art of War, which states that ‘the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’ With Labour’s ambiguity losing them votes on both sides of the Brexit divide, Johnson has his primary opponent voluntarily imploding for him already. Emily Thornberry recently announced that, as a senior front-bench member, she would support Labour’s pledge to get a new Brexit and then continue to campaign for Remain. Against her party’s deal.
Anti-no-deal MPs may be on the right side of history, but their continued protestation will offend the public. When election day comes, the sky will not have fallen in, and food will still be on the shelves. Much of the economy may well have been damaged by no-deal, but the country will continue running. That is enough for Johnson and his brutalist Cabinet.
The pitch to the country will be very much the same as if it were a second referendum. ‘Tell them again’ sets Parliament once again as the ‘enemies of the people’ and promotes Johnson as their bitterest opponent, standing up for British interests.
On the other hand, Labour’s election strategy seems to be confused beyond belief. It has been speculated that Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief strategist, plans to focus the election back onto ‘Tory austerity’. However, this is a trope Labour has been drooling out robotically for nine years. Cuts to public services have been severe (whatever happened to the ‘burning injustices’?), but it has never been seen to have real political influence as an attack. Johnson wants this to be an election based solely on Brexit, especially if he gets his favoured solution of no-deal. Theresa May tried to make the 2017 vote about her tenacious personality and her strong Brexit position and failed impressively. Boris Johnson, like all subsequent political leaders, will have to learn how not to be Theresa May. The signs so far are that he is planning to be himself.
Johnson’s first months as Prime Minister have been on a constant election footing. Plans to funnel money supposedly saved by Brexit into domestic services are pandering to the voters that he the Prime Minister has often managed to galvanise, those lower-middle-class swing voters. His populist credentials give him a unique place in the electorate’s psyche, no matter how undeserved that position is. Remainer MPs are unwittingly plotting their downfall, and no-deal, which have been treated as a non-entity two years ago, is now the most likely outcome. One of Cumming’s other heroes, Dostoevsky, once had the Grand Inquisitor say that ‘there is no crime and consequently no sin either, but only the hungry.’ Johnson may well win by feeding the country a pack of lies: and he will almost certainly win for it.