Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Limbo Politics in Britain

The United Kingdom is in a political limbo. There are several reasons for this; Brexit, the weakness of Theresa May and the lack of credible alternatives.

When the United Kingdom voted narrowly in 2016 to leave the European Union, we knew there would be a period of uncertainty. Once Article 50 was triggered there would be a two year period for negotiations on the deal, and then the UK's membership would be finished.

However, since then negotiations have not progressed very much, and neither side has really been able to gain anything like an advantage. Part of the problem is the impression given that the UK government hasn't really worked out what it wants. Prime Minister Theresa May has repeated, many times, that 'Brexit means Brexit' and that 'no deal is better than a bad deal.'

This has meant there is a lot of uncertainty over the future, and what sort of deal will emerge, if any. But whatever we end up with, it will take many years for the full impact of Brexit to unravel, and so some decisions will be on hold for some time.  

The problem is, that the government's, and Mrs. May's, negotiating position is severely weakened by the result of the general election, which instead of the expected large Conservative majority, resulted in a hung Parliament, with the Conservatives cobbling together a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to be able to form a governing majority.

Mrs. May's position has been put in doubt by the result, and there is an appearance that at least one of her rivals, Boris Johnson, is manoeuvring himself into position and constantly undermining her by making comments related to Brexit.

Unfortunately for Mrs. May, her speech at the Conservative conference was somewhat hijacked by 'comedian' Simon Brodkin (which raised concerns about security) handing her a P45, which was followed by a series of coughing fits. While she handled these situations fairly deftly, it is the impression that is created that counts. Perception is everything, and these mishaps didn't create a air of confidence; not aided by letters falling off the board behind her as she spoke.

The message of her speech; energy prices, tuition fees which she wanted to get across are being buried by these events, and the news channels concentrate on the mishaps, rather than the positive message she tried to convey.

However, the Prime Minister does have a couple of things in her favour. Firstly, that none of those who would be considered rivals for her job; Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd do not convince either. In fact, at least two of them would almost certainly be worse, and not enough is known about Amber Rudd to judge her abilities. Her very slim majority in Hastings does not help her cause if the position becomes vacant.

The second thing that favours her is the lack of alternatives from other parties. Jeremy Corbyn had a good election campaign, and the Labour Party bit into the Conservative vote enough to deny them a majority. There are various reasons for this; the paucity of the Tory campaign, the collapse of the Ukip vote and the failure of the Liberal Democrats to gain ground (despite ending up with four extra seats).

However, if Labour were unable to win against the worst Conservative campaign in living memory, and possibly any other for that matter, many question whether they can win next time. The party still has to show it can be trusted with the economy, even if you believe that to be an unfair perception, and it's still struggling to get that view countered.

The Conservatives, obviously, don't want to take that risk, and so will cling onto government (I'm reluctant to say power) for as long as possible, hoping that Labour's polling figures will fade over time.

Divisions within Labour still exist, although they put them aside, in the main, for the election campaign, and they may widen over time, especially as the election result, and various internal changes have strengthened Mr. Corbyn's grip on the party. He is entitled to do this, as he can claim that he did a lot better than expected, putting him in a position of strength.

Recent polling is still has the parties running very close, and so it appears the public does not really have that much confidence in either of them, but now we've returned to a two-party system, the alternatives, due in part to the electoral system, are very limited.

The Liberal Democrats failed to make any sort of breakthrough at the election. They gained four seats overall, but actually lost votes. Their leader at the time, Tim Farron, got embroiled in issues surrounding his personal beliefs, and eventually resigned because he couldn't reconcile those beliefs with being leader of the Liberal Democrats.

He has been succeeded by for Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is making all sorts of noises, but the Lab Democrats have a long way to go before they're a real voice again. They've tried to position themselves as the voice of the 48% that voted to remain in the European Union, but that has failed to gain ground.

Ukip's fall was the most spectacular, as their votes went to the Conservative and Labour parties, and they lost their single MP. They also lost their leader, Paul Nuttall, and have recently elected Henry Bolton to replace him. Ukip have tried to position themselves as the 'conscience of Brexit' and their future is dependent on how the negotiations go, and whether they start to regain some of their support.

So despite her weakened position, Mrs. May is safe for the time being. None of her potential rivals enthuses the electorate, the main opposition still does not persuade that they are ready for government. The economic future is very uncertain because negotiations with the EU have yet to progress sufficiently to see where the country will end up.

The DUP deal will enable the government to stay in place for at least two years, and by then a lot of things may have changed. New candidates for the top jobs in government will have emerged, some of whom may prove to have public appeal. Labour will continue to reshape itself, and could be in position to form a government if it wins the next election.

The UK in going to be in this limbo for some time, economically and politically, and there is no way of knowing which way things will go; only time will tell.


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