By A. C. Grayling
I can think of one and only one reason why Labour MPs should vote to support Theresa May's general election call: that it would be the end of Jeremy Corbyn at last.
But in fact that is too high a price to pay for giving May and her group of right-wing Tories their only chance of winning a general election. The 2011 Parliament Act instituting fixed-term parliaments was intended to prevent precisely what May is doing – capitalising on circumstances favourable to nothing other than an incumbent government's party-political chances. In this case, that's by exploiting the Labour implosion, the earliness of the Lib Dem recovery and the turmoil and uncertainty of Brexit before its impossibility becomes yet more obvious.
May knows that the longer the Brexit debacle goes on unravelling, the less chance she has of winning an election. She thinks she is setting a trap for all the opposition parties by calling for one now. She would spuriously use a win to claim that the 37% of votes that might be cast for Tories (even smaller than the 37% of the total electorate that she claims as a 'mandate' for Brexit) gives her a 'further mandate' for this act of folly. She would use a win to further the appalling set of policies the right wing of her party are intent upon: cutting welfare provision for the disabled and the elderly, cutting housing benefit, furthering the privatisation of the NHS, expanding faith-based and selective schooling, preparing for a post-Brexit bonfire of regulations protecting consumers, employees and the environment. This, of course, is only if Brexit happens. We Remainers will never give up until the UK securely remains, or is back in, the EU.
It is beyond obvious that Brexit is an unfolding disaster. It has to be stopped. May says she is calling an election because of opposition to Brexit. That means the opposition to Brexit is working. Do not let her off the hook.
Labour can prevent a general election. For a general election to be called out of the fixed parliamentary term, a 66% vote of all members of the House of Commons is required. Labour can easily defeat her attempt to have an election. It should let her government implode along with the collapse of its Brexit project over the coming year or two. Meanwhile Labour can salvage itself: it can get a proper leadership, build policies, recover the more than half of supporters Corbyn has driven away, and work towards the 2020 election in full working order. As it stands at this moment it is a mess, and voting to annihilate itself this June may be to vote for something permanent.
If Labour is foolish enough to believe Corbyn's adolescent bravado in 'welcoming' the election – 'welcoming' his own death sentence! – it has only one chance of stopping the Tories being re-elected: an election pact with all the other opposition parties aimed at unifying the anti-Tory vote. The tribalism of British party politics makes this a hard call, but in the circumstances it would be essential, vital, mandatory. It is literally the only way to rescue our country from the hard right cabal currently in government.
William Hazlitt once wrote about a reported shipwreck in which a woman swimming for her life to a raft in the stormy sea saw that one of the half-drowned men on it was naked. Rather than scandalise herself by being on the same raft as a naked man, she swam away and was drowned. Will the opposition parties, if they allow this election, swim away from one another because of their party-political scruples, tribal loyalties and shibboleths, and be drowned – drowning the rest of us with them? I emphatically and sincerely hope not. That would be literally unforgivable in the desperate times we are in.
I say: Labour (and all opposition parties), don't vote for a general election. If Corbyn imposes a three-line whip on the parliamentary party, it should defy him. He is going anyway. But if the opposition parties are stupid enough to walk into what May hopes is her trap, make sure it snaps shut on her by an electoral pact to oust the Tories.
We are in the midst of a national emergency. It is not the time for an election timed because it is the only one May can win. Do not vote for it. But if an election comes, make bloody sure the Tories lose it.
A. C. Grayling is a philosopher, author and prominent Remain campaigner.
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