What Changes Now?

If like me you’ve been scrolling through Twitter endlessly today, you might think the government is in the middle of collapsing. After David Davis and Steve Baker’s resignation just before midnight last night, and Boris Johnson following suit this afternoon, it’s easy to see why. After a supposed cabinet agreement was produced at Chequers last week, the two Brexit heavyweights decided that enough was enough, and left in protest to the governments swing towards a softer Brexit.

This afternoon in the commons May was defiant. She talked up her Chequers deal, and in a likely attempt to put an end to any further resignations reminded her party that we would be leaving the single market, customs union, and ending free movement of people into the country. Which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t match the message coined last week. As broken by Kevin Schofield a couple of hours ago, May and her team have also maintained that she will fight on regardless, and will take on any vote of no confidence put forward by the backbenches.

It’s hard to see why that wouldn’t be the case. Sure, the ERG and the backbenches have the numbers to put in their letters to Brady, but I highly doubt they have the numbers to win the vote. Many Tory MPs who currently sit on the fence know that a change in leader would lead to a leader in favour of no deal, and arguably could lead to Corbyn making his way into number 10. May also knows that if she does fend off the vote of no confidence party rules maintain she would be safe for a further 12 months, which would take us well into the transitional period of leaving the EU.

As I put forward in a piece late last year, Theresa May has always been merely a tool for the Tories as long as they need her. Whoever leads throughout the Brexit process will be tainted afterwards, and many leading Tory candidates will want to avoid this. May was, and still likely is, the person that will deliver Brexit, and would then likely resign or be forced out shortly after. Many colleagues would rather hold off and use the ‘Brexit betrayal’ line, and few Conservatives will want May anywhere near another general election after last year’s debacle.

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Time for Labour to Lead

It’s hard to be a so-called moderate in the UK these days. Not only do you find both parties veering further towards each wing, you also see that UK politics is now completely devoid of rationality as we hurtle towards Brexit. Alastair Campbell describes Labour’s position as “constructive ambiguity”, I find that to be a kind assessment. Both parties believe the argument is sorted, and both are under the false illusion that a hard Brexit was voted for.

Labour’s policy seems to be to appeal to leavers whilst hoping that their pro-European membership wouldn’t feel compelled to vote for any other party. At some point, this has to give. Mark Carney recently revealed that household incomes are about £900 per household lower than was forecast back in May 2016, and due to Brexit, the economy is roughly 2% lower than it would have been had we voted to remain in the EU two years ago. If Corbyn and McDonnell want to implement their manifesto promises, a hard Brexit is simply out of the question.

In 2017, the ambiguity worked. Leavers felt that Corbyn wanted to leave the EU as much as them, and Remainers saw Labour as the only route to blunt May’s push for hard Brexit. Again, this has to give, and it seems it’s the Remainers who are buckling. In 2017 the party was able to shift the focus onto other issues such as healthcare, but with Brexit day looming that strategy is out of the window. Only 26% think that Labour’s position on Brexit is clear, while 60% believe it’s unclear.

The public overwhelmingly favours the PM’s handling of Brexit, with 32% approval compared to a measly 19% for Corbyn. May is also impressing far more leave voters than Corbyn is remainers, 40% of leavers back May, just 26% of those who voted to remain back Corbyn’s treatment of Brexit. Labour is also losing the support of young people; last year 19% more 18-34-year-olds backed Corbyn over May, now the PM has a 2% lead. As Labour members shift, Corbyn stays rooted.

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Plan B Politics

As Stephen Bush’s piece last week highlighted, there are a finite number of messages a political party can run on. Typically, these positions don’t change between elections because they are so simple: “things would work better with us in charge”. 2017, however, was a turning point for both parties.

When Jeremy Corbyn rose to victory in Labour’s leadership election in 2015, he did so on the back of a promise of a new type of politics. Many chose him because he offered something the other three candidates seemingly did not, and that was hope. Corbyn famously asserted he would bring a new straight talking, honest politics into the Labour party, something he really hasn’t done. He was meant to be the politician who could finally energise the dwindling youth vote and bring non-voters out into the voting booths for the first time.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Labour had returned from a near 20-point deficit in the polls to force a hung parliament. A dismal campaign from Theresa May gave Corbyn the wind in his sails, and policies such as the abolishment of tuition fees had on the face of it galvanised the youth to an astonishing spike in turnout. However, as we now know, this wasn’t exactly the case.

Recently, the British Electoral Survey found that turnout did not increase among 18- to 24-year-olds at the 2017 election, although it did increase in areas with larger numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds. The noteworthy changes were actually found in the 25-44 age group, where turnout increased significantly and swung in great numbers towards Labour. The groups of voters Corbyn aimed to bring out in force did not turn up, and despite a successful campaign, Labour’s Plan A had failed.

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What is it that Divides Us?

Jo Cox gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3rd June 2015. Describing her constituency, globalisation, and immigration, Jo inspirationally said that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. After her death just a week before the EU referendum, the hashtag and movement #MoreInCommon went global and ever since has been used as a means of attempting to heal the conflicts and divides in society.

Of course, it’s true in many ways. We are all the same. But there’s no doubt that we should be worried about the growing divisions festering around us all. Traditionally, the big divides were that of political party identification, this has since been replaced by simply: Remain or Leave. It’s understandable why; despite both party leaders playing down the issue, it will define us and our country for generations to come. The referendum formalised a deep cultural divide stemming across many factions. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, and towns against cities.

In the past, it was class that was the main predictor of a person’s likely voting behaviour. This has significantly narrowed, with both support for Labour among the middle class and support for the Conservatives among the working class rising by 12 points between 2015 and 2017. The big divide in voting behaviour is now age. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18-to-24-year olds Labour led by 35%, but among over 65’s the Tories held a 36-point lead. In the referendum three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-olds voted Remain, but two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

Education was also a big factor in both votes. In the 2017 election the Tories led by 22% among people with ‘low educational qualifications’, but those with ‘high-level educational qualifications’ plucked for Labour by 17% more. In the referendum, those with GCSE or lower qualifications voted 70:30 to Leave, but those with a degree voted 68:32 in favour of Remain. There’s also another reason for these stark contrasts: the direction and leadership of the two main political parties under current leadership. May’s Conservatives have lurched to the right, and Corbyn’s Labour to the left, and people are being forced to choose a side.

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Don’t Hold Your Breath on Another Snap Election

Many are pondering the simple question, when will the next UK general election take place? Due to the chaotic times at hand, many believe another early election is inevitable, and could well be next year. It’s easy to see why. The Tories have the slimmest of majorities being propped up by the DUP, Theresa May’s leadership is as strong and stable as a wet tissue, and she has enemies within her party waiting to pounce and drive her out of Downing Street.

However, I can tell you now there will not be an election in 2018, the reasons of which are plentiful. The first of which is Brexit. This week we moved onto the second stage of negotiations with the EU, which essentially considers the future relationship after we leave. This is where things get tricky, and it will take up most of the remaining 15 months before we leave. Expect very little time to be wasted on domestic policy until then, and there is no definitely no time to waste on another campaign and visit to the polls, no one in Westminster will want to risk it.

Another issue is no one in Westminster particularly is interested in even entertaining the thought of another election just yet. The Tories, first, do not want to risk the slim majority they currently hold, and their leader does not want to risk the house she lives in. The Tories also do not want to take a risk on their leader whom despite still being slightly more popular than Corbyn, would currently lose an election with Labour’s current slender poll lead.

The Tories will first want to find a successor to May, but not whilst she remains a useful tool. On the 2nd June, May told the 1922 committee “I’ll serve as long as you want me”, and that is quite literal. When the Tories decide it’s time to go, she will go. The party has no other leader ready to step in, and none of the candidates wants to take any of the flak from Brexit. Boris is pushing himself out of the picture, Damian Green might yet have to resign, Davis is beaten from Brexit, Rudd has a very dangerous majority, and Hammond is as out of touch as it comes.

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Towns are Corbyn’s Key to No 10

The UK and its citizens are divided across the spectrum. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, but perhaps the biggest divide is between the towns and the cities. For years governments have seen and tried to use cities as engines of economic growth, and hoped that their increased prosperity would fund and carry along surroundings towns.

Towns have been left behind, especially when it comes to politics, and definitely when it comes to the Labour Party. Labour was a party founded on the working class focusing on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, but in recent years has become a party of the middle class, of ‘socialism fans’ as it were. Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever. That’s not to say that town equals working class and city is equivalent to the middle and upper classes, but there is a strong correlation between the two.

Labour is currently stockpiling member support and votes in strongholds and major cities like London and Manchester, and this was as evident as ever in the election. The general election in June saw a 10.2% swing from Conservatives to Labour in cities but was just a 4.1% swing in towns. Labour made twice the gains among younger, middle-class voters in cities than older, working-class voters in towns, and gained the most ground in seats with increased capital. This is not just a recent trend, as the Tories have made a net gain of 13% over Labour in towns since 2005.

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Labour’s Working Class Woe

It’s no understatement when I say that Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017. As highlighted by Rob Ford, ‘Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle-class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales’. Labour shocked the country by winning in new places such as Canterbury, and the Tories continued to make big gains across the north of England.

For the first time ever, ABC1s are more likely to vote Labour, and those unemployed are now more likely to vote Conservative. As I’ve highlighted before, the UK currently finds itself more divided than ever before. The country is divided by Brexit, age, education, race, location, liberalism, and most notably, by class. Theresa May and the Tories have certainly been trying to angle themselves towards the ‘proud and patriotic working class’, those who are discontent with current levels of immigration, want beefed up security and defence, and predominantly want the UK to leave the EU. But the question is, has Theresa May won the support of working-class Britain or has the Labour party simply lost them?

Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever, but this trend isn’t a short-term thing. In 1966, 69 percent of manual workers voted Labour; by 1987, only 45 percent did. Under Blair, Labour did increase its share of the working-class vote once more, but this was at a time where Labour picked up huge support from all segments of society. Between 1997 and 2010 support fell away; as highlighted here, for every voter Labour lost from the professional classes it lost three unskilled or unemployed workers. And since then, the trend has spiked.

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