For the Tories, one could opt for 1945, 1966 or 1974 – and especially that 13-year period from 1997-2010 when a succession of pitiful team captains were dispatched to the crease to chase an impossible target. For Labour, the options are myriad: 1959, 1970, 1979, 1983 etc….all the way up to 2015. Yes, the two political parties that have dictated the destiny of the nation over the last century have each known their fallow periods; the scales have risen and fallen in favour of one or the other throughout the past 100 years, sometimes the victor dependent on alliances with third parties, sometimes going it alone with the cushion of a landslide – though one could argue only Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher really took advantage of the numbers and went for it.
What makes the here and now so strangely incompatible with the manual is that the traditional narrative of one party soaring in strength whilst the other struggles in shambolic disarray isn’t happening. Instead, the twin titans that have bestrode the British political landscape for longer than any of us has been alive are crammed into the one canoe, zooming up shit creek, having misplaced the proverbial paddle. It’s quite a spectacle. We’re used to the usual internal evisceration that occurs in the wake of a party crashing at the ballot-box; it generally takes half-a-decade before the right man or woman emerges to put the house in order and make the losers electable again; by the time this happens, the cracks that the party in office papered-over with victory are beginning to be exposed to the light, and defeat awaits before the game of pass-the-parcel resumes. That’s what we’re used to.
To see both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party going through their crises in-synch is bizarre because it’s so unprecedented. The Tories’ travails stretch back further than Brexit – Cameron’s Blaire-lite approach to social issues (usually involving the word ‘gay’) didn’t play well with the retired admirals and blue-rinsed battleaxes out in the Shires – but any grumblings were subdued by the sight of ‘Red’ Ed sitting on the opposition benches. The spectre of Europe, however – the bad smell that just won’t leave the golf-club – was bound to resurface as an open fire for dissidents to cluster around, and Dave appeased them with a bright idea largely devised to stem the flow in the direction of UKIP. It not only cost Cameron his job; it may well yet obliterate his party.
As for Labour, the lurch to the left that came with Corbyn and his Marxist groupies was accompanied by a successful recruitment drive that his acolytes were fond of quoting whenever Jezza’s unpopularity beyond the student debating society was mentioned. The problem with marketing Jeremy Corbyn as a fashion accessory was that fashion has a habit of dating quickly, and it seems Jezza-mania is already ‘so last year’ – or, to be more accurate, the year before. It probably peaked with the defeat that was almost sold as a victory in the 2017 General Election; the party performed far better than the polls suggested, but not good enough.
For a career backbencher like Corbyn, opposition is his comfort zone; it was even when Labour were in power, as his voting record testifies; and he has constantly struggled to balance the entrenched backbench mindset with the necessary compromise of leadership. When the impetus appeared to be with Remain during the 2016 Referendum campaign, Jezza’s invisibility underlined his difficulty in marrying his strong anti-Brussels stance to the pro-EU sentiments of his disciples. Stick with the latter and No.10 could beckon; but doing so would be a betrayal of the principles studied at the feet of that late, great guru and Leave sage Tony Benn.
This perennial conflict has arisen once again as the Brexit saga has grown more polarising over the past twelve months, and the humiliating ineptitude of Labour to capitalise on the Tories’ civil war by failing to shoot ahead in the polls again suggests we’ve passed peak Jezza-mania. The rapacious appetite for power so shamelessly embodied in the loathsome person of Tom Watson has focused on the Remain cause as a means of taking back control – but from whom? The Lib Dems? That’s who Labour’s U-turn on backing a second referendum has been really prompted by, not the Government.
Anti-Semitism seems to be to Labour what Europe is to the Tories, albeit something that’s arguably even more difficult to deal with considering the inability of so many in the party to distinguish between the Jewish people and the Jewish State. In this respect, Europe for Labour could be viewed as a convenient smokescreen that also enables the likes of Watson, Starmer and Thornberry to exploit the issue as the best way to reconnect with the electorate when the messiah appears incapable of progressing beyond his core fan-base. The main drawback to this master-plan – endorsed by the unions (did their potentate McCluskey even sanction a ballot?) – is that it makes the same mistake as that opportunistic, clueless chameleon Umunna in assuming just because Londoners with the loudest voices wave the EU flag, they somehow represent the entire electorate.
How, one wonders, can Labour ever reconcile their metropolitan mindset with those loyal provincial supporters whose patience has been so severely tested over the last three years by allowing Bunter to hog the headlines and lead the party towards oblivion even quicker than the man whose job he’s clearly after? The delusional belief of Labour’s centrists that there is a vast pool of floating voters just waiting for the chance to flock around their wing of the party was embarrassingly exposed as a fallacy when that egotistical coalition of Labour and Tory defectors (what were they called again?) were utterly crushed in the European Elections. At a moment when Labour needs all the friends it can get as the Tories are imploding before our very eyes, the party is losing those whose loyalty saw Labour through many a lean decade. The Government must be watching events on the other side of the House barely able to believe their good fortune.
Of course, Brexit is a symptom of so much more, so much remaining unaddressed and unattended to by either party as each exhibits its own self-absorbed conceit at the expense of a people who have had enough. June 23 2016 was a storm long time coming, but neither party prepared by bringing a brolly. And they’re still stocking-up on sunscreen rather than purchasing parkas.
© The Editor