When Theresa May called her opportunistic general election, she claimed that the public was getting behind Brexit. She just needed an endorsement from voters to stop the rotters in Westminster from denying the will of the people.
May’s assertion was always patently ridiculous, as her opponents were swift to point out. She secured a thumping majority in the Commons for her Article 50 bill – a profoundly undemocratic piece of legislation that is the nearest this country has seen to an Enabling Act – in the House of Commons.
The House of Lords made a token protest, before folding. The courts, despite a venomous attack against the relevant judges by the popular press, merely insisted that May respect British constitutional principle and the rule of law.
The establishment might not be behind her, but it is doing her bidding.
The "people" are increasingly equivocal about that. Polls have consistently shown a sizeable minority continuing to oppose the Government’s lunatic project but now, a YouGov/Times survey has produced the first majority prepared to say Brexit is a bad idea. Just 43 per cent of respondents said that, with hindsight, they believed Britain was right to vote to quit the EU. Some 45 per cent felt the reverse to be true.
Now, this was no slanted survey designed with the express intention of proving a political point. It was conducted by a reputable polling organisation for a reputable newspaper, one whose ultimate proprietor backed Brexit. It involved sample of 1,590 adults interviewed on 25 and 26 April.
But I won't seek to deny that, at their best, polls can do little more than provide a snapshot of the public’s views at a single point in time. In that way, they have the same flaw as referenda. People can change their minds. With something as important as the UK’s relationship with the EU, a question of constitutional and historic significance, they really should be given the opportunity to do that.
Parking that for a second, this poll could nonetheless be significant because May and her Brexit-backing band have, up until now, always been able to count on the majority being in their corner. They have used it as a club in an attempt beat their opponents into submission. Majority rules!
That will be very much harder to do if she is starting to lose that majority. It is also something saner heads in Labour should take careful note of (if they haven’t already, given two thirds of their voters backed Remain).
Of course, at this point the frothing Brexit trolls who so often take pause from posting xenophobic memes to jump on to my Twitter feed when I write on the EU will point out that this is just one poll and that polls can be wrong. Frequently are.
UK polling doesn’t have a great reputation for accuracy, and this one has to be treated with as much caution as any other. I will also concede that some of the detail in its guts is less favourable to Remain.
But as trackers of shifting sentiment they nonetheless have value, which is why political parties take such a keen interest in them and have them conducted privately for their own use.
This may be seen as an important moment if subsequent polls start to show the same thing. It also further exposes the dishonesty at the core of Theresa May’s election announcement.
The country may still come behind her as PM, but she would be unwise to see that as an endorsement of her Brexit plan. For many she will simply be the least bad option.
If she does walk back into Downing Street with the thumping majority that the polls (them again) are indicating, it will be as much a function of the opposition’s weakness as it will an outpouring of enthusiasm for her historically stupid project.
Those who oppose it can take heart from these results. They clearly show that this isn’t over. Not by a long shot.
And while May's opposition may appear weak and divided for now, that will not last forever. Any mandate she secures will be conditional on her proving she can make a success of Brexit. In other words, she’s relying on a fairytale. That’s not a good place to be.Reuse content