30 May 2019
After The Spanking
The Shaw Sheet predicts.
By John Watson
The Conservative vote down below 9%; Labour’s share in the low teens. The two main parties have been thoroughly punished by the electorate. So what has upset their erstwhile supporters so much? In the case of the Conservatives, there seem to be two factors. The first is incompetence. They said they would deliver Brexit and they have failed to do so. Their strategy did not work and moreover they continued to push it once it became plain that it was not going to work. Nil points, as they say in Eurovision. Worse than that, though, their leaders seem to have been jockeying for political advantage as Rome burnt around them. Some who opposed the withdrawal agreement then came round to it but too late; they had already done the damage. Rather less than nil points for that.
With Labour too there is a mix of poor strategy and venality. The attempt to please both their Remain MPs and their Leave voters by keeping their policy fuzzy has backfired with a vengeance. Like clowns in the circus they sought to keep a foot on each horse, not realising that the horses were galloping too far apart. But whereas that is an accident which could happen to anyone, or at least to anyone sufficiently disingenuous, the glee with which they discomfited the government and destroyed any prospect for the Withdrawal Agreement leaves a nasty taste. They, too, are seen as having put their political ambitions above their duty to the country and the country is not a bit pleased about it.
So what does all this mean for the future? Parties with well-defined Brexit positions did well, so both Conservatives and Labour will now give up their attempts to cover the middle ground. The Tories will become the party of Leave, agreement or not, on 31st October. In the case of Labour, Kier Starmer and Emily Thornbury will push the leadership into supporting a further referendum. That would have the enormous advantage of resolving this highly divisive issue in an authoritative way.
The next entry in the political calendar is the appointment of the new Conservative leader. The fact that so many people have put their names forward can only add weight to the public’s suspicion that they are more into their own ambitions than the country’s interests. Nevertheless, someone has to be chosen and there is a two-stage process. First, two candidates have to be selected by the MPs. Second, a choice has to be made between them by the membership of the Party, an elderly and rather reactionary group. This second stage makes it likely that if Boris Johnson is one of the names put forward he will be chosen. What would happen then? One theory is that he would be content to leave without an agreement but that is by no means certain. It is perhaps more likely that he would go back to Brussels, obtain some mealy-mouthed “comfort” regarding the backstop (the EU have made it very clear that they would not permit any alteration to the Withdrawal Agreement itself), state that nothing more could be done and sign on the dotted line. Mrs May’s agreement may not be quite as dead as people suggest.
But then it may not be Boris after all. It could be Gove, the Government’s reformer-in-chief. He could probably produce the leadership necessary to take policy forward in social and environmental areas. But how would he deal with Brexit? Much the same way as Johnson, probably.
The trouble with this sort of analysis is that it ignores the effect of the other moving parts. Suppose that the new Conservative leader cannot get a Withdrawal Agreement, even with any new confirmation, through the House; what is the choice then? The obvious answer would be to go for the referendum and, if Labour already supports that, the majority would be there to put it place. The alternative of course would be a General Election, but Tory and Labour MPs would be wary of that. It is all very well to say in a blasé fashion that the European Parliament vote was just protest and that supporters will return when things get serious, but is that really true? Increased support for the Greens surely coincides with a social trend. Suppose that the Lib Dems begin to look like a party of government under their new leadership? An influx of new members from the main parties could easily rid them of their “beardo” image.
There are lots of moving parts here and a glance into the tea leaves is probably more effective than analysis in predicting the result. Luckily there is an old mug waiting to be washed up on the Shaw Sheet draining board. After a careful look inside it, we foresee:
- the Conservatives electing a Leaver leader;
- Labour beginning to support a second referendum;
- the new Prime Minister balking at the idea of leaving without an agreement and returning to something very close to the Withdrawal Agreement;
- if that does not clear the House, the Government using Labour support to set up a second referendum with Remain, Leave without an Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement as options;
- the EU giving us extra time rather than risk seeing the German car market go down the drain;
- the public choosing the Withdrawal Agreement;
- Mrs May permitting herself a wry smile..
Simple really, isn’t it? If anyone feels moved to cross our palms with silver please could they contact the editors by email.