We are all drama queens, really, we political hacks; and so we were all thoroughly delighted by Theresa May’s Tuesday coup. I have long been arguing that we would have an election this year, and I had been beginning to feel lonely. But one big thing I got wrong: it had seemed to me in January that a Brexit election would shatter much party discipline, since the voters would be principally interested in where candidates stood on the Great Issue and both Tories and Labour were deeply divided about it. However, by framing the current contest in the way she has, May has deftly but brutally carved away the long and substantial tradition of Tory pro-EU politics. In this election, to be Tory is to support her uncompromising version of Brexit.
Where does that leave the Conservatism of Ken Clarke, Heseltine, Soubry? All right, granted, it wasn’t in jumpingly vigorous condition before; but it’s now gone decidedly Norwegian Blue. I am hearing rumours of a centrist plot to target Brexiteer candidates in pro-Remain constituencies; but how this version of ‘decapitation politics’ differs from another push by the Liberal Democrats is rather less clear. For broadcasters, the usual rules on being evenhanded could become ferociously complicated. If it is, as the Prime Minister says, our ‘Brexit election’ then you’d think we should give each side of that huge argument a fair crack of the whip. But if that looks like giving the Lib Dems and the SNP more airtime than their current parliamentary strength warrants, then both Labour and the Tories would strongly protest. Stopwatches will be brandished. For the next couple of months, life as a print journalist will seem a lot, lot easier.
This is an extract from Andrew Marr’s diary, which appears in this week’s Spectator