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Be careful what you wish for

THE coming election can and should be fought on territory where Labour’s unique appeal trumps whatever Boris Johnson can offer. Alternatively it can be fought on grounds he chooses.

Tory rhetoric about increased education expenditure, combined with hints about a northern renaissance and a public services bonanza, are a hypocritical tribute to a truth universally acknowledged on the left that a succession of governments have skewed our economy while speculative profits in the finance sector are maximised.

Vast swathes of the productive economy have been starved of capital investment, while skills built up in working-class communities over generations have been thrown away.

Although capital finds a domestic destination in some centres of scientific and technological excellence and innovation, much of this — especially in the most advanced sectors of the economy — are centred on aerospace and arms manufacture or located away from the parts of the country where investment is most needed.

For the purposes of this narrative the north of England stands for every part of Britain where infrastructure spending, skills training, state-directed investment and an end to austerity economics can make a profound difference to the lives of millions of people.

Johnson — the man who voted for Theresa May’s deal — now presents himself as the instrument of the popular will to leave the EU, if necessary, without a withdrawal deal.

At the same time he permits a sliver of speculation that a compromise can be reached with the EU’s negotiators.

Proroguing Parliament for four extra days may be a minor key violation of constitutional precedent but it also serves as bait to tempt them into a deal.

In presenting MPs with an ultimatum that if they prolong the agony of indecision he will force an election, he hopes to snatch an uncertain victory from a potential defeat.

Grand Vizier Dominic Cummings’s threat to defenestrate any Tory MP who joins this ludicrously labelled “rebel alliance” — an insurgency dedicated to everything remaining the same — adds a note of comic opera drama.

But it does demonstrate what a weak hand Johnson has and why he needs to draw on a mock-Clausewitzean repertoire of tactics to compensate for an insufficiency of numbers, now greater with the defection of another Tory MP to the Liberal Democrats.

If, as Johnson desires, the election is fought exclusively on the issue of Brexit and if the popular movement to sweep the Tories from office is limited to demands that marginalise the many concerns of the working millions who fall on both sides of this well-rehearsed national argument, then Johnson’s free-market Machiavellis will have achieved their objective.

In seeking to narrow the ground upon which the politics of this moment is conducted, Tony Blair’s advice to Jeremy Corbyn — to defer the prospect of an election — deepens Johnson’s narrative and gifts him an audience with a substantial slice of strategically situated Labour voters.

Blair’s conditional offer to vote Labour if Corbyn acts in conformity with his advice is coupled with an expressed reluctance to vote for Labour programme.

An ego the size of his recently acquired fortune blinds him to the truth that his vote is no more worth than his advice.

But it is Labour’s programme — with its assault on the privileges that profit confers and its promise of a new deal for people and planet — that needs to be at the centre of all our efforts.

A vote for Labour is the only useful instrument for all who oppose Johnson’s schemes. Any attempt to narrow the immediate basis on which millions of people can identify with Corbyn’s desire for an election allows Johnson to pose as democracy’s defender.

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