A week after the referendum result, the political landscape has changed. The United Kingdom now has the opportunity to remodel itself as an outward looking nation, free of the constraints of policies decided at an EU level. It would seem that the only constraint now is our own political system.
The people have decided on a positive future, for whatever reason. Certainly, there are negatives to have escaped from. So called ‘freedom of movement’ has restricted movement between the UK and traditional friends. Commemorations of the Somme are a stark reminder as to how many Commonwealth citizens gave their lives for a free Europe.
What is labelled as the Single European Market has been by some as an area for free trade when in fact it has maintained barriers to free trade from nations around the world, including developing countries where poverty has been perpetuated by the EU.
The British electorate has shunned the shackles of a stagnant, restrictive regime that has led to mass youth unemployment across southern Europe. The message to politicians is one of creating opportunity in a big wide world.
So how has the political system responded to this message of hope?
Those who watched he results come in would have seen Tim Farron revert to Liberal type. He branded the majority of the electorate as “insular”. In fact, he was the one who came across as insular, denying the opportunities that the majority have seen. It remains to be seen if the Liberals will change.
So what of Labour? The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is in disarray, apparently out of touch with its own party members, 60% of who support a leader who is barely to summon enough PLP support to fill a shadow cabinet. Who knows what will happen; another split, as with the Social Democratic Party in 1981, defections to the Liberal Democrats?
What of UKIP? At the 2015 election, UKIP was the 3rd most popular party with 12.7% of the vote, despite only winning one seat. Put into perspective, the Liberals won 8 seats with 38% fewer votes. Arguably, UKIP’s biggest success may have been to win the Conservative pledge for the referendum. There seems little doubt that there would not have been a conservative majority without that pledge.
By 2020, the UKIP mission should have been accomplished. The United Kingdom should be independent. The party may need rebranding but what remains is a powerful political lobby, ready to hold a government to account and with an infrastructure to make an impression.
The SNP are also in an interesting position. Having lost in the 2014 referendum on independence, the party leader’s overtures towards maintaining EU membership by going it alone have met with an instant body of opposition in Europe.
There is a reason for leaving the Conservative government until last. The majority of the parliamentary Conservative Party supported the Remain camp. Quite rightly, David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister. His party now has to choose a way ahead, perhaps the most critical junction in party history.
At the time of writing, the leading candidate is Theresa May. It is worth dwelling on some highlights of her record, since she asked to be judged on it.
As Home Secretary, she has failed to live up to promises on immigration. She had called to quit from the European Convention on Human Rights, current position is to stay with it. She campaigned half heartedly for Remain. Now she stands for leading us out of the EU. To paraphrase a famous statement from the last female Prime Minister, U turn if you want to, this lady IS for turning.
The Conservative process for choosing a new leader starts with parliamentary members. Of the candidates nominated, May and Crabb were in the Remain camp, Leadsom, Fox and Gove were for Leave. No reminder should be necessary which way the country voted.
Of those MPs to declare their support, the majority have gone for Remain candidates. It may be worth comparing two maps, one of the 2015 general election, the other of the 2016 referendum.
What can be clearly seen is a correlation between a Leave majority and Conservative seats. It would be naïve for politicians to think that the British people will give up democratic power cheaply. Any failure to deliver or any doubt could easily lead to a swing towards a new Conservative Democratic (or similar) party.
The Remain camp has already nurtured deep distrust in themselves. Project Fear was clearly misleading on so many levels. At the time of writing, the FTSE is has had its best week since 2011. Yes, there has been a technical correction in the level of Sterling, the sort which was followed by a decade of growth following ERM withdrawal.
Suspicion lingers over some Remain candidates, one example being Kevin Hollinrake who, when challenged over reports of Remainers planning to delaying the passage of Brexit, said in a Tweet (apparently now deleted) “25 new bills, all complex … simples”. It may be that Tweet deletion amounts to retraction!
The current party of government is faced with some clear choices:
- whoever is the leader, to embrace democracy and move ahead towards a successful and speedy management of Brexit
- to delay and risk alienating the the people
Any hesitancy can not be guaranteed to stop a genuine Remain core from resigning their party whip. Combined with the legacy of UKIP, a Conservative Democrat party could be a force to be reckoned with, at least given the current parliamentary nepotism that gives Remainers a majority that is not reflected by voters.
Taking a different angle, Labour potentially has until 2020 to renew itself into a party that does reflect public will.
There is of course always a positive solution that could harness the will of the nation behind a party that chooses to reflect democracy. If the Remain candidates were to put ambition for the country above personal ambition, both the party and the country can unite behind a leader, especially one who has little, if any, political baggage.
The Conservative party can save itself from the political wilderness that it suffered with no outright general election win from 1992 to 2015.
Step forward Andrea Leadsom. Here is a candidate who was at the forefront of the Leave campaign. She conducted herself with dignity, integrity and a calm reassurance. Her message was a positive one, of Britain able to take her great place in a growing world of opportunity.
Social media confirms her appeal to the general public. Yes, the established press and broadcasters have their darlings, May being an example of the sort of pantomime character who can be a villain and at least temporarily is their heroine.
In the grand scheme of things, the Conservative Party can seal its own bright future, leading a bright Britain into the world. At the moment, it looks like a simple choice between Cruella de Vil and Cinderella. If the party has any sense, Cinderella Leadsom will go to the ball.
This post was originally published by the author 1 July 2016. http://www.rexn.uk/2016/07/01/the-changing-face-of-democracy/