With the Party conference season over, now is a good moment to assess the broad political landscape, because whichever way you look at it, it’s not pretty.
Much has been written about the problems faced by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and doesn’t need too much repetition here. Safe to say that with one recent ICM poll showing the Conservatives a whopping 17% ahead of Labour, it doesn’t take much to work out that the party won’t regain power until a moderate, centre ground politician re-takes control. Yet a poll of those who re-elected Corbyn, revealed that, for them, power doesn’t matter – 65% of his supporters said that it’s more important to be a party of principle than a party aspiring to form a government.
So, superficially, these may be happy days for the Conservatives. The Government faces little opposition in Parliament – and today would be re-elected even if led by a billy goat. But this masks the reality that the Conservatives are in trouble. A Labour Party led by even a half-decent moderate would quickly have Theresa May on the ropes.
Amber Rudd’s party conference speech, threatening to make companies publish details of foreign employees, has lit the blue touch paper on Brexit once again. If anybody was in any doubt, Brexit negotiations are going to be very tough indeed. A “hard” Brexit now looks unavoidable.
The Conservatives remain deeply divided on the European question. Some are demanding that Parliament be given the right to vote on Brexit, something May seems determined to prevent – today at least. Yet there is an emerging cross-party consensus that a vote should be allowed, and May could find herself forced to concede. Heaven knows what happens if Parliament were to vote against Brexit.
And there are storm clouds on the domestic front too. May has opened up a possible civil war on grammar schools, and while the economy may be in better shape today than many expected, the real impact of Brexit on the economy has yet to kick in.
Now roll the clock forward two years… Brexit negotiations have gone badly wrong – and if at the end of the two year period allowed for negotiating Brexit after Article 50 is triggered (let’s say March 2019) no deal has actually been reached the UK could be unceremoniously thrown out of the EU unless all other 27 members states unanimously agree to extend the timetable – and there can be no guarantee of that.
Assume then that in March 2019 the economy has stagnated as companies stop investing or even relocate outside the UK, inflation and unemployment are rising, and May is leading a party that is at best restless, at worst angry. What if by March 2019 Corbyn has been miraculously replaced with somebody who is actually credible and electable? Today, he may look unassailable until 2020, but if a week is a long time in politics, two and a half years is a lifetime. The chances of Corbyn making a real mess of things, and finally losing a third leadership challenge during the summer of 2018, shouldn’t be ruled out.
As the Conservatives then suddenly look at the prospect of fighting the 2020 general election against a revitalised Labour Party, don’t be surprised if May’s own position is under real threat. Where’s George Osborne then?