Can we now hail this general election as the strangest British contest in living memory? We have a prime minister who affected to go into the campaign full of vim and vigour, but now seems to recoil from the absolute basics of what electioneering entails. If your people shut journalists from a big regional website into a small room for fear they might video something as banal as a visit to a manufacturer of diving equipment – as Theresa May’s campaign apparently did in Cornwall this week – you are surely in a very odd place.
The atmosphere is rendered stranger still by the sense of a completely foregone conclusion. Not in the sense of, say, 2001, when Tony Blair’s muted second triumph reflected a quiescent country sleepwalking through a long economic boom. Rather, there’s a profound tension between an uneasy, divided national mood and a prime minister and party seemingly gliding back to power. Britain does not, contrary to what May claimed at the outset, seem like it is coming together.
Yet this week’s local election results underline the prospect of an imminent landslide, and pollsters claim that she is the most popular party leader since the late 1970s. The reality? There is a look she repeatedly throws, midway between forced politeness and cold fear, that speaks of something rather different: a classically pyrrhic victory, in a country that has no collective clue where it is heading.