Steve Beauchampé goes Fox hunting, on a Watson Watch, but doesn’t think June will be the end of May.
Has anyone seen Tom Watson? I raise the question because the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and MP for West Bromwich East has been all but invisible since the General Election was called on April 18th. Other than a brief appearance on the day that the party agreed its manifesto, Tom seems to have put in a shift reminiscent of the paltry effort Theresa May produced in last year’s EU Referendum campaign.
We shouldn’t be too surprised however, I’d always imagined that as an avowedly pro-New Labour, anti-Corbynite, Watson’s main focus ahead of June 8th would be developing a strategy to take back control of the party machinery from the several hundred thousand ideologically-driven enthusiasts who have joined Labour since summer 2015.
This, following the anticipated electoral disaster and subsequent dispatching of Corbyn to the margins of political history. So this Labour surge, even should it ultimately fail to deliver the party the opportunity to form a government, is deeply problematical for those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who so readily opposed or otherwise distanced themselves from the man who has suddenly – and quite unexpectedly – become arguably Labour’s biggest asset.
Also still missing in action are various leading Conservatives: Liam Fox, Sajid Javid, Preeti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, even Chancellor Philip Hammond. Not so Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who stood in for May when the Prime Minister again failed to engage directly with her political opponents during a BBC leaders debate last Wednesday. Despite being outnumbered and often drowned out by the combined vocal chords of five centre-left party leaders, Rudd put in a combative performance leaving Theresa May owing her big time, possibly by appointing her Chancellor of the Exchequer if the Conservatives retain power on Thursday.
The extent of the tailspin into which May’s omnishambles campaign has fallen is evidenced by several very late relaunches and resets, a partial abandonment of her two favourite slogans and the behind the scenes musical chairs that downgraded the input of chief political advisors Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy and enhanced the rôle of chief strategist Lynton Crosby.
Ah, would that be the same Lynton Crosby who oversaw Zac Goldsmith’s highly successful London Mayoral bid last year? Or the same Lynton Crosby who oversaw the equally effective Remain campaign for the 2016 EU referendum? For those old enough to appreciate the comparison, Crosby is the Norman Hunter, the Ron Harris, of political campaigns, an old school hacker and clogger who always plays the man not the policy and spells the word Conservative THE VERY NASTY PARTY.
Hence the flurry of junk stories being supplied to the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch press and appearing on right-wing blogs, twitter feeds and in social media in the ten days or so before Saturday’s terror attack temporarily paused the election. Not that there haven’t plenty of fake news and conspiracy theories flooding left-wing online websites and social media outlets as well.
But restoring Theresa May’s self-congratulatory, complacent, personal power grab of a campaign is probably beyond even Crosby. It is fatally tainted, exposed for its galaxy of emptiness and arrogant narcism and it long ago ran out of road. Ultimately the mass transfer of UKIP votes to the Tories will probably save her, and might yet ensure her a healthy, workable majority. But Theresa May is diminished, with the clock already ticking on her departure date as internal party scores are settled and her enemies prepare to exact revenge. And who would have thought that the Conservatives would be the party we’d be writing this about seven weeks ago!
As for Jeremy Corbyn, blimey, he’s almost become a national treasure.