This is very much written for those of you overseas who might have heard a few things via your media about a new party emerging in the UK and sweeping to victory in the European elections. Well, yes, but see more below.
First, let’s back-track a bit. If you remember, after several weeks of intense happenings in the Mother of Parliaments they all went on a jolly (Easter) holiday and returned to, what? Well, nothing much, or that’s what it seemed at the time. I do believe that there were some desultory and very lukewarm talks between the Labour Party and Mrs May, which dribbled into not very much and then were abandoned. I also understand that at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) Brexit was the subject that ‘did not arise’ and was ‘never to be mentioned’. Tusk had said, don’t waste the time (of this extension) but it felt as though the government was doing exactly that.
Then finally, earlier this month, some action began with the local council elections, which resulted in both the main parties losing many seats. Here’s an example. The area where I live is very conservative with a big and small c. The only literature we received was from the Labour Party, which said, over and over, that they were that near to beating the Tories, and no-one else could, so would you please…. so we did. And the result? Three councillors of the Green persuasion got in – wow! Felt slightly sheepish to have voted Labour but my only aim was to defeat the Tories and they were, coming in second with Labour in third place. Brighton is a very Green area, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but around the country there was an interesting development in that the Liberal Democrats were on a roll, and increased their seats exponentially.
Meanwhile at the beginning of last week we had Mrs May saying we really ought get that Withdrawal Agreement before Parliament again (was it the 4th time – I’ve lost count) which was so preposterous that after several (I would imagine quite intense) meetings, which we read, she resisted at first, she announced her resignation (although she’s hanging around until the new leader is elected) ending her statement with a wobble of emotion in her voice. Sorry Mrs May, but not sorry. A simply dreadful Prime Minister with no ability to do anything but stick rigidly to her red lines and ‘Brexit means Brexit’ stance, which has led to a situation where we are more likely than ever to crash out, particularly with the new leaders-in-waiting waving the flag for a no-deal Brexit. But before I get on to that, another reason for disliking the woman so intensely is that she is the architect of the so-called hostile environment, which led to people who’d lived here for decades being hounded to leave the UK. Vile.
The race is now on to find a replacement for Mrs May with, is it 10, or more, under-performing and not particularly competent types vying with each other to lead the Conservative party and consequently the country. Apparently Boris Johnson (a puffing buffoon) and Dominic Raab (geographically confused) are front runners. However, just saying, front-runners often don’t win party leadership races, and there are some interesting developments re: Johnson happening as I write.
Then we had the European elections and apparently a party that is not party (I believe it’s a limited company) set up 6 weeks ago with no manifesto and just one issue – the main parties have failed you, so let’s get out of the EU pronto – with Nigel Farage at its head swept the board and came pretty much first everywhere. Yes, the Brexit party won 29 seats followed by the resurgent Lib Dems with 16 seats, Labour 10, Green 7, Conservatives 4, and SNP 3. So it looks an absolute disaster on the part of the Conservatives and a pretty comprehensive victory for the Brexit party. But, it’s not that simple. Here’s one prediction – there will not now be a General Election (until, that is, there absolutely has to be one) as the current Tory MPs are unlikely to vote for their demise. And does that new party have a clear majority for a no-deal scenario? Not really. Furthermore, does that kind of result – coming from a roar of rage from one sector of society translate to a referendum or a General Election? One survey conducted just before the EU elections authored by an academic found that in a second referendum 43% said they’d vote remain and 43% said they’d vote to leave.
What does this result mean? Yes, both the main parties lost out. And I do see the Brexit party’s gains as a cry of rage from many in the UK at those main parties, neither of which I see truly engaging with that rage and anxiety. This is not just about Brexit. We are a divided, unequal country dragged down by austerity and the slow growth of people’s wages, along with the cutting to the bone of all our public services. I would say also, we’re not quite sure who we are – we, being the English. So, of course, we’ll be better off leaving the EU and managing things our own way, with no interference, won’t we? Let’s get our sovereignty back, a term I find a tad unexplained when you ask people exactly what they mean by sovereignty. Yet who engages with that feeling? Because this is not about logic – moving away from our best and biggest market – this is about feelings. Who will lead us out of this existential crisis? Certainly not the Tories, but neither I think, will the Labour Party. Or correct me, do, if I’m wrong there.
What next? Well, because we return to the same old, same old House of Commons, with the same number of MPs as before, nothing changes. The maths just isn’t there to get any agreement through. Therefore any new leader elected (and who knows who that will be) will have the same problem that Mrs May had – we are a divided country and we have a divided Parliament, that knows what it doesn’t want, but doesn’t know what it does want.
Unbelievably – well no, everything and anything is believable now – they’re all due to go on yet another holiday. So everything comes to a stop.
If I have any predictions they are that a new leader will promise much and deliver nought. Or perhaps a little change here or there in the Withdrawal Agreement wording – maybe. But the weeks leading up to the October deadline will be feverish and fraught, and the very opposite of strong and stable government. Mrs May, I’m afraid, will be judged by the history books and that phrase will haunt her legacy.
Penny Kocher 29 May 2019
For further reading:
EU Election results 2019. The Guardian 26 May 2019
Aditya Chakrabortty Britain is in the grip of an existential crisis that reaches far beyond Brexit. The Guardian 29 May 2019
Anand Menon What do the EU elections mean for Brexit? It’s complicated. The Guardian 28 May 2019
Paul Whiteley Nigel Farage triumphs: survey reveals what drove voters to the Brexit Party in the European elections. The Conversation 28 May 2019