It’s said that British prime ministers are either bookies or vicars. Some are determinately one or the other, while others think they are the one while being the other. Tony Blair was a bookie who thought he was a vicar. Theresa May – like Gordon Brown, the child of a minister – talks like a vicar and behaves like a bookie. People will talk about May 'gambling' on an early poll, but the point about bookies is that they don't gamble, but play the percentages. In announcing a snap election for 8 June, May will have calculated that, for the Tories, things can’t get any better. Current polls have them around 20 per cent ahead of Labour. May is set to win by a country mile.
She'll have taken her bearings from Brown’s discomfiture, when he failed to cash in his chips during his weekend honeymoon with the electorate after taking over from Blair in 2007. May is still riding the goodwill that new premiers enjoy before soiling their nest. There is no other remotely defensible reason for going to the country now. The referendum is a done deal, and the Brexit terms haven't yet even reached the point of negotiation. Victory for May against such figures as Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron will provide a 'mandate' both for her premiership and the hard Brexit – i.e. rejection of labour mobility and hence withdrawal from the single market – that Brexiters denied was in prospect during last year's referendum debate.
This year's election campaign will be more or less entirely Brexit-flavoured. None of the main parties will thwart the people's will of last June. Even Farron will only pipe about a second referendum on the terms of the deal. The one party, other than in Northern Ireland, that can dare to affront the English demos is the SNP, whose regard for the EU stands between it and its apotheosis as the Ukip of the north. It can expect to do about as well as it did in 2015 against utterly enfeebled opposition, and will surely campaign to restage the 2014 independence vote. May's finger-wagging at the Scots will have done little to revive unionist fortunes.
A likely upshot of May's gambit will be that the Tories get enough seats to guarantee them the next election as well as this one. Labour will be a northern and metropolitan remnant led by someone who isn't Jeremy Corbyn. Farron's Lib Dems will probably make a few gains from destitute Remainers. A striking feature of the nativist surge in Europe and the US, seen in the growth of frank xenophobia and racism in the UK as elsewhere, is that its British version has had very little of the protectionist and capitalism-in-one-country tincture of Trump's platform, as well as some European nativist parties. Why? It's tempting to say that Anglo-Saxon capitalism yokes the ethnocentricity of the English to profit's notoriously footloose internationalism.
The Tories have been having this argument since Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Reform League, or indeed the convulsions under Peel over Corn Law repeal. Singapore is the latest statelet mooted as a model for Brexitland after divorce from the EU. How will the country look in 2020? Scotland may well be on its way out of the UK and back into the EU, leaving behind a wilderness of rumps – rump UK, rump Labour, even rump Ukip. Resident foreigners, those whose presence hasn't been bargained away in the Brexit haggling, will need to be tolerated to deliver services that locals can't or won't perform. My sister was in Eastbourne hospital yesterday. She said she was shocked at the habitual rudeness of the white English patients towards the mainly non-white, unfailingly courteous hospital staff. At the same time, the state will need to offer fiscal incentives for inward investment and to retain 'competitiveness'. It all sounds like national socialism, but without the socialism.