UK Politics

Is this election the end of the catch-all party?

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As the climax of this general election approaches, it is clear that Westminster is the epicentre of the Eurosceptic earthquake which has caused seismic shifts in the British political landscape.

One year on, the aftershocks of last year’s Brexit referendum can still be felt. Whilst the political x-axis has long been the right-left barometer, the y-axis which may well control British politics for years to come is now based on whether voters be internationalists or nationalists. The ideological foundations of the UK’s parties continue to quiver with the mounting gravity of the Brexit question, and the populist pendulum has swung from the right towards the left. Fractures within the Labour and Conservative parties, too, over the nature of the UK’s unilateralist turn, have made the nation’s key political structures increasingly brittle.

When Theresa May declared her intentions to seek a mandate in April, she must have thought that victory would slip easily into her hands, with Jeremy Corbyn only just clinging onto the political scene amidst internal Labour party strife and backlash from the electorate over recent months.

But now it is obvious that the gap has narrowed. Either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May will set foot in Number 10 tomorrow, navigating the treacherous ridge of the British political peak which has a sheer drop at either side.

Today’s snap vote, which many believed would erode the foundations of the Labour Party for several years to come, has instead had the opposite effect. A victory for Theresa May still seems the most likely result, but this election has brought to light new corners of political opinion within the two biggest parties, fragmenting the once clear-cut right and left wings. Can the leaders of the UK’s two biggest parties really speak for the entirety of each of their movements?

The Labour Party isn’t, and hasn’t been since Blair’s 1997 landslide, categorised simply by one strong shade of scarlet. Neither can the Conservative Party be characterised by one tone of light blue. The Labour tapestry now includes a multiplicity of pinks, crimsons and Burnt Siennas, and a look through the Tory lens reveals a kaleidoscope of turquoise, aquamarine, royal blue and teal. The left is split between Jeremy Corbyn’s more traditional socialism, Tony Blair’s third way, and a great deal of pro-Brexit lefties. The right, in turn, exists as a patchwork of more centrist free-market liberals, pro-Europeans, and May-supporting Brexit stoic.

Over the campaign, both main parties have tried to pick up as big a portion of the electorate as possible, reelinh in voters regardless of class and background, having realised that party affiliation isn’t as simple as it once was some decades ago. With May’s focus on strength and stability, and Corbyn’s impetus on governing for the greater good, both campaigns have sought to operate beyond class divisions, out to capture the human sentiments of holding either national or European identity, and playing to the hopes and ambitions of the general public for the future of their British nation.

In this election, Theresa May has attempted to prove that Brexit is a transformation which can benefit all – the disenchanted working class, and those who look to abandon the red tape of the European Union. Similarly, the Labour Party, with its campaign based around ideas of an all-encompassing society, with a more internationalist approach, has tried to attract both voters on average incomes, and even the most high-end of champagne socialists. But the reality is, however, that leaders now have to piece together smaller, more specific factions of opinion within one diverse party construct. Support is no longer simply a question of where you work, how much money you earn, and what food you put on the table.

Arguably, as parties have sought to capture all voters, within a society which has become more culturally, socially and economically diverse, the parties themselves have had to fit into new moulds and broaden their appeal. It is now increasingly hard for governments to please everyone and for parties to appeal to all. Perhaps, therefore, large parties which once had simply formulated political motives which spoke to the masses can no longer speak to all types of individuals found within a more varied society.

Many would, of course, argue that it is impossible to please all and that this is just a fact of the democratic and, more specifically, majoritarian, system. In this election, both parties’ manifestos have aimed to appeal to all, but in reality, the leaders and their governmental gameplans only represent one part of the party’s multifaceted opinion base.

The Labour and Conservative parties arguably have chosen to run with just one form of their respective left and right opinion this election, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s traditional socialism, mixed with a streak of revolutionary populism, and Theresa May’ anti-EU strategy which champions ideas of UK national feeling and emphasises a need for uncompromised national sovereignty. Corbyn does not come across well to the Blairites, politicians who are sure to flex their muscles in the next parliament. Similarly, May, who was, until the departure of David Cameron, a remainer, fails to win over more centrist and European Tories.

But perhaps the UK revolves around a majoritarian system which, in fact, does not work for the majority. With two large parties aiming to please all at campaign level, whilst truly only being able to adopt one type of left-wing and right-wing thought within a party which contains many more specific pools of opinion, surely not all can feel satisfied with politics.

If this be the case, surely much of the British population remains perplexed. How, therefore, can big parties manage to speak for all? Perhaps the big social class-driven aggregate party structure is now dead, and can be rendered impractical. Arguably, the two big parties have attempted to please all in campaigns but this is ineffective for many, as they adopt just one small portion of their own left and right wing party’s thought.

There are several possible solutions. The first is that the catch-all, all-encompassing party becomes successful in pleasing all. This has, however, proven to be a rather utopian idea, based on this campaign and the politics of previous years.

Another option is that the UK political landscape would break down, heralding a wider range of political parties which each reflect more specific divisions of political opinion, welcoming a new proportional system of voting.

Furthermore, if Theresa May pushes on with her Brexit agenda, and the Labour Party continues to run with its staunchly traditionalist, left-of-centre socialism, British politics could become increasingly polarised, generating a gap in the market for a new centrist movement. Perhaps a more balanced force like French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche will soon come to the fore.

No matter who wins this election, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn now have the tricky task of healing the divides within their large parties, as they veer towards more specific directions. If the parties fail to unite their supporters, great constitutional change for the UK could be next on the to-do list. Perhaps the clear-cut, class-driven party structures which have for so long defined the UK’s political landscape are breaking down, no longer able to speak for all.

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europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

The future of Boris and his ambition is in May’s hands

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Flapping around in the midst of the EU referendum fallout, the Conservative Party is currently enduring what may only be the start of a lengthy spell of political turbulence. Prevailing volatility amongst raging factions of Remainers and Brexiteers has shown that the UK’s recent vote has failed to eradicate the tense mood which currently shrouds the Tory party. Stranded at the epicentre of the Brexit wreckage, the Tories have been left broken and despairing. June’s ballot has certainly not put an end to the Conservatives party’s epidemic of quarrelling, and future success for the party looks to be considerably far out of reach.

The European Union isn’t the only source of the UK government’s quandaries, though. In a vetting process originally set to take at least ten weeks, David Cameron’s successor has been rapidly selected in just three. Upon the surprising victory for Vote Leave, it were former Mayor of London Boris Johnson who was originally tipped to succeed the now disposed of Cameron.

After a rather uncharacteristically serious stint as co-frontman for the Vote Leave campaign alongside Michael Gove, a large proportion of the Tory party believed that it were Boris who had proven himself worthy of leadership. But Gove’s crafty moves to undermine Johnson in the party leadership contest were relatively successful. His cunning decision to run against Johnson – an act described by many as treachery – has certainly prevented Boris from mapping the Conservatives’ direction in the short term.

Last week, most thought that Boris Johnson was finished, and that he may never hold any more influential party position than that of a constituency MP. But the prominent blondie may well come back to widen the Tory party’s divide in months and years to come – especially during or following the incumbency of newly-appointed Theresa May.

Yesterday, it were instead she, the former Home Secretary, who triumphantly stood in front of Number 10, ready to colonise Westminster with her distinctly formidable demeanour and uncompromising approach to decision-making. Today, May pressed on with the hand-picking of her new political arsenal. Mrs May’s cabinet has seen many a surprising appointment, however, including – rather controversially – that of the  Boris Johnson who is now Britain’s foreign secretary.

One of the politicians deemed most responsible for the great rift which has sprung up in the middle of the Tory party now sits in one of the most important positions in politics. But seated underneath the watch of Theresa May means that Johnson will be, to an extent, constrained. Everyone knows that Boris is a careerist and has dreams of the Tory party leadership. Theresa May’s tactics remain to be seen, but, needless to say, Mrs May will be keen to dissociate herself from Johnson’s politics which could subvert her much-needed authority.

But it is Mrs May who has the upper hand now. It is she who has the power to decide the fate of Boris Johnson. Will he be a successful foreign secretary, bolster his standing within the party, continuing to stoke the still red hot coals of the Eurosceptics’ campfire? Or will the new Prime Minister user her iron fist to manoeuvre Johnson off her path, clamping down on his sizeable realm of support?

By promoting Boris Johnson, who will surely be one of her government’s most prolific ministers, Theresa May could possibly have made a fatal error. Despite only a marginal win for Vote Leave, Brexit generated not only wide support for cutting ties with the European Union, but also for Boris Johnson himself. Today’s cabinet announcements include six Brexiteers – six individuals who still advocate for the views of the Tories’ large Eurosceptic, more libertarian base.

Herein lies the problem. In the event that the popularity of Mrs May begins to wane, the grounds for Boris Johnson to become the backseat driver of this government could look strong. Providing Boris Johnson with such stature could come back to kick Mrs May, and could be detrimental to the stability of her brand new premiership.

On the other hand, allowing Boris Johnson to have a degree of political ammunition is a somewhat clever move. Undoubtedly, Boris’ careerism and ambition to work his way into the top seats of government still exists. Keeping the man who has the power to be most divisive in the cabinet forces a great deal of responsibility upon him.

His ability to largely manage the UK’s global affairs, and, needless to say, implement the Brexit for which he so desperately advocated, shows that sympathy is not one of Theresa May’s defining characteristics as a politician. If the operation of leaving the European Union backfires, it will not be Mrs May who takes the blame. And, of course, an ability to broker deals and negotiate with international neighbours is essential for truly great politicians.

Should Boris Johnson fail to become a hit with the rest of the world’s biggest economies, the future premiership hopeful’s reputation will be destroyed. Currently, his global record isn’t wholly clean, having made several offensive remarks in relation to other cultures, prompting worldwide hostility. Johnson was booed at a French press conference today, is reportedly hated in Brussels, and many Germans cannot believe Boris’ new status. Judging by Theresa May’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude to government, Boris Johnson and his future chances will be eaten alive by his fellow party members should he make detrimental diplomatic blunders.

Albeit considerably better organised, the Tory party is still precariously balanced upon the controversy of issues relating to the European Union, immigration, and the only very recently more earnest Boris Johnson. Prime Minister Theresa May has made the decision to feed Mr Johnson the power for which he eternally begs, but keeping Boris at bay is vital to the stability of her leadership. Gaffes, policy rejection, and rebellion could result in a challenge to her leadership just as messy as that carried out by Gove towards Johnson.

Theresa May has shown in the past that she is a formidable leader. She is one of few Home Secretaries to emerge from the position with their reputation unscathed enough to battle on in the cabinet. With the right foresight and meticulousness, Mrs May could indeed revive the Tory party to its former robustness. As the internal lining of the Conservative party fabric is now close to tearing, it is vital that stitches it back together, with Theresa May pushing her cabinet ministers and backbenchers into line with her tough approach – especially Boris Johnson.

UK politics has never before been so Machiavellian, based on opportunism, and required such precise tactics. If the nation’s new Prime Minister shows any signs of flinching, those on the other side of the Tory party will surely squirm their way out of their muzzles immediately, Boris Johnson clenching the reins. Theresa May had better have had her game plan drawn up weeks ago. The careerism and ambition of Boris Johnson has certainly not been halted, but the Prime Minister must fast minimise it. Clever manipulation by Mrs May of her internal opponents is what will veer them away from her new political stomping ground. Johnson is the Prime Minister’s biggest threat, but whether or not he will be a success or a failure is her call.

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