May might want to be Bonaparte – but she hasn’t got an army

Reports of May contemplating a general election at the end of February are difficult to believe. But it is difficult to see any other way forward for her, so what if it is true?

And if it is true, what is going on in her head?

In both the Withdrawal Agreement and the No Confidence debate May seemed to base her challenges to Corbyn on the expectation that he would stutter because of the division both in the PLP, the Party as well as in the Shadow Cabinet.

He didn’t. He immediately called a no confidence motion and his quick response to her invitation to talks probably surprised her. These were refreshing moments of clarity from Corbyn.

But despite them, May probably still believes that lack of clarity on what Labour will actually do on Brexit renders Corbyn weak.

She may expect there will be chaos on what Labour says in its Manifesto, as the battle between Lexiters and PVers comes to the boil.

She will note the reaction to the parliamentary logjam of ‘just get on with it’ from the electorate, particularly Tory-inclined voters with low attention-spans.

May probably believes her greatest parliamentary defeat was the one that compelled her to have a meaningful vote in parliament. If that hadn’t happened, she would now be imposing her deal.

So after ‘Strong and Stable’ her next electoral catch-phrase may be ‘I am in charge: I’ll get on with it’.

She can confidently expect that the Tory media will continue to present Corbyn as the wrecker and downplay the real chaos on the Tory side.

She will note that UKIP are disorganized at present and unlikely to split the Tory vote.

The Tory election campaign might try to make May some sort of Bonaparte willing to ride roughshod over democratic processes in the ‘interests of the people’.

Problems though

Unfortunately for May, unlike Bonaparte she doesn’t have an army behind her and most of the Brexit chaos comes from her own MPs who represent increasingly mutually hostile wings of the Party.

On the one hand, behind MPs and the whole of the Tory Party are big business and the City, still the primary funders and bedrock of the Tory Party. Dominic Grieve is their champion.

On the other hand there are local Conservative Associations whipped up recently by the No Deal nationalist rhetoric of Rees-Mogg. They are not particularly enamoured with their leader’s Brexit.

However the Tory membership, unlike the Party’s big business backers has no control of Tory manifestos or their electoral campaigns.

So a Tory manifesto would likely rule out no deal, advocate May’s current Brexit plans and this manifesto would be considered binding on Tory MPs elected on it.

The problem is obvious. The third of Tory MPs who voted against her Withdrawal Agreement won’t like it. Recognising how an election might be used against them, they might even revolt in the vote in Parliament that is needed to calling a general election and requires a 2/3 majority. Whilst Labour would vote for a General Election, other opposition parties might not. So a 2/3 majority might not be achieved.

But if she could have an early election?

Could May conceivably win an election, now overwhelmingly overshadowed by the Brexit debate?

It somewhat depends on the Party campaigns and what Labour says on Brexit?

Labour is unlikely to get a repeat of the swing of 2017. Then its limited but significant anti-austerity policies were a revelation to an electorate who earlier had only seen scary headlines about Corbyn.

There are no catchy revelations this time and ambitions about restoring public spending will be measured against a likely Brexit recession.

Labour will need to recognise that the ‘Just get on it’ agitation is not necessarily a pro-Brexit one. It is one for simple answers, not more purposeless negotiations.

Labour should therefore have a simple line of reversing austerity and privatisation here and taking that battle into the EU.

At the very least, Labour must have a clear and simple means to protect migrants, to defend workers and human rights and to stop the Tories’ Brexit.

But May has bigger problems than Labour. She would need a majority of 50-100 seats. She may say in an election ‘I will just get on it’ but without a win of that magnitude, she will be vulnerable to the hard right of the Tories.

Of course, her Withdrawal Agreement does not end the pain of Brexit but will extend it for years. Her current ‘I have a deal’ posture is a lie.

And any pretence she would want to make of being a strong leader with her MPs behind her would be a joke.

She is not a President. She is the Prime Minister, requiring the support of MPs of a deeply divided party.

Calling an election would be a daft decision for her to make. But she’s already made a few of those.

Added —
But there is now a Labour for a Socialist Europe campaign prepared to fight for both an election and a referendum to Stop Brexit

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