British Party Politics Destined for Shake-Up?

I lay no claim to a crystal ball, but a number of scenarios are possible in the wake of the Brexit referendum which may lead to a shake-up of the political parties.

First, the Conservatives. The ‘eating one’s cake and having it’ option promised by the likes of Johnson in the campaign for Brexit is not an option. The Conservative party seems likely to divide over whether the European free-trade area is to be sacrificed for the sake of immigration control, or immigration is to be the price of remaining in the area. The clear divide here is between Brexit and Brin, but it seems likely that the Brexit camp within the Tory party will itself divide as some go for the less hardcore option and move away from “Stop Immigration Uber Alles.” With the leadership likely to be contended between May and Leadsom when the choice is given to the Tory party membership, May seems more likely to edge it. Leadsom, though more popular with Tory party grass roots members than with the Parliamentary Conservative Party, has already shot herself in the foot twice when it comes to honesty, first in supporting Brexit which appears to go against previous assertions, and now with a dodgy CV. Though May has come out as the most hardcore yet on immigration – no guarantees for EU immigrants already in the country, something even Johnson has said should be guaranteed – that may be no more than her keeping her cards close to her chest. She was, after all, a quiet Brin supporter. Whoever takes the leadership, however, a divide is certain.

Labour is in still greater disarray. Some of the Parliamentary Labour Party are already talking about jumping ship and joining the Conservative party if Corbyn remains as leader. The Labour party office is so concerned it is currently looking at who has effective copyright on the ‘Labour’ brand, only to find no one appears to do so. The very fact they are looking suggests they anticipate a schism the party may not survive intact, though I believe it will… the only question being what it will look like. And if Corbyn goes? That takes us to a much-neglected sector of the British political system in all the punditry.

Voters.

The electorate is clearly dissatisfied in large numbers. The British people have more to be concerned about than many nations, across Europe and all the way out to the USA, which have had new parties springing up on the tide of populism with people seeking systemic overhaul. Dissatisfaction with establishment politics in the UK has been underlined by the Brexit vote and the number of people who went for ‘out’ as a purely anti-establishment vote. 2015 likewise played host to a general election that may be characterised as the election of the protest vote. With Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, those who feel disenfranchised have a home. The trouble is that has in turn alienated a generation of individuals who quite like a Tory Light party, in particular those members of the PLP selected in the first place precisely on the basis. In other words, there is an increasingly large percentage of the electorate feeling increasingly alienated from any Tory brand, lite or otherwise, who may have been the basis for a new populist movement mirroring those elsewhere, but who got sucked back into Labour as a viable alternative to establishment politics only now to be told by the PLP that they’re not welcome.

I say that the electorate is ignored with good reason. Take one issue alone. Trident. Corbyn has been portrayed as downright eccentric for being the only major party leader to come out against it (if we take ‘major parties’ to mean the Tories, Labour, the LibDems, and perhaps UKIP). An Indie-commissioned poll had 49% of people wanting rid of Trident one way or another, well within the margin of error for an even split across the country. The Independent blew what was a bombshell article on the back of that in analysing its political potential, instead electing for a sub-headline which proclaimed Corbyn’s abandonment of Trident was rejected by a majority of the electorate. No surprise that it is no longer only radicals who reject the mainstream media as a tool of the establishment.

I believe – but am open to correction – that no one vying for the Tory leadership has the stomach to call a general election for a mandate for their leadership, probably wise given the turmoil the nation is already in. Though not a supporter of the Tory party, and though I believe that an election before the year ends could see them out of office, I think the wisdom in not going for an election goes beyond party- and self-interest. With the state of the nation as it is right now no one would know what on earth they’re voting for anyway and we could do without the upheaval. It’s best to let things simmer down. The question is, what’s to come out of the simmering?

My guess is the Tory party will remain intact, but fractured. In the wake of Brexit it will have to move somewhat harder right in some regards, while in others things may soften by way of compensation. (May, for example, is for remaining in the European Convention of Human Rights Cameron was so determined to rid us of). However, the Tory party in a post-European Britain must inevitably play host to irreconcilable factions. It’s one thing to be in Europe and grumble about it but on any number of issues, outside Europe the reformulation necessary is going to lead to confrontation. (China is a good example. Osborne has already announced he wants to bring us ever closer to Xi Jinping, but how many would have the stomach for that? Out of Europe, less close with the USA, and we want China as our new bestest fwend? Really??? But perhaps Osborne would argue out of Europe, less close with the USA, where else? That may be resolved by China making it fairly clear that outside Europe we’ve lost much of the interest they had in us anyway, though close ties with a democratic nation happily sanctioning their behaviour could prove useful in terms of soft power and for propaganda purposes).

More likely to split is Labour. They are the most exposed to the political vacuum at the left of British politics. They will either fill the void under Corbyn and there will be defections from the PLP, or Corbyn will be ousted, the vacuum will still need filling, and it will be many of the membership and those Labour believe to be their natural voters who bail out and head for the first populist movement that arises in Corbyn’s wake. If that happens, it all comes down to whether that movement has a viable and pragmatic leader. If not, though it will have an impact, I don’t think the nation is quite ready for politics by Facebook. If a worthy leader emerges, however, then it becomes debatable whether the continued presence of Labour would do more damage in splitting the vote of the left, or in splitting the vote of the right. It seems likely their core supporters will come from a dying breed of “I’ve voted Labour all me life” and dissatisfied Tories who are increasingly alarmed by some of the less pleasant rhetoric likely to come out of the Conservative party in Brexit’s wake.

If we thought the 2015 election was interesting for the divisions it exposed, 2020 in the wake of the Brexit referendum will prove still more fascinating whatever happens. The irony being that, IM(H)O, we aren’t going to leave the EU in any case.

Can Jeremy Corbyn Win the General Election in 2020?

Okay, fine, the bloke isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. Corbyn, by instinct, is way too left-leaning for my liking, way too left-leaning for most. I fear Corbyn’s ideal world would be too far back into the ’70s. Sadly I fear he’s as landed with the this-or-that attitude traditional to the nation when it comes to industrial relations, while what I’m after is a bit of the other, the German or Nordic models where conflict in industry isn’t somehow inevitable.

However, crucially, what we have to consider is this. Corbyn fills an ecological niche in the political environment no one else in the mainstream is touching. He could have evolved with three legs, three eyes, and a tendency to walk into trees, but he’s still going to thrive in that niche given there’s no competition.

That niche is, in essence, the good old days of investment in industry, entrepreneurship, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), individual initiative and opportunity given an environment in which to thrive, a meritocracy, the maximisation of individual opportunity in society, social justice, an end to poverty and all the rest of it. Sure, if he managed to establish it, his desire would be to mess it up with industrial action, but at least his niche is those things instead of what the other major players, including the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is seeking to further entrench, namely a nation based upon financial industries and other essentially parasitic and non-productive practices. That way lies stagnation, and we’ve already stagnated without wanting more of the same.

So, this strange mutation is offering that right now, no one else is. It’s a niche, I would suggest, in which he can thrive given its attraction not only for those who have objected to the Conservative line since Thatcher given we could see it coming, but also for those who’ve woken up to where it is we’ve got to in her wake. That will include many Conservatives. It could even include Thatcher herself given that yes, she made mistakes, but she was a pragmatic woman with positive intentions who, I am sure, would not like the result of the mistakes she made and would reverse them confronted by the mess we have today.

Only it gets better. Corbyn seems to be growing that extra leg, losing that surplus eye, and finding out where the trees are. He is becoming more pragmatic and less ideologically driven. It was one thing for him to speak with his ‘friends in Hamas’ when he was a backbencher given no one else was talking with them, but if he wants control of the whole nation he’s starting to realise he has to talk with his friends in Hamas alongside his friends in the Israeli government. It’s one thing as a private individual to talk up his republicanism, but he knows he can’t put forward the republic as an actual policy in the public arena, that has to remain as a private belief as, say, Cameron may believe in God, but he doesn’t legislate for everyone going to church.

He knows that the first step is to bring about the world most people want to get back to before all the mess, at least systemically. That his instinct will be to mess it up if he gets it by giving trade unions too much power again is by the by. For the moment, his focus is upon getting that system together. His speech to the party conference demonstrates how legislation would go in its general direction, and I truly can’t see many reading that who wouldn’t find it not only pragmatic, but also far preferable to what Cameron is offering. The only hold-outs will be the PLP, (stuck in their belief that the only route to power is by following the Conservatives), some – I stress some – of the wealthy who are entirely addicted to the financial sector for an increase to its wealth, and those for whom a blue rosette over a red rosette is religiosity rather than pragmatism.

Finally, Realpolitik has raised its head and bitten him on the backside. For years, Corbyn could cosy-up to the unions, meeting them down the bar to talk about the good old days of workers’ rights and all the rest of it. However, that’s a little like student friends who love each other to bits and decide to share a house together, upon which they discover that their bestest friend is prone to nicking other householders’ bacon from the fridge and playing his Black Sabbath records very loudly at 3.00am. The first time he is truly thwarted, it’s when one of his drinking pals tells him he can’t have his unilateral disarmament debate in conference given that it’s troubling to union members, a rationale I’m sure he finds paltry in the extreme given his beliefs, (I know I do). That’s his bacon now gone from the fridge, and Mr. C is now, no doubt, experiencing his own Autumn of Discontent in miniature. That is likely to lead him into a rethink which will see some of the excesses of his ideology tempered.

So… the best thing since sliced bread? Well no, at least not yet, but he’s becoming increasingly palatable. However, even if there were to be no improvement, we have nothing else for our sandwiches if we want them to be at least edible, and I suspect you’ll find that more and more people will settle for him as the only option, and all the more willingly if he tempers his excesses.