Reports of Hard Brexit’s Death Have Been Exaggerated. For Now...
That the loser spent the days after his defeat touring the TV studios while the Prime Minister holed herself in Downing Street not shuffling her Cabinet spoke volumes: with twenty-eight seats with Tory majorities under 2,000, the next election suddenly looks very winnable for Labour.
While all the parliamentary arithmetic points to another election, no Conservative leader is going to call one willingly nor does the Fixed-term Parliament Act make it easy. Jeremy Corbyn appeared political buried by his unpopular poll ratings: now he would have to be dead, buried and with a stake through his heart and still any Tory would think more than twice before risking it.
That leader will, of course, not be May. She’s toast. The question is merely when her party puts her out of her misery.
It is a damning indictment of the Cameron years that there is no obvious successor but the Tories also have conflicting needs. Like Gordon Brown before her, May’s leadership coronation worked against her: confident in set pieces, she struggled on the campaign trail. Yet the Tories cannot afford to indulge in a lengthy leadership squabble as the nation nervously watches its economy disappear down the plughole.
Therefore Boris Johnson, twice an electoral winner, becomes the obvious choice. However, the Brexit campaign harmed him: he is too closely associated with the £350m NHS pledge. He is also feckless, lazy and untrusted.
The only other choice is Ruth Davidson, the Scottish leader who led the Tories’ successful campaign north of the border. But Davidson is not an MP, she is little known and it is a big leap up to the premiership.
Corbyn is no longer a tribal leader of a protest movement, he has built an electoral coalition
Never underestimate the Tories’ capacity for self-destruction over Europe but a controllable May and the inability to seamlessly rid themselves of their unwanted leader means there is little appetite for a leadership election.
In contrast, Labour has a leader and, at last, they are happy with him: Jeremy Corbyn - the proven slayer of Tory MPs - will find himself more popular.
His success brings danger though: Corbyn is no longer a tribal leader of a protest movement, he has built an electoral coalition. And the trouble with coalitions is that they can easily fall apart. He only needs to look across the Dispatch Box at the next PMQs to see that.
His coalition includes the young, Remainers but also a large slab of former Ukip voters. As such, there are tensions that he’ll find hard to ride and harder to avoid. Perhaps an anti-Tory alliance will allow him to adapt his Brexit policy keep the new pillars of his leadership happy.
Success inevitably brings failure. If he betrays his voters, he may find his leadership where it was seven weeks ago and he may not rise again - though, in truth, I would not put it past him.
it’s shit or bust for the Tory Party
The accepted verdict on the election is that it kills a hard Brexit, most obviously in that the EU 27 will be facing an unstable government that lacks credibility. The prospect of no deal has increased but, with the parliamentary arithmeric tight, the government csn no longer bluff that no deal is better than a bad deal.
May’s election gamble revealed the difference between the 52% who voted Leave and the 42% who voted Tory. However, John McDonnell’s said in a Sunday interview that Labour supported leaving the single market: so -willingly or unwillingly - 40% voted for hard Brexit too. Brexit now depends as much on how Labour acts as much as the Tories.
The Tories do, with May’s DUP deal, have a Commons majority for a vote on any final deal. It is a slender one though. The government can no longer bluff that “no deal is better than a bad deal”: the Remain-leaning sections of her party will no longer wear it. How much further they will rock the boat remains to be seen.
The question is not only mandate, it is numbers. That the government will fail to get its Brexit agenda, including its Great Repeal Bill, through the Commons is not a given. Where the difficulty comes is the House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority: they do not have the cover of an electoral mandate under the Salisbury Convention that dictates the unelected house does not obstruct manifesto commitments - nor the referendum any more to force peers’ hands.
Hence why there are increasing calls for the government to work with Parliament to forge a consensus. Yet what advantage is there for Labour to help a flailing government?
With the clock ticking, the government has few cards in its hands, except the threat of returning with a mandate. And nobody knows what the political landscape will be like then.
Perhaps the irony of the election was that our democratic leaders were evasive while it was the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat Jean-Claude Juncker, admittedly via a newspaper leak, who was more honest: Brexit, by definition, means loss. They may not say it but Conservatives, Labour and the EU are united: there is only hard, damaging Brexit. And that now has a question mark over it.
That means it’s shit or bust for the Tory party. Much depends on the political and economic circumstances if - and that’s what it is - a final deal is revealed. Even a strengthened opposition might not dare to vote it down. Even a weak government has powers of patronage. And when you are damned either way...
So reports of hard Brexit’s have been exaggerated: it’s looking pretty sickly though. And if it does die, Brexit probably dies too.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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