Sunday, March 26, 2017

Has Britain become a "democratic one-party state" for a decade or so?

Alistair Meeks has posted today at "Political Betting" about "Politics in a democratic one party state."

His argument appears to be  that because the SNP has no interest or ability to appeal outside Scotland, the Lib/Dems were smashed down so heavily in 2015 that they will take a while to get back into serious contention for power, UKIP are bereft of a purpose for existence having achieved their main objective and too divided and disorganised to be a major threat to the Conservatives, and Labour seems to have abdicated any serious wish to appeal to the centre ground, we have entered a period of politics in which only the Conservatives matter.

It's an interesting argument but I think it is not so much wrong as seriously overstated.

Unless Labour manage a significant change of course which would have to include both new leadership and a much greater wish to appeal to a wider range of voters, they are in serious danger of  a very heavy defeat at the next election, one which would make it difficult for them to get back into power before 2030.

But if Labour are that useless, the voters are going to start looking for a new alternative government.

UKIP had a window to position themselves as that alternative. If they had avoided their repeated rounds of damaging infighting, if the likes of Farage and Banks had not persisted of reminding the majority of the electorate - including many people who voted Leave in spite of UKIP, not because of them, and above all, if they had fought the Stoke Central by-election with a modest degree of competence, in which case they might well have won it or got close, they might well have built the momentum to form part of a pincer movement on Labour support, - the other pincer being the Lib/Dems - which could have posed an existential threat to Labour.

My gut instinct is that they've blown it and UKIP's window has been missed.

The Lib/Dems, on the other hand, have positioned themselves as the party of Remain. That's a good position for a gradual build up of support in most circumstances, and would give them a chance of a really major comeback if Brexit goes terribly wrong.

If the Lib/Dems can make some advance in council elections between now and the next general election and then gain seats at that election, probably mostly at Labour's expense, and Labour continues to be in a mess, I can see the Lib/Dems taking over from Labour as the main opposition to the Conservatives. The electorate will not tolerate a situation where they have only one realistic choice of government for decades.

And the Conservatives cannot afford to be complacent or assume that there will be no serious opposition challenge. There is nothing more debilitating to a party or to a government than complacency, and the last time the Conservatives appeared set to be in government for decades it all went horribly wrong and ended in 1997 with one of the worst defeats in the party's history.

As Harold MacMillan once said, there is always the risk of "events, dear boy, events" and it is a dangerous world. Sooner or later there will be another world recession and whoever is then in government will get some of the blame for it. There is also the far from trivial possibility that Britain's exit from the EU may be perceived to have gone badly - and if this happens you can bet your life that even leave voters will blame the party in power and not themselves.

So although the opposition may seem like a disaster area - forget the "seem like," the opposition IS a disaster area - the Conservatives will not get a decade and a half of power without earning it. Few things in this world are as transitory as an apparently impregnable political position.


Anonymous said...

The Conservatives WILL get a decade and a half of power without earning it, what will you have to show for it? Otto von Bismarck would be proud of you.

Chris Whiteside said...

I don't think so.