After May’s misteps, Jeremy Corbyn now feels Britain’s safest bet
This picture shows what Brexit shouldn’t look like [Wikipedia Commons]
When this election campaign started, I thought that wherever you stood ideologically, it was hard not to see Theresa May as the continuity candidate and voting for Jeremy Corbyn a bit of a punt.
Events since, however, have changed my mind. Ironically, the Prime Minister is right when she says the most important thing is getting Brexit right, and which negotiating team you want to the room.
After the missteps of the Tory campaign, letting the same team handle Brexit no longer feels sensible or sane. On that measure — which may indeed be the most important — Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party team, particularly Keir Starmer do feel the safest option.
If you want visible proof of that, it comes in the form of the towering Theresa May statue one of her supporters has erected on the White Cliffs of Dover, wrapped in the Union Jack and flicking V sign towards the continent. It sums up both the campaign and the message our European partners would receive from a Conservative victory.
With the clock already ticking down to our departure from the EU, that risks being diplomatically disastrous.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks with a Corbyn victory and what could be a coalition government. But the simple truth is increased borrowing and raising tax levels for the richest and big businesses will have much less effect on the economy than a devastatingly chaotic Brexit.
Even before the election, it was clear that David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson were not really the negotiators you wanted to get a good deal out of the European Union. A strong, centrist Prime Minister could have counterbalanced that, but that is clearly not the option on the table.
Letting the team that built the Tory manifesto run Brexit makes precious little sense, wherever you are coming from. The sheer number of U-turns from Theresa May and her team will also have a distinctly negative effect on Britain’s negotiating position. Those on the other side of the table may well assume she will buckle — and so the starting point will almost certainly be much more hawkish than otherwise necessary.
Jeremy Corbyn is not necessarily the ideal candidate to lead Britain through this process, but he is unquestionably the best on the ballot paper. Indeed, he has shown a commendable mixture of grit in sticking to his guns and flexibility in taking on the views of others, for example in including Trident replacement in the manifesto.
Where he knows he is completely out of tune with British opinion, as with his views on the abolition of the monarchy, he simply chooses not to inflict them on the rest of us.
Britain does actually have a fair idea what it wants to achieve with Brexit, a watering down of free movement, a push back on regulations and access to as much of the single market on this good terms as possible. More than that, it also wants to remain closely involved in Europe on defence and other topics.
My instinct is that there is not a genuine interest in the country in a psychotically hard Brexit. But that is what Theresa May and the Conservative party now looks likely to deliver.
If the electorate do now decide to turn against the Prime Minister, as seems increasingly likely, the inevitable result will be a hung parliament and perhaps a coalition. The makeup of that will depend on the democratic will of the British people — the more seats the Liberal Democrats or SNP get, the more the mandate to water down Brexit. Neither party, however, looks to be going as well as it had initially hoped.
Diplomatically speaking, in many respects the greatest advantage of a Corbyn victory would be the chance to win back some goodwill in Europe. At the moment, leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron perceive a Theresa May-led Britain as viewing them with contempt, an adjunct to Trump’s worldview and everything that comes with it.
Theresa May might argue that it’s a good thing that she is in The American president’s good books. But the simple truth is that the closer we get to Trump now, the harder it will be to deal with other European states now and possibly even America in the long run. It gives us little, and it may ultimately cost us a lot.
On security, Jeremy Corbyn has dramatically upped his game, as has the Labour Party. On policing and national defence, it genuinely now has a stronger offer than the Tories. The real divide, however, is on just how toxic the two sides will prove in Brexit negotiations.
Diane Abbott might be no one’s choice for Home Secretary, particularly at times like these. Still, at the end of the day the damage she could do pales into that of Boris and his ilk setting the mood music for Brexit.
The Prime Minister is right. This is not the time to take a risk on national security or the country’s economic future. By her own argument, it’s time for her to go. Britain’s best hope for moving forward is to have Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street by the end of the week.