Nick Cohen

Election 2017: Do you believe in miracles?

Election 2017: Do you believe in miracles?
Text settings

If you want to imagine the future of British politics, consider the tale of Kristy Adams, the Conservative candidate in Hove. Her campaign is an insult to the electorate, but it is hardly alone in that.

After the crash, the expenses scandal, Savile and phone hacking, it became a cliché to say that trust in institutions has collapsed. If the House of Commons is to restore its reputation, candidates must be honest. I don’t mean MPs have to tell us about their sex lives or publish their bank accounts, just be straightforward.

Theresa May wants to make this a Brexit election. Taking her at her word, reporters from the Brighton Argus asked Adams a basic question.

'How did you vote in the referendum?'

'I’m not going to answer that question,' was all she would say, despite being pressed repeatedly. She will not give the voters of Hove an account of her views on the election’s great question. As she has been struck dumb, others have put words into her mouth. Hove's Labour MP, Peter Kyle, who holds the seat with a slender majority of 1,250, argues that Brighton and Hove voted remain, so a plausible theory is that Adams has come over all coy because that she doesn’t want to admit she backed leave.

A scrupulous journalist should put his accusation to her, and record her reply. But as Adams won’t answer the question, how can I?

Voters should be able to ask her themselves. But the Conservative Party has yanked Adams out of a hustings, and there is a suspicion that they are hiding her away until a Tory landslide carries her to power regardless. Maybe she is in the basement of one of Hove’s Regency houses, or a beach hut by the promenade. I will happily withdraw the insinuation that her party dare not let her out, of course, if she answers the public’s questions about her Brexit vote.

There are other startling features to the Tory campaign in Hove. Ms Adams arrived in town saying 'I knew I wasn’t a career politician'. Strictly speaking, this is true. She is a failed career politician, who 12 Conservative constituency associations rejected before she landed Hove. The Mirror, meanwhile, found a video of Adams breaking her customary silence. She described how she had been told she would see people healed in a 'prophecy' two years earlier.  She met a deaf man. She prayed and said 'be healed in Jesus’ name'. And lo it came to pass that he cast aside his hearing aids.

Naturally the Argus asked: 'Do you believe the voting public has a right to know whether you believe in non-scientific miracles?'

Apparently not.

'I don’t see it’s relevant to how I would serve public life,' she replied.

I could go on about the people of Hove needing a miracle worker to heal Ms Adams and give her the power to stop speaking in tongues and start answering questions. But let me just say of all the thousands of candidates competing for votes across Britain next month she strikes me as one of the worst.

In an ordinary election, Peter Kyle should win. But like every Labour MP in a marginal seat he is finding vast numbers of voters won’t back him because of Corbyn. Labour canvassers tell them that Corbyn’s supporters in Brighton wanted to deselect him. They argue that Theresa May will need a competent opposition, and if Kyle is returned to an MP he will work to replace Corbyn  and try to reintroduce a bare minimum of Parliamentary scrutiny. As things stand, the Labour leader does not want the Labour candidate to win. The Labour candidate does not want the Labour leader to lead.

Do you see a metaphor for the wretched state of the nation amid the charming Georgian terraces of the Sussex coast?

The Tory candidate won’t answer questions on how she voted in the Brexit referendum. But then in this supposed Brexit election Theresa May, who has admitted voting to keep us in the EU but now wants us to leave, cannot provide a coherent answer either. She still flirts with the fantasy that we can win terms the EU cannot possibly agree to without signing its own death warrant.  The unchecked Tory right says we can crash out without a deal if we don't get them: another fantasy, although this time closer to a nightmare.

George Osborne, who may not have been much of a chancellor but is turning out to be a promising trainee leader writer, said in his Evening Standard yesterday that May's promises on the new Brexit order for immigrants are equally fantastical.

None of the senior members of the Cabinet support her pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Osborne or his ghostwriter said it would cost the country tens of billions, as there is no reserve army of unemployed Brits to fill the vacancies. As Home Secretary, Theresa May could not reduce non-EU migration to tens of thousands, even though there were no Brussels directives to constrain her.

To meet the pledge, the number of both EU and non-EU migrants will have to be reduced by around two thirds. How is that to be achieved? No one in government can identify the third we want and the two-thirds we don’t. Asked whether we want to stop bankers, builders, berry pickers or baristas coming from Europe, ministers are at a loss. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, could not name a single sector that should have its supply of labour forcibly reduced. He knows that to do so would push up prices and hurt firms.

Still the prime minister pushes on with promises she can't keep. Ms May is as much a believer in miracles as Ms Adams.

Meanwhile the Labour party is asking voters in Hove, like Labour voters everywhere, to swallow their reservations and vote for sitting Labour MPs so Britain can have the semblance of an opposition. If Hove voters support Kyle, however, Corbyn will use their votes as a justification for clinging on to the leadership of the Labour party.

If they don’t, Kristy Adams and dozens of other Tory MPs will be elected, despite their manifest unfitness for public life. I don’t doubt that the Tories will win by a landslide. But given the silences, the contradictions, the fantasies, the double games, and the belief in miracles, I am equally certain that the next Parliament will disappoint virtually everyone who voted for it.