A fortune cookie for 2018

by John Wall

After David Cameron secured a small majority in 2015 only to be replaced by Theresa May a year later on losing the referendum promised to get the kipper vote, many expected 2017 to be relatively uneventful. The triggering of Article 50 started the Brexit countdown and Corbyn was a long way behind.

One tumultuous year on, May’s failed gamble of a snap general election left her leading a minority government dependent upon the DUP, whereas a better than expected performance means that Corbyn looks like leading Labour for the foreseeable future.

It looks like UKIP were a one man band and a one trick pony although it’s unlikely there would have been a referendum in 2016 without them. They’ve subsequently haemorrhaged support and change leaders – the latest rose without trace – more frequently than some change their socks. Farage’s outrage” at May’s deal to end Brexit Phase 1 was little more than an attempt to stay relevant.

Their local government presence seems to be in terminal decline and could be extinct by the early 2020s. Unless something happens they’ll soon be like Monty Python’s parrot.

The LibDems are the only overwhelmingly pro-EU, anti-Brexit national party but their 48% strategy failed. The 2010-15 coalition did a lot of damage but they started to recover after the referendum. In 2017 they gained MPs, but on a reduced share. They are winning council by-elections but their national poll ratings are static.

They’re a victim of the squeeze between 2015 when the two main parties achieved 67.2% of the vote and 2017 when they got 82.4%. Many see them as primarily a party of protest and some of the ill-conceived things – fox hunting!!! – in the Conservative manifesto may have driven their support to a lifelong protestor in Corbyn. The 2015 Conservative pitch to kippers was that only a vote in the blue corner would deliver a referendum, in 2017 only a vote in the red corner could prevent a Conservative landslide.

As Brexit happens they will need to reinvent themselves.

The Conservatives are shell shocked and May deserves the “Survivor of the Year” award after her – self inflicted – annus horribilus. The Conservative party is remarkably lacking in sentiment and the lack of a serious alternative is a major reason for her continued presence in No. 10.

Boris is gaffe prone and has problems with detail. George “Frustrated of Fleet Street” Osborne would have been credible and must now bitterly regret his decision to leave the Commons. Although a Remainer, he was a heavyweight, but not without baggage such as the omnishambles and pasty tax.

May has confounded many and looks like seeing Brexit through, but few expect her to lead the Conservatives into the next election.

Having scraped through Phase 1 May is now faced with Phase 2 and less posturing would be welcome as the media are very good at making politicians – irrespective of the colour of their rosette – look foolish.

Although the Irish border caused aggravation the real issue was money. The current EU budget runs until 2021 and if the UK stopped paying in 2019 either the programme would have to be scaled back or the hat passed around again. Sorting this out, together with agreement to cover future liabilities like pensions, must have resulted in sighs of relief around Europe.

Phase 2 may expose divisions in Europe as there will be different priorities. These will probably be opportunistic, dogmatic or pragmatic.

There are some who’d like a piece of London’s financial services “action”.

Those concerned about other countries leaving have seen Marine le Pen’s progress, the rise of AfD and other UKIPish parties – including one now in coalition in Austria – and will not want a favourable outcome for the UK.

Were the UK economy to take a hit the consequences would be felt in Europe as we have a significant deficit with the rest of the EU; a poorer Britain buys less.

This suggests a series of bunfights within the EU27 and as they have to reach unanimity obstacles might not only come from the UK.

Notwithstanding the rocky road of Brexit there are still numerous domestic issues to address.

Corbyn predicted a Labour government by Christmas 2017 and is now expecting to be in Downing Street by the end of 2018, but the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would require the Conservatives to vote for an election.

It’s clear that the “plan” to gain the 60+ seats for an overall majority is, essentially, “one more heave” although had there been another election in 2017 Corbyn might have had the momentum – and Momentum.

To get power you have to attract some who voted for the other main party; one switcher is “worth” twice the vote of a non-voter. Thatcher and Blair reached out to achieve large majorities, but the 2017 increase in the Conservative vote and share (although less than Labour’s) indicates minimal switching to Labour.

Corbyn’s appeal ranges from the young who see something new (to them) to the class war warriors who, like him, never accepted the Kinnock/Blair project to make Labour more social democratic than socialist. There is little to suggest he can attract Conservatives and his baggage makes this unlikely.

He wants an election but isn’t the master of his own destiny and there are clouds on the horizon.

(1) Much has been written about Momentum, its “loyalty” test and the ongoing/planned “purge” of “moderates”. The picture is variable because of Momentum’s uneven strength.

It’s difficult to argue against members, the footsoldiers, selecting candidates but, as Luciana Berger’s experience shows, some Corbynistas want delegates not representatives.

Ideological purity might not be appealing; a CND supporter would have difficulties in a nuclear area as would a Stop The War type in a military area.

A deselected MP or Councillor with a good record is likely to have personal support and, if they stood, could split the vote. Alternatively they might join another party and the LibDems would appear to be the obvious home for social democrats (those on the left who don’t accept that the answer is always more government and taxation) fleeing Corbynista Labour.

Momentum is still growing and it will be interesting to see whether any “names” are replaced and, if so, do others jump before they can be pushed. It’s uncertain whether the boundary changes to reduce the number of MPs will happen but this would, effectively, mean mandatory reselection.

(2) Corbynista control of the Conference Arrangements Committee represents an opportunity to change policies on things such as Trident which might also result in an exodus.

(3) Intimidation has increased since Corbyn’s ascent; almost twice as many Conservatives (68%) as Labour (36%) were victims in 2017, and the previously reported abuse of female Labour MPs is part of the same problem.

This is the inevitable consequence of “no enemies to the left” and an influx of unsavoury types, some from a revolutionary not parliamentary tradition, the sort who spit at those attending Conservative conferences and see those they disagree with as “enemies” not “opponents”.

Without action there is spiralling tit-for-tat and a ratchet effect but, as with antisemitism, it appears that it’s more important to be a “comrade” than a member of the human race.

(4) 2017 produced the greatest squeeze of the minor parties (15% more than 2015) for decades and Labour benefited about twice as much as the Conservatives. A recovery by, in particular, the LibDems should hurt Labour more and, as previously suggested, “purged” social democrats could end up there. The thought of the LDs becoming “New New Labour” is intriguing, but stranger things have happened!

(5) Labour has (many) problems with Brexit, including accepting that factors such as immigration contributed. This is longstanding, after the 2015 election Cruddas concluded that there was a disconnect between traditional Labour voters and the membership – the Corbynistas are even further away. Ambivalence on, in particular, immigration is not going to win these back.

Despite the “No deal is better than a bad deal” rhetoric it’s clear that May is committed to one. A lot of time, effort and (financial as well as) political capital went into concluding Phase 1 and she was applauded by other European leaders. As previously outlined there are likely to be different objectives within the EU27, but they could be concerned that, if May goes, whistling lessons might be required.

Immediately after the election I asked “Has Corbyn’s elastic stretched as far as it can?” and after a summer campaigning but with the end of 2017 polls showing both main parties still around 40-42% I may have been right. There is, of course, a massive assumption here – that the polls are (reasonably) accurate.

Haringey looks like becoming Momentum controlled in 2018, but is this the result of some who “never engage with reality” or because of “a brittle, dogmatic leadership that couldn’t handle well-founded dissent”?

Corbyn’s unilateralist views are well known so would he attempt to block an anti-Trident Conference motion in 2018 or 2019? Young Labour have shown the way and with an expansionist Russia, an inward looking “America First”, Putin-hugging Trump and Korea this could be a gift for the Conservatives.

It’s difficult to predict the actions of Momentum, whether there will be high profile deselections and/or defections, if Labour will become unilateralist and what the consequences would be.

The Conservatives have to deliver Brexit and there does not have to be an election before June 2022. It would suit them to get the boundary changes through, whilst talent-spotting the 2010, or even 2015, intake (Cameron was elected in 2001 and became leader in 2005), planning an election and watching Labour turn the clock back.

After two referendums and two elections in four years a little peace and quiet would be good but, as the ancient Chinese curse says, we live in interesting times.

John Wall is a former member of the Conservatives

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7 Responses to “A fortune cookie for 2018”

  1. Tafia says:

    When we BREXIT in just over a year, all the political parties are going to fragment and re-align from top to bottom whether they want o or not and very very quickly and out of their control whether they want to or not.

    The immediate future belongs to those who can make policy and alignment up at the same time as they are sprinting, with regards to a new world they know nothing about.

  2. Anne says:

    Not sure if I agree with all your speculation John.
    The Labour Party has the young vote and, at the moment, it could be said the Tories the elder voters, but that could change if enough of the elder voters could become disappointed with the way the Tories are managing public services, especially the nhs and social care. Remember that the elderly are the main users of these services. I also think that most of the train travellers are totally fed up with the service – most, I think, would support nationalisation of this service.
    Not sure about deselection either – didn’t JC talk of movement to the centre ground in his recent speech – does this mean inclusion of those on the right of the Party. I have also heard Angela Raynor say there should be no deselections. I have also read that Labour are to take control of many of the councils in the May London elections.
    This, however, could be overtaken by the actions of the House of Lords in 2018 – most of the Lords are anti Brexit – hasn’t Lord Hesteltine said he would rather see a Labour government than Brexit. Could their actions force a general election in 2018?

  3. Alf says:

    A small number of our New Labour dinosaurs do need to be shown the door. But I suspect many will simply leave politics now they know the game’s up.

  4. John Wall says:

    @Anne – the Conservatives had a very senior citizen unfriendly manifesto in 2017, but older people still voted overwhelmingly in the blue corner. This, I suspect, was because they remembered the mess the country was in the last time the Corbyn/McDonnell approach was tried. There are problems with the NHS, but it isn’t all down to funding. See https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/01/its-time-to-stop-burying-hard-truths-about-the-nhs/

    “While some countries with better health outcomes spend a higher percentage of their GDP on healthcare (like Germany and France), other countries, like Australia and Iceland, are spending roughly equal or less and also delivering better results.”

    If you believe that nationalisation of the railways would improve the service you’re living in fantasy land. Over the past couple of decades the number of passengers increased dramatically, but I suspect this was not seen as a long-term trend. Consequently the investment in extra capacity was late. The timescales for planning and implementation are long – longer than a parliament – so there won’t be any political brownie points. The expansion of London Bridge has just about finished – a four year project, but with probably a couple of years planning before work started.

    I don’t know whether there will be deselections – but there is plenty of “chatter” to that effect. I’ve heard rumours – and I’m not in the Labour Party – to the effect that several long-serving Labour councillors in my area could be on the way out because of the influx of hard-left Corbynistas.

  5. Tafia says:

    didn’t JC talk of movement to the centre ground
    Not as such. He was suggesting that the centr gtound had moved to him and he was now the new centre ground. And he wasn’t refering to the electorate as a whole – he was referring to the Labour Party. In other words he was saying the Labour Party’s centre had moved leftwards.

    Could their actions force a general election in 2018
    Go on then, exp[lain how exactly. The Fixed Term Act makes an early election impossible unless the Commons tories want one.

  6. Anne says:

    John I am not saying that nationalisation is going to solve all of the rail problems but it must be considered better than what is presently in existence. I have family members who commute into London for work, and, to me, pay an exorbitant amount for this and for a very poor service. My sympathies are entirely with the rail users, who at present are being very poorly served.
    I also value, and believe what Lord Adonis has to say and I believe he is correct in his criticism of the transport minister. I also believe there is a great north/south divide in this matter with a greater amount being in the south, mainly on the cross rail project.
    On the nhs, and, I do speak from vast experience, money, although more is required, is not all the answer but the issue of nhs and social care has to be addressed – we have an ageing population, and I don’t consider Mrs May’ s plan of cancelling planned operations is acceptable.

  7. John Wall says:

    @Anne – there has been a policy in recent years that those who use the railways should pay a greater percentage of the cost. There are millions who never use the railways……

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