External Affairs

A Fight is on Hand as Election Pivots From ‘What Kind of Brexit’ to ‘What Kind of Britain’

Theresa May could come out of this with a landslide victory. Or squeak through. Despite his gains, most analysts wonder whether Jeremy Corbyn can actually pull off a win.

British Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and her Labour challenger, Jeremy Corbyn (right). Credit: Reuters

London: It’s election day in Britain. The mood is sombre in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. From being considered a maverick politician on the fringe of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn has moved up in peoples’ estimation. A few months ago, even life-time Labour supporters dismissed him as ‘not prime ministerial,’ whatever that means.  He is radical, of course, but it didn’t help that Corbyn was rarely seen in a tie. An open necked shirt, it seems, doesn’t go down well for a politician in Olde Englande, leave alone a prime minister.

Seriously though, Corbyn began this campaign as a non-starter. On the last day of campaigning, however. Psephologists, many sounding like headless chickens, talk about the Labour leader pulling in unprecedented crowds and getting standing ovations. All of this has jolted not just the commentariat but the undecided voter into taking a new look at the man. A poll by ComRes for the Independent, gives Theresa May a 10-point lead, the largest the Conservatives have had since Thatcher. But another poll conducted by Survation put Corbyn at just 0.9% behind May. And the Evening Standard says Britain could be heading for a hung parliament with the Tory lead being cut by 16 points in the last month. May’s decision to call a snap poll assumed she was riding a popularity wave. She pitched for a stronger mandate to negotiate the nuts and bolts of Brexit. May focussed on Brexit, while Corbyn focused on issues closer to home.

Corbyn’s strategy has brought to the fore what May’s critics have pointed out over and over again. That the cuts she has overseen to education, health and the police force – the latter during May’s watch as home secretary when 20,000 police personnel were taken off the street – have been a bad move. That last statistic seems unforgivable for many Brits in light of the deaths caused by terrorists last month. The ‘Bobby on the beat’ picked up lots of information which fed into intelligence. She or he, was also the friendly, reassuring face of the British police force, keeping an eye on unruly young lads, helping frightened old ladies who thought they’d heard a break-in at midnight. Keeping a vigilant ear to the ground.

On the eve of the election, even Tory foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the fact that the London terrorist slipped through the intelligence network was a serious lapse. That leaves Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ slogan with a somewhat hollow ring, even for Tory loyalists. A poster stuck in a house window baldly stated ‘Strong and stable my arse’! It attracted scores of amused onlookers who clicked away and posted pictures online. It’s gone viral and become the flavour of the week, stuck up in windows and on walls, from grocery stores to numerous homes around the nation.

It is hard not to feel a bit sorry for May, who seemed rattled by Jeremy Paxton’s relentless televised interrogation. Known as the Rottweiler for his tenacious grilling, Paxton went on and on, leaving May looking forlorn and pathetic. If May thought she’d be the Iron Lady of this millennium, the joke is on her. Many Tories admit they are only voting for her because she’s the only alternative to Corbyn.

Corbyn, on the other hand, seems to have grown in confidence. Bit by bit, reluctantly, even grudgingly, his manifesto and his defence of it have gained ground among many critics. He promises that his party will “work for the many, not the few”. Someone jokingly dubbed him ‘Corbyn Hood’. His team hhasave tried to underline the fact that his taxation of the 5%, the country’s elite and corporations, will mean more police, better schools and taking the National health Service back to its halcyon days when it was a beacon of light to the world. Corbyn promises to scrap fees for university education. And to build more houses.

True to form, Corbyn haters have gone for the jugular, seizing on photographs of him  with a Hamas leader. ‘You can only stop terrorists by talking to them’, Corbyn protested. But the headlines have been screaming. ‘Vote May or We Face disaster’, said the Daily Express. ‘Apologists for Terror’ spat the Daily Mail, showing a picture of Corbyn, Abbot and McDonnell prominent Labour leaders. ‘The Mail accuses this troika of befriending Britains enemies and scorning the institutions that keep us safe,’ it warned. Rumour had it that the Blairites in the Guardian who despise Corbyn have finally on the last days of campaigning stopped pulling him down. The British media have done to Corbyn what the US media did to Sanders. They Sandered him.

This has been an election like no other. There have been mood swings, but only the election results can tell us what will really happen. May could come out of this with a landslide victory. Or squeak through. Despite his gains, most analysts wonder whether Corbyn can actually pull off a win. Results will start to emerge after polling ends, around midnight IST on June 8. Some wag announced that June is always the end of May. The world can only wait and watch.