May Stays – But For How Long?
Westminster’s weird this week. MP’s back from Easter hols, back in Brexit trenches, fretting about upcoming local and Euro elections. And rightly so. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s their party leaders that both Tory and Labour voters are gunning for.
Nobody in parliament gives a monkey’s about who gets to be councillors or MEP’s. At least, not much of one. In normal times.
Turnout is generally low and the bearing of either on the poll that decides who actually runs the country is generally slight.
But in the nasty, twitchy, dysfunctional hellhole that Westminster’s become every little helps. In this case, helps make it that little bit worse.
The voting in the town hall elections, this coming week, will be scoured for evidence that the nation wants a better Brexit/no Brexit/a more Brexity Tory leader/less Brexit bullshit from the Labour leader.
So far, Jeremy Corbyn’s only really bigged up bus routes and Sats tests. Parish pump stuff that feeds into local democracy.
But the system at all levels feels fragile at the moment. Cabinet ministers are in the frame following this week’s leak of discussions, held by the National Security Council, about Chinese involvement in our telecoms infrastructure.
The clue’s in the name. National security. Not much is sacred these days, but that is supposed to be the holy of holies. Troubling times.
On the doorsteps too, there’s an undercurrent of menace. Canvassers have actually been physically attacked. Party apparatchiks are putting it down to a general sourness about all the national parties, and the cock-up they’re making of Brexit.
There’s also a lot of ill-will about the fact that we Brits are electing MEP’s at all. After all, we were supposed to be out of the European Union by now.
But, seeing as we aren’t, and will likely stay in until the end of October, possibly a lot longer, we have to fulfil our legal obligations like any other EU member.
It’s an expensive process, and the idea of having to show up at the polling stations on May 23rd feels to Brexiteers like a slap in the face with a wet kipper. Definitely taking the pizza. Seriously, totally, crêpe.
Theresa May just might swerve the problem by trying yet again to get her hated withdrawal bill past parliament in coming days. But it’s unlikely. Even less so to actually get it through.
So the parties are gearing up, vaguely. The Tories may not even have much of a manifesto to stand on. Some activists are refusing to campaign at all, and it’s been said the campaign’s strapped for cash because many normal donors won’t cough up.
Labour is also in a bind because Jeremy Corbyn’s been trying to avoid saying if he’s up for a second referendum or not. After a right old ding-dong it now looks like it’ll get a mention in campaign literature. But it’s all a bit grudging and still definitely a problem.
At least the Lib Dems know what they’re after. The same thing as Change UK. The breakaway group of anti-Brexit Labour and Tory MPs wants a people’s vote. And wants it now.
At the other end of the spectrum there’s ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
He’s often described these days as the godfather of Brexit, for the good reason that David Cameron only promised the referendum in the first place to head off the threat he posed before the 2015 general election.
And now that Farage has magicked up a new party, named, you’ll be astonished to learn, the Brexit Party, he’s the bookies’ favourite to scoop the board.
A scary thought for team Theresa. There’re been huge pressure on her for ages to flutter off, and make way for someone who’ll really give Brussels the bird.
Her party’s execution squad agonised last week over whether to load, aim and fire, but by a narrow margin bottled it.
However, if Farage does as well as so many expect, the guns will be cocked again. For the good reason it’d confirm the Tory core vote just wants to get the hell out of Europe.
And there’s just the man waiting in the wings to make that happen.
Given that most Tory MP’s aren’t keen on leaving the European Union without a deal, and they don’t trust the man in question anyway, he could hardly boast it’s in the bag.
But it’s the Conservative members who’ll probably have the final say on who leads their party. And they love Boris Johnson. Really really love him. An internal poll last week gave him more than twice the support of anyone else in the game.
Between preposterously highly paid speaking engagements – he trousered a cool £160,000 in March – he managed to slip in a haircut recently.
Not like the Greeks getting shorn when they ran out of money, but a real one. Which says he’s not so much on manoeuvres as got his finger twitching on the trigger.
Brexit has been boring for a long time now. And, outwardly, it’s actually gone a bit quiet of late, god be thanked.
But just below the surface it’s bubbling away. Ready to explode at any moment. Hang on to your hats, folks. It could be one helluva big bang.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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