The 2017 election will forever be remembered for the most tragic of reasons… Not because one or other of the political parties made an election faux pas or an open-mic catching an unguarded comment, it will be remembered as the election that was made to seem small, incidental and trivial compared to a terrorist outrage that targeted youngsters out to enjoy a concert in a U.K city, far away from the misery of Tripoli, Aleppo or Raqqa.
Up to this point the election had been a fairly uninteresting side show. A coronation of sorts, where a self-styled “supreme leader” figure had constructed her campaign and that of her party around her ability to control and manage events. “Strong and stable” had been the refrain and all seemed certain. We could expect a large majority for a main course, with a side of order of hard Brexit to follow, and a lukewarm dessert of humble pie for the opposition who would be out of power for a generation fighting themselves rather than the other parties who stood against them.
Then it all changed…
First, strong and stable was replaced by “wobbly and weak” as an ill-thought out tax hike for pensioners was unveiled. Just as the poll tax became the albatross that drowned Margaret Thatcher, the ‘dementia tax’ was the noose placed around the supreme leader. Not a mortal wound – a victory was all but assured according to the polls – but a small, painful shard of doubt had pierced the consciousness of the blue rinse voter who suddenly felt attacked by the party they previously cherished as their own. A U-turn followed and the polls started to narrow but the harm was already done. The impenetrable leader was pierced and flustered and noticeably less than stable.
Then came the Manchester atrocity. Front pages, quite rightly, dominated by an outrage that shocked the world. Politics replaced by police sirens and pain. Manifestos dwarfed by misery and bodies in the foyer of a concert venue. However, as followed the death of Jo Cox which will always be linked with the Brexit vote, the election still has to happen and life must go on… “They shall not win!” was a common refrain. Although for the harbingers of doom that attacked the Bataclan and Belgium, it is not about winning. It is about making a statement.
From dodging questions and cameras obsessed with the dementia tax, the Prime Minister now needed to re-assure a nation and to provide some leadership that appeared strong and stable at a time of crises. Any question of decrying her motives for raising the threat level and bringing troops onto the streets could be dismissed as being unpatriotic and churlish. With the dead and injured dominating every thought now is not the time for political posturing, was the hewn cry.
Where this leaves us when the polls open and the crosses are placed in boxes on June 8th remains to be seen.
I would counter one note of caution…this election has never been about who would win. We all knew this because of the lack of a credible opposition. Instead it was about winning a big and decisive victory, earning a mandate to ignore the naysayers and to pursue a policy that was decided by a small coterie of advisors that surround the leader of the party. In emotional terms, the massacre in Manchester is a horrific event which has scarred families, loved ones and a whole city. It seems wrong to talk of it in political terms, however come election-day it is unlikely to dominate the whole of the news agenda and some form of strange normality will be returning to the lives of everyone not directly affected. Then, through the lens of history, the event may well be regarded as a key element in the timing of creating a new government that has a sufficient mandate to rule for not five, not even 10 but perhaps the next 15 years.