Is Theresa May mad to have ruled out calling an early election? I’ll put my neck on the line. I think so. Never will her position be stronger than it is at the moment.
It is nearly nine years ago that Gordon Brown baulked at the same hurdle and backed off from calling the election everyone expected. Yet he could not have lost – there was no risk of that with Cameron’s party modernisation programme incomplete. No more would May now. She would strengthen her majority – most likely dramatically – which could not but smooth her Brexit path.
What Brown lost was his credibility. That’s what she too risks losing.
Brown’s back down had an immediate impact on his image. The strong man, father figure, gave way to a calculating, yet indecisive politician. It marked the beginning of the end for him.
It’s unlikely that May would suffer so soon. The expectation of an election is nowhere near as strong. The pundits will have told her that the country does not want another one. Her ministers will have assured her the Government not only has a working majority and but that an election would turn into a second referendum on the EU (in part at least).
But with Brexit going the Brexiteers’ way and the economy defying the doom-mongering, would that matter?
Then her advisors would also point out that the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act makes it hard (but not impossible) to engineer an early election.
But the simple truth is that the time will never be better for her. She would go up in people’s estimation and respect. What’s more, like Gordon Brown, Mrs May has sailed into office on a wave of support, her approval ratings sky high.
Ok, she does not have Brown’s majority, but she might as well have with the weakest and most riven Opposition in history to fight – one so fractured, it can barely be described as an Opposition, with a totally unelectable (at the moment) man in charge. Why not crush them while she has the chance?
She would emerge with a bigger majority and, more importantly, a personal mandate.
May be she doesn’t care that she has not been voted in. May be she thinks she can achieve everything she wants in three and a half years? That, note, was what G Brown thought too.
The resemblance does not stop there. Addressing the country for the first time outside Number 10, Mrs May pledged to ‘run a government driven not by interests of the privileged few’ (a direct dig at her predecessor) but ‘by those of the many’.
She did a Melania Trump and got away with it.
The perceptive Isabel Hardman noted that her words were a straight ‘borrow’ of Brown’s verbal trademark. Her One Nation Toryism pitch had been uttered before – by one Gordon Brown, who else – as he accepted his Labour leadership nomination.
Lack of mandate and words are not all they share. There’s more. Disturbingly Mrs May shares his left wing equality agenda too.
Of all the policies she could have focused on in her first weeks, she chose to launch a year-long equality audit to ensure, she says, that different groups of people are not treated unfairly – a burning injustice she appears convinced about. Her audit will establish the evidence and the culprits. If her model is the new hate crime law, then I tremble. Proof would then be personal perception of inequality.
What better way to stoke even more resentment and a spurious sense of victimhood than exists already?
What better way than this to perpetuate the myth (that every conservative should resist) that any difference in equality of either opportunity or outcome is the result of discrimination or, as Melanie Phillips put it earlier this week, the Government’s fault?
Why would she be prioritising this – a huge administrative exercise – when schools are overcrowded and the NHS is in crisis, but for her seduction by the Left’s conceptually flawed victimhood politics?
Well, she is not going to be thanked for this, never mind her good intentions, in two or three years’ time when she finds herself in a political environment that makes Brexit look a doddle. Momentum may have taken full control of the Parliamentary Labour Party by then, psyching up social unrest, organising even bigger rallies and ever more direct action.
Her promises of social justice will not have materialised – worse, they’ll become the butt of the far Left’s critique.
Her Conservative colleagues won’t thank her either, for missing the best chance they ever had of dispatching the hard Left before it became a real problem.