Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Theresa May must be the luckiest politician alive
In the wake of the Brexit vote, British politics has been equal parts enthralling and bug-nutty, bat shit crazy, with the three largest parties in the country all playing out various soap operas. The Prime Minister resigned, prompting his would be successors to begin a typical Tory blood letting. Labour back benchers mounted a coup against their leader, plunging the party still further behind in the polls. And the man arguably most responsible for securing the referendum, had a second crack at resigning as leader of UKIP and launched that party into internal warfare as well. Given the current landscape, our new Prime Minister could be forgiven for feeling a little smug.
Because for Theresa May's Conservative Party, there is currently little to no electoral threat. Her Majesty's opposition is missing in action. Jeremy Corbyn may have rallied several thousand young socialists to his cause, but the wider electorate who rejected Ed Miliband's brand of leftist politics at the last election aren't about to lend their vote to a man who's own politics make Red Ed look like the Iron Lady. The PLP might just know this, and could be why they launched a leadership challenge in the wake of Corbyn's sacking of Hillary Benn. However. far from solving the issue, their approach has all but consigned Labour to electoral oblivion. Their ultimate choice to challenge Corbyn isn't someone with a more centrist approach, but with equally strong socialists views. Indeed, Owen Smith's entire pitch for the leadership seems to be 'Corbyn's policies, but without the stigma'. Not that it really matters, even taking into account Labour's attempts to prevent entryism, Corbyn still enjoys the backing of huge swathes of the membership. It's incredibly likely that he will fend off Smith, and use his renewed mandate to truly purge the front bench of Blair/Brownites. This may will win him all those student votes that previously went to the Lib Dems (remember them?) but will alienate much of Labour's traditional working class support. Those people don't want the kind of state enforced egalitarianism Corbyn espouses, but the opportunities to climb the social ladder themselves.
This is precisely where UKIP should be planning to mount their assault. They already had strong second places in many of these Labour seats at the last general election and with the right approach could do to Labour in it's northern heartlands what the SNP did north of Hadrian's Wall. Prospective leadership candidate Steven Woolfe knew this, and it was precisely this platform on which he was launching his leadership bid. A charismatic, media-savvy operator of mixed race heritage and a working-class-lad-done-good back story, he was perfectly positioned to lead UKIP into the post-Farage era, clean up the party's image and take the fight to Labour in those northern towns and cities where their traditional base is feeling left behind. Alas for Woolfe, and much of the UKIP membership who support him, it's not to be. Following poor administration procedures, and an apparent attempt from some on UKIP's National Executive Committee to undermine his bid, Woolfe has been successfully kept off the leadership ballot. Three members of the NEC have resigned in protest, admonishing their colleagues in a statement, claiming the NEC is 'no longer fit for purpose' due to an 'escalating megalomania that is detrimental to the functioning of the party.' Those candidates that did get their paperwork in on time are mostly unknowns. The exception being the new favourite Diane James. Also confident in front of the TV cameras, but much too southern to really strike a chord in those northern constituencies where UKIP need to focus their efforts.
And amongst all this, Theresa May must be grinning like a loon. Having seen her main leadership challenger knifed by the next strongest contender, ultimately dooming both of them, she was able to ascend to the position of Tory Party Leader with little effort, and having got there, discovered that there's no party willing to challenge her government. Labour is sawing off the branch it's currently sat on and UKIP has tied it's own shoelaces together before the start of the race. This may give the government some much needed breathing room on Brexit, but a strong democracy needs a strong opposition and as it stands, there doesn't seem to be anyone in a position to provide it.