LESS than a week ago, anyone who had predicted that the Labour Party would win the British general election would have evoked concern for his or her sanity.
But, as the modern political proverb goes, “a week is a long time in politics”. It is — albeit barely — possible that prime minister, Theresa May, could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, having called a snap election designed to consolidate her position and her negotiating power with Brussels.
If that happens, it will be the biggest upset since another unthinkable event, almost exactly a year ago.
Adding Brexit — along with other tales of the unexpected, like the election of US President Donald Trump — to the current woes of the Conservatives in Britain, it is hard to escape the conclusion that we are living in a volatile global political climate in which almost anything can happen.
Three weeks ago, a series of surveys showed Ms May on course for a landslide parliamentary majority. But the collapse in support for the Tories is no accident and Theresa May has only herself to blame. She made fundamental errors, both as prime minister and as home secretary.
In the wake of terrorist attacks on Manchester and London, May’s record on policing is hindering Conservative attempts to present themselves as the party of safety and security. That is because, between 2010 and 2016, police workforce numbers in England and Wales were cut by almost 20,000. This all happened on her watch as home secretary.
When Police Federation members warned of the effects of cuts, she told them to stop “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”. After the UK’s third terrorist attack in three months, the prime minister’s words are coming back to haunt her.
Her campaign began to struggle after she proposed a plan to make elderly people pay for more of their social care, a proposal immediately dubbed the “dementia tax”. As any rookie knows, never threaten the welfare of the very old or very young during a political campaign. That lesson was learned in Ireland in 1982, when a proposal to impose Vat on shoes and clothing, including children’s, led to the demise of the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.
May has made one further mistake, one repeated by political leaders the world over. She has characterised every recent terrorist atrocity in Britain as an existential threat to British democracy and values, and has used that as an excuse to speak about amendments to human rights laws. But life is the greatest human right of all and protecting it by robust policing and vetting enhances, rather than diminishes, that right.
Hitler posed an existential threat; so did the Russians at the height of the Cold War. But the London and Manchester murderers used knives and a truck, while wearing false bomb-vests. They were crazed killers, nothing more.
Jeremy Corbyn, the most uninspiring Labour leader since Michael Foot, has seen his credibility as a potential prime minister rise to 36%, from 15% in early May. That, in itself, is a turnaround of Brexit proportions. He will not win the election, but Ms May could lose it.
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