The big winner in Theresa May’s general election will be nationalism – English, Scottish and Irish

Posted By: April 24, 2017

May will re-enter Downing Street on 9 June, but none of Britain’s problems will have been solved. The country will only be more divided

 Denis MacShane. Independent. London. Tuesday, April 18, 2017

(Denis MacShane is the former Minister of Europe and author of ‘Brexit: How Britain Left Europe’).

Historians know what the election on 8th June 2017 will be called. It is a “coupon” election, such as was called in 1918 by the war-winning government coalition which issued endorsement letters or “coupons” to candidates who backed its continuation in office.

May will say that only true-believing pro-Brexit Tory candidates are worthy of her endorsement. Having won the Brexit plebiscite on the basis of nationalist populist propaganda, worthy of an Erdogan endorsement, the dominant right in England want to have their worldview endorsed by a parliamentary election.

Some are pointing to the extensive police investigation into at least 20 Conservative MPs accused of illegal financing of their 2015 local campaigns. The general election May has called kicks this problem away.

But let us take May at her word – that she wants a controlled Parliament behind her as she begins the serious Brexit negotiations. Yet the very act of calling this election – the fourth major poll in four years since the Scottish referendum of 2014 – will dramatically alter the balance of the Brexit negotiations.

Tory Party members might as well be in Ukip, in terms of their growing hostility to Europe fanned daily by newspapers owned by men who pay no taxes in Britain.

They have either chosen or will with great speed now select Tory candidates to get Mrs. May’s coupon for election to the Commons. They are likely to be much more aggressively Europhobe. Can May avoid giving them what they want which is a full-on rupture Brexit?

This includes leaving the single market, leaving the customs union, re-introducing border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the nightmare scenario for Dublin. It means rejecting the authority of the European Court of Justice and bringing in cold war era immigration control.

The EU27 have made it clear they are not going to allow any exceptions for the UK determined on a hard Brexit. The hopes of the City to find a fudge that allows city business to keep trading in Euros, insurance and investment funds across 27 EU member states without much change from today, will evaporate fast.

Today’s Conservative MPs who have been elected over the last 20 years to the Commons contain a large number of middle of the road pro-Europeans who are very worried about Brexit. They keep their mouths shut out of loyalty to their new prime minister, but many of them will be replaced by hard-line anti-European MPs.

May has been Sphinx-like in avoiding questions on how she sees Brexit. This cannot be maintained over a general election. She is very close to the core of party activists and will not want to dismay them by moderating or modulating her line on Brexit.

Commentators loyal to May and the City are now announcing that the election makes May stronger in the Brexit talks. How? The rest of Europe is aghast at the sheer cynicism of it – more like Alexis Tsipras in Greece or Erdogan in Turkey calling opportunistic plebiscites.  

Labour is flat on its face at the moment but the Liberal Democrats who have been principled in their opposition to Brexit may pick up votes. In Scotland, the big winner will be the nationalist separatists and in northern Ireland, the nationalist Sinn Fein candidates will do well.

An election called purely and simply for party advantage with no national crisis or loss of authority in the Commons does not go down well. Will Ukip have the last outing?

The election will be dominated by Brexit but we will have to wait and see what will be in the broader manifesto of Theresa May to see what vision of Britain she has.

The big winner of the election will be three nationalisms – English, Scottish and nationalist Irish in N Ireland. In the Queen’s tenth decade her dis-United Kingdom will be more divided than ever.

May will re-enter Downing Street on 9 June. But none of Britain’s problems will have been solved. The Brexit negotiations will lie ahead with a united EU that is increasingly ready to let Britain isolate itself politically and economically from the European Union that after a miserably lost decade since the crash of 2007-09 has rediscovered economic energy and confidence.

The 1918 election was an easy win for the leader of Britain at the end of World War One. Four years later his majority lay in ruins. It is easy to call an election that cannot be lost. What you do with the victory after is another question.