On Friday we got the results of Thursday’s local elections in England and Northern Ireland, or more accurately, in Northern Ireland and in parts of England. Even so it was the biggest electoral test faced by the Conservatives and Labour since the General Election in 2017. Prior to the vote, Conservative spokesapologists were spinning that they expected the party to lose up to 1000 seats. This was widely seen as expectation management, so that they could spin a catastrophic loss of 800 seats as better than expected, and the disaster of losing 500 seats as really being a victory. As it turned out, they really lost 1269 seats.
No amount of spinning can make out that unmitigated disaster is better than expected, or not really an epic kick in the teeth. But then there’s spinning, and then there’s a statement from Theresa May. Spinning a result is at least based in reality. It’s warped. It’s cherry picking. It’s highly misleading. But lurking at its core is some sense of what really happened. Theresa May just ignores reality in favour of the voices in her head. If you want to know in which universe voting for pro-remain parties really means that people want Parliament to deliver Brexit now you know. It’s the universe in Theresa May’s head.
It’s not just Theresa May. Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesapologists are also declaring confidently that an increase of 676 seats for the strongly remain Lib Dems, and an increase of 185 for the equally strongly remain Greens really means that people just want Westminster to get on with delivering Brexit. Labour didn’t do well in these elections either, even though they didn’t do as badly as the Conservatives. But that’s like saying that someone who was blown into a thousand pieces in a nuclear war did better than someone who was vaporised.
At this point in the electoral cycle, if it is to have a realistic chance of forming the next government the official opposition ought to be running rings around the governing party. Those 1265 seats which the Conservatives lost ought to have gone largely to Labour. But they didn’t. Labour managed to end up with a net loss of 63 seats and lost control of some councils it had previously run.
Where we are now is that according to May and Corbyn that pro-EU guy who stands outside the Palace of Westminster every day, getting into every political broadcast and waving his EU flag and his STOP Brexit placard, is really telling everyone to get on with delivering Brexit. In a similar vein, voting SNP means you really loathe the idea of Scottish independence and think Ruth Davidson is the best politician in Scotland. That’s British politics, where the truth is whatever the leaders of Labour and the Conservatives want it to be. We are all screwed.
To be honest it doesn’t really matter what the results of England’s local elections had been, irrespective of how many seats the Tories won or lost Theresa May would have said that it meant that the people were telling her to get on with Brexit. Trying to get from reality via a chain of logic to whatever comes out of Theresa May’s mouth is the ultimate exercise in futility. All signs and portents tell Theresa the same thing. She’s got a special book of weather rhymes that says red sky at night, the DUP’s quite right, red sky in the morning, heed the ERG’s warning. Somewhere in the bowels of Downing Street there’s an ancient Etruscan haruspex divining the future from the entrails of sheep, and although he keeps saying that being up to your knees in offal and slipping on the spilled contents of a colon is a literal description of Brexit, no one speaks Etruscan any more so Theresa is convinced he’s telling her that people want her to get on with it.
It’s not really a surprise that Theresa May gazes upon a clear and obvious rejection from the voters and tells us that it’s really a vindication of her Brexit strategy. You could hand her her own arse on a plate and she’d claim that it was conclusive proof that voters wanted her to get on with delivering Brexit. And in fact that’s exactly what happened in the English local elections this week. We shouldn’t be surprised, and in fact few are. A historic defeat in the Commons didn’t shift her warped sense of irreality. If she’s not going to listen to those who are in theory her equals, she sure as hell isn’t going to listen to ordinary punters. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed.
Fresh from pretending that an epic defeat was really a vindication of her career, Theresa went on a wee tour of the devolved bits. Or more precisely the Welsh and Scottish Conservative conferences. The Scottish conference was held in Aberdeen, where despite the best efforts of party managers and a sympathetic media to choose flattering camera angles, it looked like there were about 200 people in attendance. Although to be fair at least a handful of them were under the age of 80. The Prime Minister completely ignored the results of the English election, and concentrated on slagging off the SNP as though she possessed some moral or political authority to do so. She’s got so delusional that thinking that Ruth Davidson has a realistic chance of becoming the next Scottish First Minister counts as a serious intervention.
The Tories hope that Ruth is going to save them, but their difficulties can’t be solved by cheeky photo ops alongside farmside animals, and neither can the problems that beset British politics. Over six million people signed a petition, over a million people have marched against Brexit, 100,000 are expected to march tomorrow in favour of Scottish independence, the pro-Brexit parties have been utterly hammered in an election, but still they tell us that we want Brexit to be delivered and there is no appetite for Scottish independence. We have a government which insists that it isn’t out of touch, it’s the people who are wrong.
British politics can’t be fixed. It can only be left behind. 100,000 marchers in Glasgow tomorrow will be shouting that message.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
You can order the book directly from the publisher. Ordering directly means that postage is free, and for the next ten days Vagabond Voices are doing a special offer, giving you two pounds off the cover price. You can order here –
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I will be speaking at the All Under One Banner rally in Glasgow on Saturday, and will be in the park with a stall where you will be able to buy copies of the new book, Gaelic maps, t-shirts, and badges!
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