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15/07/2016

The curious case of…party politics

 

 

Much has been written about the troubles that have beset the
Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn took office nine months ago. With a reasonable
electoral track record, and a vast swathe of party members supporting him, it is
proving a difficult task to oust Mr Corbyn from his position. A Labour Party in
disarray should be good news for the Conservatives, but there will still be
some nerves about whether they could actually win a majority at another
election. While there is no doubt Brexit means Brexit, could we see a
possibility of remainer Theresa May benefitting from the current status quo
further down the line? 

Angela Eagle has taken the noble step of sacrificing herself
in order to change the overall direction of the Labour Party, but she was
amusingly trumped
in publicity
by Andrea Leadsom stepping down from the Conservative leadership
race, and clearing the way for Theresa May to become prime minister. At the
moment, it isn’t known whether Ms Eagle, or Owen Smith, would command enough
support from the wider party to win a leadership challenge, but it looks
unlikely.

It may be tempting for a prime minister to call an election and
crush an already wounded opponent; Mrs May has ruled
out
the chance of a general election in the foreseeable future. As David
Cameron and George Osborne discovered, a small majority can make life difficult
for the government and surely it would have been tempting for Mrs May to try
and gain a more workable majority if she felt she could. Despite what many
Labour MPs are saying about Jeremy Corbyn, the national polling isn’t
disastrous for Labour, and a Conservative majority isn’t a sure-fire guarantee,
never mind an increased one.

There may, however, be some advantages of the current
situation for the new prime minister. Theresa May favoured remain in the
referendum campaign, and will have seen first-hand the trouble that
backbenchers caused her former boss.  If
her primary goal is to get a deal that maintains a close relationship with
Europe, she may feel able to do that by appealing to disillusioned Labour MPs,
Liberal Democrats, and even the SNP, who all favoured remain. She has appointed
a team that will clearly take Brexit seriously, with Boris Johnson, Liam Fox
and David Davis all prominent Conservatives well known for their dislike of the
European game, but if they strike a deal that doesn’t cut the mustard with
Conservative backbenchers, it could cause problems.

One thing politicians like is a legacy (just ask Mr Blair),
and Mrs May will surely love to come in to Number 10 and save the day when the
country is on its knees. If she genuinely does believe the UK is still better
off closer to Europe, she will find no better time to work with Labour MPs who currently
have little or no loyalty left for their own Leader, if she feels it becomes
necessary. The Tories only have a majority of 12, so it is well within the
power of a few backbenchers to scupper any proposed deal. On the other hand, that
means it would only take a handful of other MPs to swing the balance back in
the Government’s favour.

Ideologically, it is hard to say where Mrs May stands: she’s
Conservative, and that’s about all we know. While as Home Secretary she pursued
an eclectic mix of authoritarian and liberal policies, Ken Clarke commented
that she is above all else a pragmatist that will make her own mind up. Few
leaders are presented with such a blatant and important issue to create their
own legacy, and it’s hard to think of a more pragmatic approach to Brexit than
working with other parties instead of particular factions of one’s own, if it
comes to that.

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