Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election in early June heralds yet another misstep on the Labour Party’s laborious path to self-destruction. The Labour Party is in no shape to contest an election – Twenty points behind in the polls it faces a decimation wrought by a government that should be on its knees. An indication of the Party’s crisis: Labour seems likely to provide the crucial votes tomorrow to overturn the Fixed Parliaments Act and so unleash that decimation, aiding the Conservative government’s efforts to evade responsibility for the result of Brexit negotiations and any attempt to hold the Prime Minister to account during those negotiations. Labour’s malaise is now infecting the wider body politic – the snap election represents an existential crisis for the United Kingdom and its political system as a whole. It may be unusual to argue against democratic input, but in the absence of an opposition to represent the half of the country that oppose this Government’s signature policy this election does not represent democracy - it should be opposed at every turn.
The problems that Labour has faced over the last few years have only metabolized under the period of “pre-Brexit” and the Party has offered no clear way of addressing them. Brexit has alienated the Celtic periphery from England at a time when Labour’s route to victory must lie in uniting them. It faces the prospect of fighting the SNP and the Conservatives simultaneously – presenting itself as assiduously pro-Union and anti-Metropolitan in a new environment wherein the constitutional ground has shifted so as to make such a position nonsensical.
Brexit has divided the Blairite center and Corbynite Left on a fundamental constitutional question, in addition to the tactical questions that have bedeviled them. Brexit has split the party between a Northern base that resents attempts to block Brexit and a Southern wing that sees Brexit as national suicide. Corbyn has sought to paper over the conflict, but in an election fought on the only issue that matters – Brexit – Labour cannot evade a clear position. “Exit with honor” is unlikely to galvanize anyone – not least because the Liberal Democrats and Greens are offering a purer cut of anti-Brexit politics to the 48% or more who don’t want to leave the EU.
The line that they are likely to pursue – one suggested by Owen Jones today in The Guardian – that Labour offers a more competent management of Brexit is laughable in the face of a Party so riven that its leader cannot command authority over the parliamentary party in opposition. Corbyn’s strongest appeal was always robust anti-austerity and authenticity, while “managerialism” is antithetical to both his brand and the experience of his leadership.
But Labour’s implosion has wider ramifications. The failure to present a coherent opposition to the Government in this election will mean the failure to offer an alternative vision to the hard Brexit that the United Kingdom is edging towards. With the Conservatives projected to hold a three-figure majority following the campaign, the rump of the Labour Party will offer feeble opposition to a Prime Minister who will declare a mandate. Moreover, Prime Minister May will face a credible opposition on the right of the Conservative party. Substantial victory will both embolden the Government and make it more vulnerable to fears of the Conservative Right. Hounded the imagined menace of UKIP, the Conservatives and their media allies will drag the country into a vortex of Hard Brexit that will shatter the Union – and so the possibility of a governing majority for the Left-of-center or Left within the current parliamentary system. The Right’s dangerous politics of labeling critics as illegitimate and its twin, the retreat of the United Kingdom into a politics of nostalgia, will heighten. The country will become literally and figuratively smaller.
It is rare in the current politics that the Labour Party’s self-interest lines up with effective opposition, but on this issue it does – Labour should vote tomorrow for itself and the country and against the dissolution of fixed parliaments.