There I was thinking that the most exciting election on the horizon was going to be across the channel…and then Theresa May made her shock announcement. In 49 days time the British people will go to the polls to voice their opinion once again on, let’s face it, the one issue that is, rightly or wrongly, at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment: Brexit. Some Labour MPs, notably John McDonnell, may be pretending that people will be thinking of the NHS, of schools or the economy, but the reality is that this will be another proxy election about Europe, except in Scotland where it will be about the prospect of indyref2. Prepare for the relatively fresh wounds of the Brexit referendum to be opened once again as remainers are pitted against Brexiteers. Theresa May may sing the rhetoric of national unity, but we all know that under the surface Britain has been very severely split down the middle. Our views on Brexit have become as much part of our identity as our music taste or whether we are a fan of Marmite. It will not go away in a hurry and it has split us into camps. If the Lib Dems can capitalise on this, and play the card of the pro-EU party, they could do very well in this election, particularly if traditional Labour voters vote tactically. On Newsnight last night Guardian columnist and arch-Corbynite Paul Mason suggested that he might vote tactically in his Vauxhall constituency, perhaps against the sitting Labour MP and Brexiteer Kate Hoey. All eyes should be on the south-west to see if the Lib Dems can reclaim their stronghold, but with such a significant Brexit vote in the region, it is likely that the Conservatives will hold on here. When it comes to Scotland, the SNP need to do well, but with Labour in free fall on both sides of the border there is little to suggest that they won’t be successful, despite Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives rising in the polls.
When it come to the countryside, Brexit continues to dominate. After all, a higher proportion of rural voters chose to leave the EU last May than those in urban areas. However, it is yet to be seen whether this will equate in a similar percentage vote for the Tories. What is very likely is that the lobby groups, including the NFU and the environmental NGOs will take this opportunity to push as many ideas as possible regarding future management of the countryside, helping to shape the rural manifestos and potentially the future constitution of a British Agricultural Policy. I will certainly be looking at the small (and large) print closely when it comes to the food, farming and environment sections of manifestos.
Personally, I remain in shock at such a bold move by Mrs May. I can see where her advisors are coming from in suggesting the election, but partly it angers me that they are distracting the conversation towards another internal discussion , rather than moving forward with the negotiations themselves. I hope that David Davis will keep looking across the channel, rather than spending all of his time in the next seven weeks walking around his Haltemprice and Howden constituency.
At home Douglas Carswell will face our local electorate once again, this time (I assume) as an independent. It will be interesting to see who UKIP field, and I assume Giles Watling will stand for the Conservatives. The Clacton constituency is a strange one, with the town of Clacton itself dominating; the surrounding area, in which I live, being rather shouted down. I predict Douglas will remain MP of Clacton. His personal following is too strong still to flounder at this stage. However, as we have learnt in politics these past few years, prediction is impossible.
It is going to be a messy couple of months ahead, and I hope that the anger bristled by the referendum last May doesn’t return to haunt us. I fear, as this is apparently an election simply about Brexit (and we still don’t really know what that means) that this hope will be in vain. Brexit has become synonymous with fear for change, frustration with the status quo (whatever that means for you personally) and a marker of nationalist identity. As much as I would like this to be a debate about the kind of society we wish to live in, or about the state of our public services, or how we deal with our economy, or how we bring up and educate our children, or how we invest in our research institutions, or how we renew optimism, or how we tackle poverty, inequality and climate change, I know, like everybody else, that this will be about one thing, and something that nobody really knows what it really is, and that is Brexit.