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19 April 2017

Crush the saboteurs: the Daily Mail just says what Theresa May is thinking

The PM's suggestion that the enemies of Brexit have to be defeated at the polls corrodes democracy.

By Stephen Bush

There’s only one story in town – Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election. From the the Star’s “Snap Crackle and Pop” to the FT‘s “May calls snap election in bid to strengthen hand in Brexit talks”, there’s only one frontpage today.

There’s also only one paper that anyone’s talking about: the Mail. “Crush the Saboteurs” is their splash. MPs from across the political spectrum have condemned it. In a rare intervention against the newspaper she is frequently in lockstep with, Theresa May has criticised it too, saying that it “absolutely” does not represent her views, and that dissent is an important part of democracy.

Er, hang about. Not to defend the Mail but their splash can’t even be described as the subtext of May’s address kicking of the contest yesterday – it’s just the text. She started her campaign talking about how Brexit was under threat because of those wreckers in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. That’s simply not true – on Brexit issues, thanks to the bulk of her own party, the Irish Unionists and the six Labour Brexiteers who reliably vote with the government. And, of course, the large group of Labour MPs who will vote for the deal come what may in order to avoid the ire of their Leave-voting constituents.

The PM is struggling to get her way, but on domestic issues. On grammar schools, on national insurance contributions, you name it, she can’t do it. On every issue other than Brexit, there is a disgruntled faction of the Tory party bigger than her majority. That’s the real reason why we’re 50 days away from a general election.

Understandably, Theresa May didn’t want to kick off her campaign talking about her own impotence. It makes political sense to claim that there are enemies abroad who have to be defeated at the polls. But if we’re going to talk about rhetoric that corrodes democracy, we should start at the steps of Downing Street, and not at the offices of the Mail.

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