It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, in which Britain crashed out of the EU, a PM announced his resignation, a coup was attempted then stalled against the leader of the opposition and the most odious man in the world after Donald Trump resigned declaring his mission accomplished.
But what next? Well, some things we already knew would happen have happened. The pound has fallen in value, businesses are worried and the political fallout has been huge, both home and abroad. We also now know that the next Prime Minister will be a woman – either the vaguely dull, incompetent (no seriously, really incompetent) Theresa May or the utter shambolic summing up of the country hitting absolute rock bottom that the election of Andrea Leadsom would demonstrate.
We also know the economic outlook is shit. NIESR were already predicting the economy had contracted the month before the Brexit vote, and with jobs drying up already, the weak pound and loss of confidence both is consumers and businesses that Brexit has inspired, it seems quite likely a recession is on the cards.
Now it may well be any recession is short in nature and we recover quickly. It may also be that the new Tory PM embarks on more fiscal austerity during a recession and we get a big hit with unemployment rising to boot. In which case we’ll have a new PM inheriting recession, EU negotiations that will almost certainly result in both leave and remain voters being pissed off and many underlying problems that led to the disgruntlement of the leave vote in the first place (inequality, shit jobs, public services stretched etc).
As such, I don’t see the next PM lasting… long… I mean, they might… Theresa May has been canny as Home Secretary, lasting much longer than anyone else to have held the poisoned chalice of a job. But then again, as Yvette Cooper rightly points out, her solution to Home Office crisis were to hide from them. Simply waiting for a storm to blow over will not work as Prime Minister where ‘leadership’ and being in the public eye regularly are sort of the point.
She’ll also struggle for scapegoats. David Cameron and George Osbourne always had the helpful ‘we’re tidying up the mess the previous Labour government left us’ line ready to dish out at the first sign of criticism. Mrs May will have her old boss, her own party and Brexit voters to blame for her predicament, none of whom can be scapegoated without political hits to herself.
She is well backed by the media though and it may well be she simply takes post-truth politics to a new level. If she can find a message that sticks and repeats it enough it will become the truth in the same way as Labour profligacy, single teenage mother benefit scroungers and bloody immigrants ruining the country have entered into public consciousness despite a dearth of evidence to back the assertions.
Indeed she has already started with talk about healing divisions within the Uk. This is all nice and hard to disagree with, it’s just a little rich coming from the prospective leader of the party which has caused a good deal of said division. Since the Tories took power, they have attacked disabled people, immigrants, public sector workers (police, doctors, teachers, you name it) the unemployed, the young and of course gave us the EU referendum itself which has laid out the greatest division of all for all to see (and resulting in a big jump in hate crimes). That said, the message is a positive one that you’d find it difficult to attack without coming across as the negative one. If she can genuinely spin herself as a ‘unifying’ figure, a second Thatcher, intent on leading the country ‘back to glory’, then regardless of what’s happening in the actual economy, she may well be able to stay in government.
The other issue of course is what Labour do. Government’s lose elections as opposed to oppositions winning them, but non-existent oppositions make for less appealing choices at the ballot box and the prospect of a split Labour party would almost certainly usher Theresa May to a general election victory in similar fashion to Thatcher in 1983 against Labour split with the SDP.
Equally, there’s no saying May will call a general election – at least not anytime soon. Gordon Brown did not call a general election after he took power and the Tories would be in no hurry to call a general election during a recession. Better to wait a year or two on the argument of requiring stability for the EU negotiations, let the economy recover and fight an election then.
So what will happen over the next 9 months and will it mean? Well, I take it for granted Theresa May will be the next Prime Minister. To think otherwise is just… *cringe*. She will most likely inherit a recession and face the choice of a general election or not. I’m guessing not. In which case I see a year or so of her governing, negotiating with the EU and blaming any negatives in the meantime on uncertainty plus poor people (you can never blame the workshy, scrounging, Jeremy Kyle lay abouts enough as a Tory PM). She’ll probably then cruise to a general election victory against whoever Labour put up thanks to massive media support and her image as Britain’s saviour from the post Brexit mess.
If she does call an election then I can see Labour actually winning. For all the attacks Corbyn has faced, he has come out with an increased membership base and still standing despite the onslaught. His different way of doing politics may also prove appealing in comparison to the business as normal Tory candidate, whilst his antipathy to the EU contrasted to May’s lukewarm support for remain may help unite the country in looking past the EU vote and back to what actually ails the country – Tory party fucking incompetence.
Still he does face challenges within his own party, and an SDP esque split is still a possibility, as is his removal. Worst still, a protracted period in which no one challenges him and he just stays in place as a lame duck leader, unable to truly rally the party come election time. (Of course if Labour had an ounce of sense, the 170 MPs who voted no confidence in Corbyn would simply return to their CLPs, ask for a deselection/reselection vote and wait for the outcome. If the majority of the PLP still support ousting Corbyn, then he should stand aside and allow a leadership election. If enough MPs who are against him are deselected, then new MPs must be selected and Corbyn allowed to continue as leader with the full backing of all concerned.)
Anyway, my point here is simple; the next 9 months of British politics will be just as important as the last two weeks, if not more so. Who the Tories pick, whether Labour oust Corbyn and with whom he’s replaced and most critically whether a general election is called in this timeframe are key to determining the future of the country. Ironically, what comes after the next nine months I think is far more easy to predict than what will happen within it.
As the apocryphal statement goes; may you live in interesting times.