Normality resumes for me tomorrow but for today’s commentary I feel obliged to talk further on yesterday’s best kept secret – the completely unexpected decision by Prime Minister, Theresa May to call a General Election on June 8th.
Whilst set in a military as opposed to a domestic context and to provide some kind of balance of what follows from me today, I am reminded this morning of the fine words used by the late Field Marshal Lord Allenbrooke in his ‘War Diaries 1939 -1945 when he writes “The more I see of politicians, the less I think of them. They are seldom influenced by the true aspects of a problem and are usually guided by some ulterior political reason. They are always terrified of public opinion as long as the enemy is sufficiently far, but when closely threatened by the enemy they are inclined to lose their heads, and then blame all their previous errors on the heads of the military whose advice they have failed to follow”.
In my initial response yesterday, I remarked that one of the pleasures of the decision by Mrs. May to announce a General Election was in seeing media, in this case the BBC, being perfectly wrong footed having had no idea of what was about to come. Come back Conrad Voss Bark whose qualities as the BBC’s parliamentary correspondent in the 1950’s and 1960’s have never been bettered.
We have become rather too used to issues like the calling of elections and statements from government being leaked or, through the Cameron, Brown and Blair years, being carefully PR positioned so that they can be tested beforehand to see how they might go down with press and media. Alternatively, Government leaking of announcements beforehand allows organisations such as the BBC to boast about being first with news of something that is to come? Not yesterday’s announcement though and with parliament being in recess last week, most parliamentary lobby correspondents and so-called political editors also being away there were to be no prior leaks on this occasion. The element of surprise has worked well for Mrs. May and most probably, this particular best kept secret was only hatched last week when the Prime Minister was herself on holiday and able perhaps to quietly meet with her private political advisors?
Talking of the ability to be allowed to hear a specific announcement that has not been leaked beforehand and of being allowed to think for ourselves, my great chum Anthony Peters (SOL Capital Advisory) talks in his excellent morning note today of this being “a great example of what was delivered yesterday when she [Theresa May] stepped out of the front door of 10 Downing Street and coolly announced to the assembled media that the people of the United Kingdom would be called upon to once again cast their ballots in a General Election on June 8th”. The crunch line is that he adds that “Watching the political editor of the BBC’s news service, Laura Kuenssberg, floundering around outside Number 10 without a script was of immeasurable entertainment value and displayed clearly what happens when news is not leaked left, right and centre”.
Bertha Calloway said that “one cannot direct the wind, but one can adjust the sails”. There will be much of this through the election process and it won’t be luck that pulls the winner through. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” according to the Roman philosopher Seneca but it will be a combination of truth and reality that wins the day.
General Elections are serious events and I guess that broadcast editors are busy working out how best to take advantage of the situation made available to them for the next 50 days. Mrs May can be expected to be attacked not only by Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and other political parties but you can be sure that the BBC and others will do their level best to make her life less easy. An example of this on of all places, BBC World Service this morning when at 0500 Hours that twice played a comment from a women in Bristol supposedly leaning of the General Election call for the first time and shouting ‘not again’ or some such similar words and that there was too much politics and that we do not need another election”. I wonder how many people they had to interview to get such a ridiculous response or indeed, I wonder whether this was a case of putting words into her mouth – something that broadcasters have an uncanny knack of doing very well.
I may be an optimist by nature but as to how the next 50 days might pan out, best probably that I live in hope rather than expectation! On that score Winston Churchill suggested “a pessimist sees the difficulties in every opportunity – an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty”. In an election both are probably right.
My fear is not the politics that will clearly open out into nasty debate over the next fifty days, it is of how the debate on Brexit negotiations, the economy, health and welfare is unfairly ‘scrutinised’ by media. It is moreover a fear of how broadcasters in particular will manipulate the situation opened up to them by the General Election as opposed to merely the reporting and maybe interpreting what has been said and done by those who wish to make up the ‘class of 2017’ in the next Parliament.
I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon either in Portcullis House or over the road in the Palace of Westminster. The former was very busy with various MP’s being interviewed and yet the latter to me seemed unusually quiet. I probably spoke to around a dozen MP’s of both main parties during the afternoon and the common theme was not so much about the surprise of the General Election announcement, it was one of uncertainty of whether they will be back in Westminster after June 8th.
As last evening, I note that the ‘play’ of events continues to be built around Mrs. May having broken a promise about calling a ‘snap’ election. She broke no promise – yes, she moved press and media away from the thought of holding an election before 2020 but the reality of what she did was what any prime minister should do – react to events. Those events are to understand that without a mandate to move ahead into and through the Brexit negotiation process and to have the electorate formally on side she would face unacceptable levels of pressure from her own back benches, from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP who have seemingly sworn an oath of allegiance to thwart Mrs. May at every turn in the Brexit process.
However weak they might appear to be and however low in opinion polls against a Tory Party that appears to be on a high, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and others will throw all that they can at Mrs. May and do all that they can to do her down. But the real enemy in this election and not just for the Tories either is media. On that score, if I was to be asked to give any advice to Mrs May as the process that will lead to the General Election being confirmed by the House of Commons later today it would be this from the mind of the great mind of the Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle”
CHW – London – 19th April 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785