IPR Blog

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A Parliament hanging by a thread

📥  Political history, Political ideologies, UK politics

Back outside No10, Theresa May has confirmed that she will govern anew in the way she campaigned: obdurate, closed and controlled. The governing styles of Prime Ministers do not suddenly change, as Gavin Kelly pointed out this morning. The Prime Minister simply states her position, asserts nothing has changed, and waits for someone else to fill the void. It is relentlessly unyielding.

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A deal with the Democratic Unionist Party will give her the votes she needs to pass a Queen's Speech, assuming she pays down initial instalments on their demands and can persuade resentful and agitated Conservative backbenchers to support her. But what policy programme will underpin the Queen's Speech? The Conservative manifesto was shredded in the campaign. It cannot now form the basis of a programme for government. There will be no grammar schools, fox hunting, net migration targets, cuts to the Winter Fuel Allowance and half baked social care proposals. None of that will get through the House of Commons, let alone the Lords. The odds on an autumn election must be short. Harold Wilson managed to run a minority administration for eight months in 1974, having returned to power in circumstances far more propitious than those which accompanied Theresa May back to No10. History may not be an infallible guide, but it is the best we have to go on. The autumn also happens to be when the German federal election result will be known. That matters too.

What of Mayism, such as it is? Her Chamberlainite rhetoric always outstripped the reality of her policy agenda. The prospect of a Conservative realignment, in which Euroscepticism is detached from neoliberalism and bolted onto a One Nation interventionism of the kind historically associated with the pro-European left of the party, now looks remote.  The prospects of a "no deal" Brexit, and perhaps even the Hard Brexit agenda of leaving the EU single market and customs union, have receded. Liberal conservatives will reassert their credentials, trimming the nationalist edges of May's agenda and tilting the party's electoral strategy towards younger, urban and centrist voters (precisely the kind of calculation Boris Johnson will now be makings as he weighs up his leadership options). But Conservatism now looks ideologically stuck: unable to advance further on either its left or right wings.

Labour's dilemma is whether to align itself with the SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and Remain Conservative MPs, to support Britain staying in the single market - an EEA style Brexit. Labour did not campaign on that basis and to shift its position may reopen old wounds which have been closed up in the euphoria of the Corbyn surge. But the economic interests of its supporters will perhaps way more heavily now on Labour's calculations than concerns about free movement once did, and unless the Labour bloc of MPs in the House of Commons joins battle with the Eurosceptics, the terms of the Brexit deal cannot be shifted closer to the new centre of gravity amongst the electorate. The future of the UK also remains at stake: the problems of a hard border in Northern Ireland will now loom larger in British political calculations. Corbyn campaigned in a (certain kind of Labour left) poetry; now he must lead in prose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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