While the British political landscape is dominated by uncertainty, Peter Bingle argues we are entering a period of hegemony for the Conservative Party.
I have spent the last thirty-five years advising clients (and anybody else who will listen!) on the British political system. During those years I have observed great change. Yet there was always an underlying logic which explained why change was taking place and what the political implications were likely to be. In essence Thatcher created Blair who in turn created Cameron…
It was always unclear who was the natural successor to Cameron and his brand of modern Conservatism. For a very long time many commentators expected Osborne to inherit the crown. It was not to be. Like so many previous presumed successors he is no more. And the reason for his demise is fascinating – the decision by his friend David Cameron to commit to holding a referendum on our membership of the EU.
Cameron’s major flaw was that pragmatism always came before principle. To this day I have no real idea what his deep political feelings amounted to. So in many ways it is entirely fitting that it was the referendum that destroyed him. Why? Because he gave the commitment to hold a referendum only because he never thought that he would have to deliver on the pledge. Why? Because he never believed that there would be an outright Tory win in May 2015’s general election.
The unexpected Tory victory unleashed a series of political changes which broke politics as we knew it. The immediate resignation of Ed Miliband resulted in the disaster that is Jeremy Corbyn. For the foreseeable future the Labour Party is irrelevant. The immediate resignation of Nick Clegg resulted in the disaster that is Tim Farron. The Lib Dems have reverted to their traditional role of total irrelevance. The referendum result has also removed the reason for UKIP’s existence and they seem intent on becoming a political joke rather than challenging the Labour Party in its former northern heartlands.
The irony of Cameron’s election victory in 2015 is that in destroying his political opponents he also destroyed himself and his chancellor. More importantly what was once certain in politics is no longer so with one important exception. The Tories will be in power for the foreseeable future and perhaps even longer!
The coronation of Theresa May is important for a number of reasons. It confirmed the Tory Party’s reputation for being the most brutal political organisation in the business. It is also showed that the party’s MPs correctly understood the public mood for a period of dull but competent government after the nastiness of the referendum campaign. After ordinary voters reluctantly but comprehensively destroyed the old political regime on 23rd June and then went back to work the next morning and carried on with their lives there was a desire not to be disturbed again until May 2020. Theresa May understands this. Voters just want her to get on with the business of governing. She seems to be rather good at it.
The Labour Party is in a bad place. The very idea of Corbyn and McDonnell running Her Majesty’s Opposition is both ridiculous and terrifying. Here are two politicians who have no desire to play by the rules of the game. They reject the rules and want to play a different game. They are not interested in the boring business of winning elections. They want to create a radical mass movement which can be mobilised. There is nothing scarier than the rule of the mob. It has no conscience and does not understand the notion of compromise. Mandatory reselection of MPs will happen because of the proposed boundary changes. No wonder so many Labour MPs are depressed and fearful of what the future holds both for them and their party. They are right to be fearful. The madmen are now running the asylum.
So although we are entering a period of Tory hegemony the future of British politics is very uncertain. Governments need effective opposition. At the moment only the SNP are providing that. It is hard not to see the Labour Party splitting. It is even more hard taking Tim Farron seriously. Perhaps the Green Party will replace the Lib Dems as the protest party for the frustrated middle classes. The only beneficiary of all this uncertainty is Theresa May.
So what advice am I giving to my clients? The first gem is very simple. Don’t waste your money attending Labour or Lib Dem conference this year. There is no point. The next is to spend time talking to former ministers to find out what worked and didn’t work during the Cameron years. Lastly, take the time to get to know newly appointed ministers and advisers. I suspect that there will be profound policy changes in the months ahead. It follows that organisations have to be very clear about what they want.
Politics has rarely been as interesting as it is now. The mould of British politics has been smashed to bits. The future has never been more uncertain unless you are a Tory in which case these are happy days indeed!