“Take Back Control” was just one of the many slogans that Vote Leave and their pro-Brexit associates sported triumphantly in the wake of the result of the 2016 referendum on our membership of the European Union. Love it or loathe it, one cannot deny it sends a message that resonates with the voters, or at least one capable of persuading a majority to join their cause.
Meanwhile, the Remain camp has been largely shocked into silence, bar a smattering of rebellious Labour MPs, the few remaining Liberal Democrats, and of the course the omnipresent Ken Clarke. They ask the Brexiteers, ‘what happens now?’, to which the response is identical – in the toxic cloud of vicious hyperbole and the turbulence that surrounded the drawn out referendum campaign, no-one had actually sat down and mapped out the post-Brexit plan.
Remarkably for an election so soon after such a major vote, there will be little contest over Brexit, and the Brexit status quo will likely remain unchanged come sunrise on June 9th. With both of the main parties wielding their twin visions of a hard Brexit, the Remainers of June 2016 are left with little to choose from. The majoritarian nature of British elections means that the inevitable answer to Liberal Democrat pleas for the Remain vote will go largely unheard, with ‘The 48%’ having shrunk into a small core of hardcore Remainers.
It remains to be seen whether the anti-establishment nationalism sweeping Europe and the United States will be little more than a bump in the road for the neoliberal order which has dominated much of the post-World War Two era, but it can be said with the utmost certainty that the dominant ideology of recent decades is facing its greatest challenge. With talk of ‘Italeave’, the election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency is a rare sign of life for neoliberalism, dispelling the notion of ‘Frexit’ for at least the next five years and building on the vision which saw the centre ground make sweeping gains in the Dutch legislative elections. It appears unlikely that this will be replicated in the UK however, with the Conservatives pandering to Brexiteers and Labour taking the Tardis back to 1983. Britain’s Emmanuel Macron seems to be hibernating, and the prospect of Tim Farron managing to weave his way around the never-ending maze of abortion and homosexuality controversies seems ever less likely.
It appears that any form of a centrist comeback at this election is likely to be minimal. The negligible gains will be far from what they may have hoped for in the aftermath of the EU referendum. Farron, having rather optimistically ruled out going into coalition with either of the major parties, has left little room to manoeuvre, and one may be questioning his future as Thursday rolls into Friday, especially if their 2017 intake includes the likes of the charismatic (and bookies’ favourite for next leader) Jo Swinson, or the experienced Ed Davey.
For much of this election campaign, it has been difficult to determine exactly what kind of election this is. Labour supporters, especially those supporting Jeremy Corbyn in particular, may argue that this election is the people versus austerity. The Conservatives are all too keen to present it as a May versus Corbyn referendum. The reality is however, that despite topics such as Brexit, the NHS, and immigration topping many of the lists of people’s priorities, the everyday person in modern Britain cares little for the grand schemes cooked up in stuffy committee rooms in Westminster. They care about their children receiving a quality education, knowing they can put food on their family’s plate, and perhaps most movingly, they want to be able to send their children off to enjoy a concert and be sure that they will return. Theresa May certainly appears to want to fight this election on the grounds of tackling terrorism, especially due to Corbyn’s past of standing shoulder to shoulder with Irish republicans and Palestinian extremists. But Mrs. May herself cannot be immune from criticism on this topic, and if anything, she carries much more baggage in her utter failure to address terrorism in her six years as Home Secretary.
As the nation mourns in the aftermath of terror attacks in both Manchester and London, the Conservatives seek to accumulate political capital. Yet as they have continued to mock the now ex-Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, for her inability to use basic maths, only the other day was Culture Secretary Karen Bradley unable to answer a basic question as to whether armed police numbers have declined under the Conservatives (they have). The reality is that this election cannot be fought over terrorism. Both the Conservatives and Labour provide little of a solution to the terror that has plagued the United Kingdom, and to be frank, to allow terrorism to influence this election would be to allow extremists a major victory. This election will not truly be waged on the grounds of terrorism, much as the Conservatives appear to wish it would be, but it remains to be seen as to what type of election this will be. A Brexit election? Anything but.