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Could a UK prime minister be worse than Theresa May?

Posted by Thersites on  UTC 2019-06-10 10:43

The Conservative Party is irremediably divided on the issue of Brexit. It has been so since the end of the Thatcher years. Can any new leader unify it? No. Can any of the current hopefuls unify it? Absolutely not.

Roughly two-thirds of the members of the parliamentary party currently want some mixture of hues from a spectrum that is essentially Remain: throw in the towel by withdrawing Article 50, hold a second referendum, accept the Withdrawal Agreement, renegotiate and then accept that result etc. Sprinkle some glittery fantasies about single markets, customs unions or Norway options on it and then stir the whole mess together to create a tasteful shade of muddy brown.

In contrast, about a third of Conservative MPs just want an abrupt departure tempered with varying degrees of politeness.

Because of the remainerish majority it seems clear that no leadership candidate who unequivically suggests an abrupt withdrawal, even with some added cosmetic negotiations, has any chance of becoming the leader of the Conservative party. Those who are currently offering themselves for election on such a platform are delusional.

Neither of the two candidates who will be selected to be put before the party membership for selection will offer a purist's Brexit.

The same goes for the candidates on the remainery wing of the Brexit spectrum, who will also have no chance of becoming one of the finalists. That said, the party which managed to select Theresa May as its leader is capable of anything. This does not rule out the choice of a sacrificial lamb as one of the two to be placed before the party members – a no-hope diversity candidate, for example.

The final two candidates to be put forward will have to offer a menu of fudge and prevarication to the faithful. There will be suggestions for delays (no chance), renegotiations (no chance), ultimatums (no chance) and much bluster about the no-deal option – yes, the one which parliament already voted to reject. But since the no-deal exit is the default outcome should nothing else be agreed, formally disallowing it defies all logic: one cannot disallow a default. But logic left this discussion three years ago in those tautological times when 'Brexit meant Brexit' and 'Leave meant Leave'. Ah, those were the days!

The main point in each mainstream candidate's prospectus will be that a no-deal exit is possible, but the point will always be embedded in some complicated conditional sentence. We are currently hearing exactly this from the two senior candidates, slithery Gove and slithery Johnson, two men of no principles whatever who provenly lie, dissemble or say whatever is necessary to advance their own cause. Johnson, currently giving rousing speeches offering patriotically to punch the EU on the nose, is probably the one who, once elected, will call the whole thing off and end up in business as usual mode.

Even were all these circles to be squared, the Theresa May dilemma – that no Brexit variant is capable of obtaining a majority in the current parliament – will not go away. The burning issue is not who leads the Conservative party, but how can this utterly fractured political system ever be reconciled on this issue? Any future leader of the Conservative party, and future Prime Minister, whoever it may be, will be as helpless as Theresa May was. It doesn't matter what the British people think: what does parliament think? One third wants out, two thirds want in.

The idea that the next Prime Minister will exert the nominal precedence of executive authority over parliamentary authority is yet another fantasy we can dismiss out of hand. Such a move will trigger an immediate general election which, on present showing, the Tories will lose.

However, the talk about the annihilation that will come from the grassroots of the Conservative party if a clean Brexit isn't delivered on time is pure windbaggery. Whatever half-cock deed is finally done, at the general election that follows it Brexit will no longer be an issue. Water under the bridge and all that. Time to move on, draw a line, put it behind us etc. No voter is going to look back longingly to those happy times when all the talk was about Brexit meaning Brexit.

The malaise is a deep one: at the recent Peterborough by-election, with Brexit the hot-button topic for the politically minded, only around 48 percent of the electorate could be bothered to cast a vote (a turnout considered 'high') and only around 30 percent of them could be bothered to vote in person. The executive summary: half of the electorate in Peterborough couldn't care less about the result of the election.

Finally freed from the Brexit preoccupation, Conservative minds will clear and realise that the enemy is the Labour party (and the Greens and the Lib Dems). No Tory voters will punish their party by electing Labour. The Brexit Party has no grassroots organization, no manifesto and can always be stitched up by manipulated postal voting – as it was in the Peterborough by-election and as it will be in any general election. The task for the Conservative party is to have Brexit done and dusted before its candidates need to face the electorate.

After whatever Brexit fudge is effected by the leader the Conservatives are in the process of electing, the Brexit Party, despite all the current foaming at the mouth, will have lost the reason for its existence. If the UK is still in, or half-in or half-out, the lid will be nailed down on the Brexit coffin and the issue will be allowed to moulder in peace for at least a generation. No one will want to wake that zombie again for a long time.

The Brexit Party as an everyday, multi-issue political party? It is impossible to imagine a common platform on which its candidates could all agree. The next general election will be a battle between two or perhaps three parties of soft red-green lefties and political life in the UK will return to normal.

The party supported by Figures of Speech, the Tumbril Party, is currently experiencing some minor administrative problems in getting itself registered as a political party. One day, however, its moment will come.