The Conservative gains in Thursday’s local elections, especially the capture of the new post of West Midlands Mayor in a strong Labour area, confirm the impression that Theresa May is heading for a huge victory in the general election on 8 June. It is our democratic duty to resist this assumption.
The general election campaign ought to be a chance to let the people into the great debate about the future of the country, and in particular about the choices facing the nation as it prepares to leave the European Union. If the conviction grows that the outcome of the election has already been decided, that debate will be stifled. That is why The Independent will continue to use the election campaign to ask questions about Brexit, and to try to keep the debate as open as possible about the problems of social care, the NHS, education and housing.
But for the election to be a truly democratic exercise requires the political leaders to engage with the voters. It is a pity that the Prime Minister has chosen to play it safe by refusing to take part in TV debates. Whatever the traditionalists might say, there is no better way to reach the largest possible audience.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell ought to reflect, even at this late stage, on what they are hoping to achieve by their campaign and whether they should fight it differently. They must know that most Labour MPs have resigned themselves to defeat and are already thinking about how to rebuild from the ruins. Indeed, some of them argue privately that the defeat needs to be complete and overwhelming to allow for a healthy fresh start. This is a dangerous impulse that risks condemning the Labour Party to years of irrelevance. For the health of our democracy we need an effective opposition, and we need it now.
That means refusing to accept and therefore to reinforce an image of Theresa May as a dominant, Thatcher-like figure. That will be difficult. Thursday’s votes marked the end of Ukip as a…