A nation divided

So the results of the European elections are in, and they reveal that the population, or at least the 37% of it not too alienated to vote, is almost completely polarised on the Brexit question. This is not particularly surprising, given that politicians at Westminster have spent the last three years systematically trashing the whole concept of compromise, but it is still quite depressing.

What is clear is that the next Prime Minister, whoever he or she turns out to be, will have absolutely no democratic mandate to take the UK out of the EU, or indeed to stay in. In a rational world there would be a general election, but it seems unlikely that a new Conservative leader would care to take another chance with the electorate, so it’s just about possible to imagine that he or she might seek to circumvent a deadlocked parliament by going straight to the people with a second referendum. It is looking like Labour, which haemorrhaged votes to more openly pro-remain parties, is belatedly coming round to the idea that a new plebiscite is the way to break the impasse.

On the other hand, the Tories are almost certainly going to pick a hard-core leaver to succeed Theresa May, and there isn’t really much anyone could do to stop them leading the country over the cliff when the article 50 extension runs out in October. There is talk that more sensible members of the parliamentary party would support the opposition in a no-confidence vote in such circumstances, but that seems like a slender thread to hang the future of the nation on.

Either way the newly respectable far-right are going to be happy – if there is another referendum they will have a betrayal narrative to exploit (and they may even win again), and if there is a no-deal exit the resulting chaos will be a great opportunity for recruitment.

Can an unhappy outcome be averted? Perhaps, if the left seizes the opportunity to counter the tide of reaction by positively making the case for internationalism and tolerance, but it’s going to be a hard struggle.

 

There may be trouble ahead

So, after hanging on grimly to her premiership for what seems like forever, Theresa May has bid us a tearful adieu. The identity of our next Prime Minister, and with it the fate of the nation, and perhaps the continent, lies in the hands of around 300 Conservative MPs, who will choose two candidates to go forward to the final reckoning, at the end of which a victor will be anointed by the hundred thousand or so elderly oddballs who make up the Tory party membership. What could possibly go wrong?

Darkness before the dawn

On the eve of what promises to be another disastrous electoral experience for the Conservative party, what little authority Theresa May still has is rapidly draining away, as cabinet ministers openly question her judgment, and backbenchers bay for her immediate resignation.

This might be amusing, were it not for the fact that the main beneficiaries of the Tory meltdown look likely to be the extreme right, currently coalescing around the Brexit party. With the pro-Remain vote split, the resulting narrative seems set to be one of triumph for the forces of reaction.

I’m not too discouraged by this though. The immediate practical consequence will be that the next Conservative leader, most likely Boris Johnson, will feel obliged to pull the party even further rightward, which does not seem like a strategy for success in the general election which must surely happen sometime before October. Assuming that Labour move far enough towards promising a second referendum to capture most of the votes of the anti-Brexit constituency, we might well have a progressive government before the end of the year.

Local confusion

After a relative period of calm over the Easter holidays, politics has broken out again with a vengeance, as voters had their first chance to deliver a verdict on the Brexit debacle in the local elections.

But what was that verdict? Superficially it seems obvious; the populace is mightily pissed-off with the establishment parties. This mainly affected the Conservatives, who lost over 1300 seats, but also Labour, who failed to make any progress, despite the Tory meltdown; instead the beneficiaries were the Lib Dems and the Greens, plus a host of independent candidates.

The cause of this mass disaffection is less clear-cut though. Are people annoyed that Brexit hasn’t been delivered, or are they signalling that they want a second referendum? The gains posted by the Liberals and the Greens suggest that the latter is true, but the absence of an unambiguously pro-Brexit alternative to the Conservatives on most of the ballots may have limited the scale of the anti-EU protest. In any case the results are skewed by the fact that important remain heartlands like Scotland and London weren’t voting in this cycle.

Of course this uncertainty hasn’t stopped politicians from all parties declaring that this outcome unequivocally supports their position, whether that is Leave or Remain, and it seems unlikely that there will be any significant changes as a result of it. It does increase the pressure on Theresa May to somehow secure a deal in time to cancel the European parliament elections at the end of the month, since that poll is likely to be even more of a horror show for the Tories, but the Westminster numbers just don’t add up; the concessions that might get Labour on board – a customs union, perhaps a confirmatory vote – would alienate large swathes of her own party. Labour have little incentive to help her out; they may do badly in the Euro vote, but the Conservatives will undoubtedly do worse, and the fallout may precipitate the general election that Jeremy Corbyn has been aiming for all along.

So, we’re back on the Brexit rollercoaster; no doubt the political classes will be up to fever pitch by the time we vote on the 23rd. I’ll try to keep up the commentary, but it might all get too much…