Acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been forced to name a new candidate for Senate speaker after Catalan separatist parties vetoed his first nominee, Miquel Iceta. The move comes despite Sánchez’s warnings that a veto would be “to block social harmony, mutual understanding and dialogue.” Sánchez has to build a coalition of the willing in order to govern, he’s been slapped down in this his first step. We Brits think that Westminster is a shambles, just wait a few more weeks. You can’t get odds on there not being another general election. ...Happy days!
That sound you hear in the distance is the clattering of tumbrils laden with UK politicians who long ago exhausted the public’s patience. The elections to the European Parliament will show that the inadequacies of both traditional parties are all too evident. This is going to be ugly and little good can come from any of it.
In one sense, it will be a moment of catharsis. The elections were dominated by Brexit and the failure of the political class to find a solution that both upholds the referendum result and guarantees a measure of continuity that, amongst many other concerns, would reassure British business there are at least some adults in the room. There’s rage aplenty, and ample measures of despair too. To think that it has come to this; to think that this is how it will be for some time yet.
But because this is Brexit, even the endgame offers little relief. Rather it is merely the end of one nightmarish phase that will, must, be followed by another. If you think these past three years have been a miserable time for British politics, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Votes for the various parties should be considered, in all their rainbow glory, a collective howl of despondency; a national declaration that this should not be as good as it gets, that there must be some, any, alternative. These are not extravagant hopes even if, in the current climate, they inevitably seem like that. A modest dollop of competence and a plausible level of coherent ambition is all people want, ...nae demand!
This, however, is an era of reduced expectations in which even standards previously considered the bare minimum qualification for public office seem so ambitious there is little real prospect of them being reached. The public long ago decided that Theresa May was not the answer but, even as it delivered a crushing verdict on her performance in the 2017 general election, it did so while also withholding approval from Jeremy Corbyn. The public knows he’s a clown, and not up to the job either.
Nor, however, can it trust any of the pretenders to May’s crown.
All of the runners and riders will be publicly dissected over the course of the next few months, so I won’t bother.
None of May’s would-be successors promises the kind of refreshment the country badly needs. Those that promise better government lack the ability to connect with the public; those that might connect with the government lack the stature to impress in government. The Tory party is breaking itself and it will take an uncommon politician to put it back together.
In this, the Tories are merely emulating a Labour party plainly not fit for opposition let alone government. Having indulged their own worst instincts, Labour are saddled with a leadership cadre that cannot, will not, connect with the country. It is remarkable, given this, that the Tory party seems likely to make precisely the same mistake.
Nevertheless, it is wearily appropriate that even the alternatives to the traditional parties are, many of them, wholly inadequate. They have demonstrated a lack of seriousness that would be entertaining if it weren’t such an obvious missed opportunity.
No wonder Nigel Farage struts across the stage, cackling and barking and promising a revolution of a sort British politics has not hitherto endured. Brexit is the largest part of Farage’s “sod them all” argument but by no means the only ingredient working here. The Brexit Party has sent a message when it won the election but, typically, that message will be misunderstood: it is not just about Brexit, it is about everything. Farage doesn’t bother with answers, such things are beneath him, but as the articulation of a broken body politic he more than fits the bill.
And, in some ways, who can blame those who flocked to Farage’s banner? When all the notionally plausible options have been exhausted or revealed to be pitifully inadequate, voters will be tempted by alternatives that in happier times would have been thought wholly implausible.
It matters little that no one campaigned for a no-deal “WTO” Brexit in 2016. That was then and this is now. The Tory party will shortly become, if it has not done so yet, the party of no deal too. That would at least offer a clean, quick, end. But then so does the guillotine.
“Make it stop” is the order of the day and the public, I suspect, increasingly cares little how it is stopped so long as it ends. No wonder the centre ground has been hollowed out. Partisans on all sides define themselves less by their own beliefs than by their opposition to those who do not share those beliefs. Your victory is very much less important than their defeat.
That helps explain why the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government has no chance of garnering the parliamentary support it requires. Many of the objections to it are contrived and many of them require those holding those objections to contradict their own previously-held positions. But what of it? The Prime Minister’s weakness, sabotaged by her own backbenchers, ensured she lacked the muscle to command. There was something painful and pitiful about Theresa May in her last days. She is a ruined prime minister leading a ruined government in a ruined parliament.
Anyone who thinks decapitating the Government and starting again will magically produce a solution, or a way out of this maze, is indulging themselves in that most ancient of forlorn hopes: the idea that this is a problem of personnel, not one of policy. It is not a lack of will that has brought us to this broken place but, instead, the irrefutable logic of the Brexit process itself. It is not being done well because it cannot be done well. There is no perfect Brexit because something has to give.
Just what will give and at what price remains something to be determined but I’d suggest that if you think this is as dark as it can get you risk seeming a cock-eyed optimist. There is a storm brewing and I suspect this is just the start of it!
UK MAJOR-PARTY MELTDOWN, NOT REMAIN’S MYTHICAL VICTORY, IS THE STORY OF THE EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
– AN END OF MONTH UPDATE!
THE FINAL RESULTS of the European Parliament elections have provoked a veritable orgy of fag-packet maths, with commentators straining to point out that, in fact, their side of the Brexit debate “won” the elections.
Perhaps the most spectacular example was Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, confidently asserting that “in these elections remain was the winner, not Farage”. To prove this Toynbee tots up pro-Remain party votes and declares that a second referendum would be won by Remain, by the rather quirky margin of 50-47.
The veteran Tuscan socialist is hardly the only culprit, of course. Even the BBC has been putting up bar charts of ‘hard Brexit’ versus ‘Remain’ as if the elections were actually a poll on precisely how people want to leave the EU, handily translated into a tick for a series of parties. Never mind that the turnout was a mere 37 per cent, meaning about 15 million fewer people voted than in the 2016 referendum.
What’s more, by focusing only on parties that either want No Deal or to scrap the referendum result entirely, parts of the media risk making the debate all about the two extremes and ignoring the many people, and politicians, who want to find compromise.
Far more enlightening than pseudo-mathematical projections about a second referendum is the very detailed polling work done by Lord Ashcroft over the weekend. His survey of voters has dug into which 2017 voters went where.
It gets to the heart of the real story of these elections — the devastating blow delivered by the electorate to the two major parties. After all, it’s much more important to examine what might happen in a general election that will definitely happen than in a second referendum that will probably never take place.
Fans of Conservative majority governments, look away now. According to Ashcroft’s survey, of those who took part in these elections only one in five 2017 Conservative voters stayed with the party. Unsurprisingly the majority of that exodus (53 per cent of 2017 voters) was to the Brexit Party, but there was a not insignificant 12 per cent who went to the Lib Dems too.
Labour fared slightly better, with 38 per cent of their 2017 voters staying put, but they lost votes to several different parties – principally the Lib Dems, the Greens and the Brexit Party.
What will really worry both the main parties’ strategists is that many of those 2017 voters may get into the habit of voting for another party. Ashcroft’s figures make this starkly clear: only 43 per cent of 2017 Tory voters who turned out last Thursday said they would back the Conservatives next time out. The figures for Labour was 56 per cent — certainly better than the Tories, certainly pretty bad.
All of this comes with the usual caveat about turnout, but a bigger pinch of salt is needed because of the big political drama around the corner.
There’s a Tory leadership election, with a potential new-leader bounce in the polls for whoever wins it. A personality-driven race may help take the edge off this week’s meltdown, as well as keeping the Tory big beasts on the front pages for the forseeable future. The impending arrival of Donald Trump may have a similar analgaesic effect, by diverting the public’s attention for a bit.
Then there is the bigger and more difficult quesiton of what happens next with Brexit. How can one possibly account for the myriad effects of leaving the EU at the end of October without a deal, for instance?
On the one hand it might enhance a Brexiteer Tory PM’s credentials among Leave voters and shoot the Farage fox. On the other it might provoke turmoil that permanently scars the Conservatives’ reputation for competent stewardship of the economy. Pro-Europeans could desert the party, too, just to add to the maelstrom. That’s before we consider the possibility of another referendum in Scotland if Nicola Sturgeon gets her way.
These permutations are too many to predict with any confidence, but in the meantime these elections have at least given us a sense of the dissatisfaction many voters feel with the two biggest parties and the scale of the challenge they face in turning things round.
As has become clear from the last few days of not very private infighting among Labour’s top brass, plenty on the Corbyn front bench feel the time is nigh for a far clearer, more robustly pro-Remain view. That presents its own internal challenges, of course.
How can Jeremy Corbyn pivot from the fudged ‘Labour Brexit’ line he’s been trotting out for three years to the kind of ‘Remain and reform’ position now advocated by Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry? Is there any realistic prospect of a different leader than Corbyn taking the helm, given how well trying to unseat him has gone in the past?
In a way, the Conservatives’ task is both simpler and riskier, certainly in the longer term. Elect a leader and Prime Minister to deliver Brexit and sock it to Brussels, with the nuclear option of no deal firmly back on the table. It’s a strategy that may appeal to party members and plenty of MPs — whether it is a strategy to create a broad election-winning coalition is another matter entirely.
All the while Nigel Farage and the resurgent Lib Dems will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the potential spoils to come.
Welcome to June 2019, welcome to Streetwise Magazine