REAP THE WILD WIND

It pays to flick through past posts if approaching a topic I’ve written about on previous occasions, if only to avoid repetition. Past posts can also be handy ways of assessing not necessarily predictions, but attempts at guessing where we might go next. Well, few knew before and fewer still know now – that much is true today. The talk at the end of last year and the start of this was anticipating a move by restless centrist politicians from both left and right meeting in the middle to form their own SDP-like breakaway party that would allegedly appeal to moderates alienated by the warring factions on either side of the Brexit barricade. That appeared to be the only change on the cards; and though it eventually happened, any new party dependent on oily Umunna and sour-faced Soubry is facing far more of an uphill challenge than the one formed by Jenkins, Owens, Williams and Rodgers almost 40 years ago.

What began as ‘TIG’ and has now been rebranded Change UK isn’t exactly taking the country by storm. Whereas the SDP peaked at a 50% poll rating in the autumn of 1981 (less than a year after its formation), the apathy greeting Change UK is a consequence of the conceit of its founders. All are second division strikers, with not one of them having scored one of the great offices of state; but their high opinion of themselves and belief that their outdated approach remains relevant has blinded them to a sea-change in the public mood that is seeing an even newer party steal the headlines and soar way ahead of them in the polls. The Change UK attitude is to dismiss Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party as a right-wing rest-home for bonkers old Tories and ex-UKIP fruitcakes; their smug arrogance in dismissing something they should be taking very seriously will be their undoing, but will they listen? What do you think?

The BBC’s archaic attempts at impartiality saw last Friday’s scheduled edition of ‘Have I Got News For You’ pulled at the last minute because one of the guest panellists was Change UK’s Heidi Allen. The reason given for this abrupt, eleventh hour cancellation was Allen representing a party intending to participate in the upcoming European Elections, which seems strange; Britain’s late entry into the contest was already known on the day the programme was recorded; could not another guest have been chosen? After all, a tub of lard once famously deputised for Roy Hattersley on the show a few years ago. The BBC has a history of panicking when politics risks being treated lightly – infamously axing ‘That Was The Week That Was’ at the end of 1963, when a General Election was imminent – and is terrified of being seen as favouring one political party over the other, despite its pro-Remain stance being pretty indisputable.

Then again, the BBC (as with all London-centric mainstream media outlets) belongs to the same exclusive gentleman’s club as the Westminster set, burying its head in the same sand and pissing in the same pot. Ignoring something in the hope it will simply go away is not good enough at this moment in history. That’s precisely what the two major parties have been guilty of for far too long. In 2017, the Conservatives and Labour enjoyed the largest share of the vote the two major parties had managed since 1970, seemingly ending the fragmented era of fringe parties stealing their seats. Now, less than two years on from the last General Election, their failure to honour the 2016 Referendum result (not to mention deliberate efforts at outright prevention) has seen their hard-fought recovery utterly trashed; they’ve blown it, quite possibly for good.

A new poll published in the Sunday Telegraph puts the Brexit Party one point ahead of the Tories; the poll, by ComRes, is taking a hypothetical survey in the event of a snap General Election, but the findings should shake even the most blinkered, deluded Tories who still cling to the fallacy that Theresa May’s repeatedly rejected deal is the only way out of this impasse. The PM herself has told the 1922 Committee she’ll finally walk the plank if her deal passes when she drags it before the Commons one more time – the same promise she made last time it faced the firing squad; it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

The catastrophic recent local election results from the Conservative perspective – losing over a thousand councillors – saw most of those seats go to the Lib Dems and the Greens; those two claimed they were on the side of the electoral angels in the wake of the results, but there were a record number of spoiled ballot papers in the absence of any Leave candidates. It’s a bit like justifying the questionable appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent Manchester Utd manager on the strength of his results as caretaker, when the team had an easy run of winnable fixtures against lower opposition. They ended the season by losing at home to relegated Cardiff.

If the Tories should be on red alert following the findings of the poll in the Sunday Telegraph – and those of a similar poll by Opinium – Labour have no cause for complacency either. The pressure by the membership to adopt the Second Referendum route whilst traditional Labour voters in the diehard northern and midlands heartlands remain Leave-inclined has left poor old Jezza looking more at sea and less in control of the party’s destiny than ever before. And if the future looks bleak when one contemplates the likely contenders to succeed Mrs May, there’s no less despair when one thinks of Tom Watson or Keir Starmer seizing the Corbyn crown. Take two weak leaders surrounded by mediocre wannabes, add a shameful determination to overturn a democratic mandate, throw in dismissive contempt for the concerns of the plebs – and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

If one at least tries to take the long view, it’s possible to conclude that a single-issue party run by a man adept at generating publicity and more than capable of exploiting widespread disaffection with the political process is one it’s difficult to see being relevant beyond its moment, like a particular pair of trousers fashionable for a solitary season. Closer examination would no doubt uncover not much substance beneath the surface and one could argue Farage’s response to an admittedly piss-poor grilling from Andrew Marr was to resort to tried-and-trusted Trump-like tactics, crying media bias and avoiding awkward questions. Yet, the Brexit Party has timed its moment to absolute perfection, and as long the big two keep their fingers in their ears, that moment will retain its relevance.

The need for a new party that can – to paraphrase Roy Jenkins – ‘break the mould of British politics’ and end the century-old Tory and Labour stranglehold has been pressing for a long time; and though Change UK are (in their minds) attempting to do just that in the old-fashioned way, nobody is interested. It’s hard not to feel we’ve moved on from that now. God knows where we’ve moved on to or where we’re going; but I can’t help thinking the old-fashioned way is over. And it’s over because those who prospered from it fatally failed to detect the people had had enough. You can only push them so far, and then who knows what they’ll do? Just ask Monsieur Macron – or maybe one of his distant predecessors, Louis XVI.

© The Editor