The Brexit Party. This is the successor to the UK Independence Party. It is difficult to see UKIP ever becoming a significant force again while Nigel Farage leads the BP. However, despite its name, the BP is not a party, it is a business company. Now that it has MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), presumably they will meet periodically and some kind of party dynamic will begin. It is surprising that the rules allow a company to compete in elections. One wonders if we are going to see candidates put up by Unilever or Sainsbury. Rather odd. Anyway, this tactic has enabled Farage to stay in tight control and it has worked for this recent atypical election. Something different is going to be needed for a general election (GE). So far, BP has no manifesto. The best guess is that if it did have one it would be a programme that involved selling off government assets, deregulating financial markets and reducing taxation on the wealthy. How popular such a programme would be with the kind of people who voted BP this time remains to be seen. Farage has had a very easy ride from the media, especially, rather surprisingly, the BBC. This has certainly helped BP to rise, but when it is no longer the exciting new phenomenon that evidently some people see it as, this PR gloss will be more difficult to sustain. So, all in all, BP is probably here to stay, at least for a while, but it may struggle to rise further. It's victory in the EU election could be its peak performance.

The Conservative Party. In stark contrast to BP and ChUK, this is the oldest political party, having it’s origins in the 17th century. It has all but died a couple of times in history and revived and has, therefore, remarkable resilience. The aim of BP to replace it will not be an easy one to achieve. However, CP has been humiliated in this EU election, gaining less than 10% of the vote. This is largely due to the fact that the party has lost the internal discipline that used to be its hallmark. The European Research Group (ERG) in particular functions as a kind of party within the party, quite beyond the control of the party leadership. Currently there are many people arguing that since the CP has lost so many votes to the BP, it must move its political stance closer to the BP in order to get some of them back. This is a mistake. The more the CP is seen to imitate the BP the more BP looks strong and CP looks wimpish. This will not be effective. To return to health, CP needs to reestablish itself on more traditional principles such as were followed by successful leaders in the past. This is not a matter of whether or how fast Brexit is delivered. It is a matter of whether the party can demonstrate that it is still capable of being “strong and stable” as it evidently has not been in the past three or four years. Even before that, from the time of John Major, at least, the split over Brexit has been a rift that the party has been unable to heal in its own ranks. One possibility is that it will eventually merge with BP and lose all its traditional, moderate members. Another is that it will restore to itself some self respect on the basis of its traditional past, but doing so may mean accepting losing its right wing to BP.

The Labout Party. As we see from recent results, the main opposition party is also in deep trouble. It's leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was expected to be unpopular for his radically left wing position, but he survived that. However, the Brexit torpedo that hit the CP below the water line has now punctured Labour as well. The recent Labour-Conservative talks have established in the minds of many people the notion that, on Brexit, LP and CP are not much different from each other. The LP leadership has done little to dispel this notion. No doubt the leadership is hoping that in a GE Labout can present itself as a reasonable option for both Leave and Remain voters. This seems rather unlikely to be successful. The public is polarising, like two boats moving in opposite directions, and Corbyn’s attempts to have a foot in each boat will land him in the water. The question therefore arises whether Labour will still have the same or a different leader when the next GE arrives. It is very hard to believe that they could ever command a majority in the House of Commons in their present configuration. However, the matter is not easy. Many Labour voters did vote for Leave and if Labour became a Remain party, it would lose more votes, mostly to BP, thus blocking its path to a return to power. On the other hand, if it does not become a Remain party it will probably continue to lose members to those parties that are clearer in their Remain credentials. This problem would probably not even go away were Brexit achieved. If UK leaves EU in October, the Leave-Remain issue will still haunt all other business, just as it increasingly did before the referendum.

For a historical comparison, there is some similarity to what happened in British politics in the 18th century when, according to your view, William and Mary had gloriously ascended to the throne, or, alternatively, had been foisted upon the British people illegitimately. Although the installation of the new monarchs was never actually undone, the major divisions of British politics kept coming back to these issues of loyalty and treachery. At that time, the Tories, interestingly, were sympathisers with the deposed Stuart “Pretenders” in Europe. Although by being the European party they were (rather undemocratically) excluded from power by the Whigs for decades, they ended up as the surviving and dominant party. UK's relations with Europe have a long and difficult history that is not going to be resolved easily, if ever.

Change UK. This is a new splinter group that is probably not going to last very long. By the time of the next GE it is quite possible that it will have been absorbed by the Liberal Democrats. It could only have any chance of survival as an independent party if (a) the electoral system were changed to proportional representation, which is not at all likely any time soon, or (b) it received a new lease of life in the form of new defectors, either from the CP or LP. Defections are possible due to the parlous condition of the two big parties, but it must be questionable whether defectors will actually go to ChUK, rather than either join the Lib Dems or become independents waiting to see which way the wind blows. One of ChUK's problems is the lack of a highly charismatic leader. which is virtually essential for a new party. They are a group of well-intended people, but one needs more than niceness to survive in the rough and tumble of UK politics.

The Liberal Democrat Party. After being in the doldrums for some years, the LibDems are suddenly once again on an up. They did well in the local and the EU elections. The question is whether they can keep this momentum going as far as the next GE. Going on their past record, there must be a serious danger that they will squander their present advantage by becoming too cock sure of themselves. They have to choose a new leader and very possibly will choose somebody young and dynamic which will not necessarily be for the best. Unlike ChUK, who are new, to prosper now, the LibDems need to look mature and quietly confident. The leader, Vince Cable sometimes manages to carry this off, helped by his advancing years, but he is retiring. Above all, they must not start to look light weight. Going back through their past leaders, I think you would have to go as far as Joe Grimmond to find somebody with the right kind of gravitas. On the other hand, they have got some things going for them. They have momentum, they have thrown off the “we don’t know what they stand for” stigma, and they seem to have lived down the attitudes that formed during their period in coalition. If Brexit happens and proves unpopular, they will now be in a better position than the LP to say “I told you so,” and if it doesn’t happen they will also be able to say the same thing, but for different reasons. Another strength that they have long possessed is a strong local and grass root organisation. This means that they do have politicians seasoned by experience, at least at the local level. They do struggle to get media coverage and need better PR.

The Greens. For the moment, there is a natural LD-Green affinity. However, the Greens, like the BP, are relative untested in real situations of power. What would a Green government actually do and would what it did be popular? While we just know that they are associated with combatting global warming and ecological breakdown, every bit of publicity about those issues helps them, but this is not the same as having actual political policies put on the line. BP and the Greens, although diametrically opposed, are both in this untested situation. We have recently seen the mayhem unleashed by the French government attempting to bring in higher fuel taxes. At the moment, the public can continue to dream that the GP could solve the climate problem painlessly and easily, just as they sometimes dream that BP could solve the Brexit problem with a similar magic wand. However, eventually, there comes a time when one has to commit to policies and as soon as one does there will be as many who are dismayed as there are those who are pleased. Nonetheless, these recent EU elections have helped them and the eco issue is only going to get more pressing, so probably we are going to have more Green MPs even if not enough to make a government.

The Scottish National Party. The SNP is also on a high. In Scotland they now dominate the scene and many would regard Nicola Sturgeon as one of, if not the, best party leader at the present time. She has certainly played her hand skilfully and also been able to give speeches with inspiring content. She has also been helped by the ineptitude of the others, especially LP, who got less than 10% in Scotland in the EU election, and the Conservative PM who has demonstrated a disdain for Scotish interests that has played into the SNP’s hands. The aim of the party is Scottish independence from the UK. This, however, would mean very different things according as Brexit does or does not happen. The achievement of Brexit may well strengthen the SNP as it strengthens the case for Scotland's independence, because with UK out of the EU, Scotland could apply to join the EU in its own right, which it would probably be blocked from doing if UK were still in. SNP thus has to play something of a double game. They are against Brexit, but might well benefit if or when it happens.

Plaid Cymru. The Party of Wales has rather similar aims to the SNP, wanting Wales to be independent of the UK while still in the EU. Wales has a smaller population and economy then Scotland, so this is a harder, but not impossible, case to make. In practice, Plaid has been in a long running rivalry with the LP in Wales and has gradually established itself. As one of the Remain parties in the recent EU elections it was able to pick up one of the four Welsh seats. Inevitably its fate is only partly in its own hands. The parlous state of LP is helping it at the moment, but that will not necessarily continue. The LibDems did not win a seat in Wales, but if their vote had been united with the small vote taken by ChUK they would have done so at Plaid's expense. A resurgent LD would be a threat to Plaid as much as a return of LP to popularity.

Putting all of this together, this is a time of extreme instability and no party can afford to be complacent. To consolidate a position in this atmosphere is not easy. On the other hand, it is precisely at times of chaos that strong leaders do sometimes emerge. Is Farage such a leader? Probably not. He is a personality, for sure, but not the kind of person who could bring the country together. Will the CP get a new leader who can do so? Johnson is the favourite to win and he might be able to play the part if he has good advisors around him, but he is prone to making spectacular gaffes. Will LP choose a new leader? Who? How would Corbyn fare as PM? It is probably an academic question as it is difficult to see a likely route to power, but nothing is certain. Will the Lib Dems come up with an inspiring new leader? I don’t see one hovering, but you never know. The SNP have an accomplished leader, but she is not going to lead the UK. The question of leadership is a key one at the moment. We are all feeling rather lost and, in many cases, wounded and betrayed. It is going to take great skill to heal such a situation and there is a real danger that nobody will come forth with the necessary skill or depth of understanding. The bitterness could get worse with serious consequences for both civil order and the economy.

The UK electoral system does not work very well when there are more than two credible potential governing parties. Arguably, there are currently at least four. This means that the result of the next GE, in which tactical voting will play a big part, is likely to be something of a lottery. The likelihood of another "hung" parliament is high, but recent experience suggests that parties are unlikely to be willing to form coalitions. The parliamentary arithmetic will not make government easy.

Politics in UK is currently overwhelmingly dominated by the issue of what should be the correct relationship with Europe and the country is split almost exactly 50%-50% pro- and anti-. This makes it difficult to deal with other issues in any sensible way. The economy now takes back seat and is not doing very well. The debate is further bedevilled by the fact that nobody seems to have the breadth of vision to put the matter in historical and geo-political context. It is all very well being against something, but one has to be for some alternative. The British Empire is not going to come back, so what would Brexit Britain look like? Who would be its friends and who its enemies? Would it be like Switzerland, not in the EU formerly, but otherwise, to all intents and purposes, a member; or would it be like Turkey, on the border, mildly hostile, and seeking friends elsewhere? There are still too many unanswered questions.

At the moment it is a rather sad and bitter scene. One hopes that some new light will miraculously appear, but the example of history is not encouraging.

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  • I see things in a more historical perspective. The English people (because much of this does not apply to Scotland or even Wales) have been divided in their attitude to Europe at least since the Tudors came to power in 1485 when the last Catholic king was slain. Since then we have had three great European wars (Napoleonic, WWI, WWII) in which England tried hard to keep Europe divided. Now Europe has united anyway and England is stuck with the question of whether to be a member or go on with its 500 year old strategy of trying to split up the unity. Of course, the USA and Russia would also like to see it split up and thus weakened. That's the international scene.

    On a national level, UK has become hugely dependent upon financial services which is the world of quick money and sharp dealing. Industry and trade are relatively less important these days which is why all the discussion about trade deals is only half relevant. Brexit Britain would be an off shore tax haven for those with money, much of it from dodgy sources. These are the ERG type people who stand to make a fortune from being outside of EU regulation. They may throw a few crumbs to the general population, but personal fortune making is a primary interest. This is not so much imposing control as selling the country for a song. 

    All this has divided and confused the general population who do not understand the real issues nor the bigger picture and have no realistic grasp of the consequences of any of the available options. Democracy is difficult when the electorate haven't a clue.


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