John Mills discusses the future of British politics, arguing UKIP lacks the coherent policy programme needed to attract a mass following and to capitalise on a Labour Party in disarray.

Who is going to oppose the Conservatives? This is now becoming a key question as none of the opposition parties seem capable of attracting a sufficient share of the electorate’s votes to have any chance of gaining power in the foreseeable future, even in a coalition.

Labour is now anything between 10 and 20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls and may be going to lose up to half its MPs at the next general election. The Lib Dems, although doing quite well currently in local government elections – and having just won a stunning by-election result in Richmond – still have only nine MPs. UKIP and the Greens have one each.

Short of an earthquake, it therefore looks as though the 2020 general election is likely to produce a large Conservative majority, faced with a divided and enfeebled opposition. The Conservatives – aided by Theresa May’s government stealing some of Labour’s clothes – have assembled a wide range of support from those who are doing reasonably well, and this looks like a substantial and sustainable bedrock of voters which is going to be very hard to shift.

Meanwhile those who are losing out – blue-collar workers in the North of England and the Midlands especially – have nowhere clear to go. Labour is perceived as being too metropolitan, too middle class, too public sector orientated, too intellectual and too idealistic and out of touch with traditional working class values and aspirations. UKIP is undoubtedly going to try to cash in on this disaffection but – apart from its support for Brexit – the party has no coherent policies likely to attract a mass following. It therefore seems unlikely that it is going to achieve the success of parties such as the Five Star Movement in Italy, which now attracts over 30 per cent of the votes.

There will always be a place for the Greens, but there are never going to be enough of them to gain sufficient electoral traction for them to be a force in parliament. The Lib Dems will very probably recover a fair amount of their recently lost support, but they will only gain sufficient votes to win parliamentary seats – and not enough of them to make a big difference – because of their role in attracting protest votes from parties big enough to form governments and thus to have to take unpopular decisions. The SNP will very probably continue to dominate Scotland but, by definition, it cannot become a UK-wide force any more than can the DUP fulfil this role.

So, are we going to have Conservative governments with large majorities as far ahead as we can see? Possibly, although what may look inevitable now may not turnout this way. Several things might happen to change the political landscape radically. The Conservative Party – always an uneasy coalition between its One Nation and its more diehard wings – might fragment. Labour may get its act back together and see off UKIP by changing its approach and successfully attracting back the blue-collar votes which it has been losing. An outside possibility, for which there might be quite widespread support, would be a change at some stage in the electoral system, bringing us closer to proportional representation, but this seems to be very unlikely to happen soon, particularly in the light of both certain Conservative opposition and the AV vote in 2011.

And then, as always, there are unexpected events. We live in very unsettled times and the world may look very different in five years’ time to what it does now. What will happen with Brexit? Will the EU still exist in anything like its present form? What will a Trump government do? Will there be another financial crisis? What is going to happen in the Middle East – and in China? What impact will major developments on any of these fronts have on the UK’s domestic politics? It is very hard to tell, but don’t rule out the possibility of seismic changes which could completely change the UK’s political balance.

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