Kevin Maguire: This Brexit-free election is bad news for Remainers

Written by Kevin Maguire on 19 May 2017 in Opinion

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are keeping quiet on Brexit, while Tim Farron's party struggles to mobilise the 48%.

Brexit is the dog which has barely barked in this election. It's there of course, and gave Theresa May and the Conservatives the commanding lead which persuaded her to call a grubby snap poll after repeated denials. But the ailing National Health Service jostles and pips quitting the European Union as the number one issue.

Debate around the Tory manifesto focuses on death taxes, snuffed out winter fuel allowances and how much is Maggie May a Thatcherite. Labour was engulfed by questions on tax and spending plus the Corbyn issue when the leader os demonstrably less popular than the party's policies.

Brexit isn't listed in the Tory manifesto as the first of May's “five giant challenges”. Instead it is relegated to second place by the need for a strong economy. She routinely includes the departure in what pass for speeches to the Conservative faithful yet it's almost as if May herself now heeds advice David Cameron must wish he'd stuck to and stopped banging on about Europe all the time.

Maybe May feels she did what was needed at the start of the campaign with the invention of the Downing Street plot, her phantom Brussels interference in the election a Zinoviev letter on the back of a menu. Mimicking Nigel Farage in a skirt did the trick and Ukip's purple Tories returning home probably brought the keys to No 10 with them.

Labour has good reason to muzzle the Brexit mutt when defending seats both with the largest Remain and Leave majorities is a political nightmare, devoting only four of 126 manifesto pages to negotiating a goodbye or perhaps au revoir.

Immigration receives its traditional poisonous airings though admittedly a Venn diagram would show considerable overlap with Brexit. May is playing the migration card by adding another five years of failure to make it a dirty dozen misses (should she win on June 8 and the Cons continue until 2022) with reducing the net figure below the illusive 100,000 a series of peeps on a dog whistle.

By defying rash predictions it would be a re-run of last year's referendum, this general election is killing the Liberal Democrats. Ukip's work is done and the party is over for the Kippers. Tim Farron bet the ranch on turning the Libs into the party of the 48%. Instead its the party of the 8%, bumping around in the polls where it was two years ago.

Promising a second referendum to stay or go when the Brexit draft deal sets out the genuine choice isn't electrifying an electorate thinking about the NHS and living standards, Corbyn's credibility and Mayhem.

Lib MPs such as Norman Lamb in a Europhobic tract of Norfolk appear to want to talk about everything except their party's big offer. Privately Vince Cable rates his chances as 50-50 or slightly better in Twickenham where he's door knocking to reclaim his old seat for the Libs from the Tories. Cable's fate will be a gauge in the early hours of June 9 to the fate of a party unable to climb off its sick bed.

Brexit rarely grabbing the election headlines is bad news for Remainers. The Conservatives are devoting considerable resources into seats like Southport, Richmond Park, Carshalton, hopeful of cannibalising survivors in its onetime coalition partner. The inability of Farron's Europhiles to mobilise the 48% could conceivably see it finishing with fewer than the nine MPs it started with.



Kevin Maguire is associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror.



Picture by: Philip Toscano/PA Wire/PA Images.


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