General elections are game-changers, always. Whatever the result on June 8th, there will be major ructions in all the political parties, bar the winners. As the polls currently stand, the Tories and the SNP look set to be the big winners from polling day, with Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP the big losers. Need I mention the Greens?
The point has been made enough times here and elsewhere now that the right has reunited, while the left remains dangerously divided. Theresa May, partly through choice and partly through tribal impetus from within her party, looks likely to win a big mandate to negotiate pretty much whatever Brexit deal she likes (so long as we do actually leave the EU and the free movement of people to the UK is ended).
The proper negotiations around that deal will get underway as soon as the election as over. Everything else has been a phoney war. And this means Theresa May’s unpatriotic, self-immolating path to Brexit will need to be properly opposed and, where possible, ameliorated from the centre-left. The question is – how?
What will happen to Labour?
Things are not going to simply carry on as before in the Labour Party after the election. The temporary truce between Labour MPs and the Labour leadership is just that – temporary. If as many Labour MPs lose their seats as is predicted, then there will be fewer people in Parliament around to challenge Corbyn – but a majority of those who are left will be angrier than ever.
Yvette Cooper (and one or two others) will challenge Corbyn for the leadership, even if the Tories win a much smaller majority than predicted. Because, let’s face it, a government that’s been in power for seven years should not be increasing its vote or seat share. Jeremy Corbyn – breaking established convention once more – will not resign because of the election result. The Labour Leader believes he derives his mandate not from the voting public, but from those eligible to vote in the annual Labour leadership contest. Yeah, I know…
It’s perfectly possible – indeed probable – that Corbyn will win a third Labour leadership election if he’s on the ballot. If he does, more voters and more established members will leave Labour and the grip of the far left over the Party apparatus will tighten further. The result of the leadership election will probably be announced at the Labour Party’s conference in September, which is already set to be a pitched battle between the moderates and Momentum over the so-called ‘McDonnell Amendment’ (the proposal to lower the leadership nomination threshold among MPs to 5%).
The McDonnell Amendment may, of course, not be needed if as many Labour MPs lose their seats as predicted. 15% of between 100 and 150 MPs is not that many at all, and many of Corbyn’s most redoubtable supporters sit in some of the safest Labour seats – one or two of which are near Islington North. In this context, one potential scenario involves Corbyn stepping down provided a successor of his choosing – perhaps Rebecca Long-Bailey or Angela Rayner – is on the ballot paper.
The worst possible outcome here – Corbyn clinging on even after September – would probably mean the end of the Labour Party. Even the best possible outcome – Corbyn’s replacement by a centre-left leader willing to respect and embrace the voters and, in so doing, devise a strategy to represent them – would most likely be faced with the task of rebuilding the party until the next election, after which they would have to hand over a real contender for the premiership.
The great favour that Theresa May has done the Labour Party – and the centre-left people within its ranks – is that she has accelerated the journey towards these matters being settled once and for all. We will basically know by September 2017 whether Labour can be salvaged. If not, those progressives who remain within its ranks – this writer included – will have some even longer, harder thinking to do.
What about the Lib Dems?
This election was supposed to be the Lib Dems’ comeback tour, but they are being led by Tim Farron – a deeply uninspiring man who had to spend the first two weeks of the election campaign denying that he thought gay sex was a sin. Not ideal.
The Lib Dems’ vote share will very likely increase at this election, but it’s conceivable that their number of seats will go down. Even if their number of seats increases, it will not be my much. Given Labour’s confused messaging on Brexit, this election should present a major opportunity for the Lib Dems to start making inroads, but it looks like they will fail. And Tim Farron, to his credit, will resign.
The Lib Dems will then be forced to choose a new leader from their still-diminished ranks. It will probably be Norman Lamb or Vince Cable. It may even be Nick Clegg. More importantly, however, the Lib Dems will be a party of over 100,000 members with around 10 MPs. Those members may either start to look elsewhere or start to demand a radically different approach…
So, where next for the centre-left?
The current political situation is unsustainable both for the country and for the centre-left. The counter-revolution against right-wing forces has already begun in France, with Emmanuel Macron dispatching Marine Le Pen. Now, you may argue that Macron didn’t win from a left-wing position, but I’ll take centrism over fascism every day of the week.
I have already written about what specifically Labour can learn from Macron. This goes much broader than individuals, however. The point is that the centre-left itself has become irrelevant. The thing is, the centre-left may end up having no choice in whether it comes to its senses or not. It may be forced to, as Nick Cohen wrote earlier this week, by the weight of public pressure.
One of the many virtues of British democracy is that one-party supremacy never lasts. Theresa May’s position will only deteriorate after June. She will never be this strong again. That’s partly why she called this election. The stresses and strains of Brexit, and the oncoming economic slowdown, will necessitate political challenge from within and without the Conservative Party.
To make this possible, the centre-left will need a new rallying point. You may think I mean a new party. Not so fast. I’m a Labour man. Last week I wrote that only Labour can save the left. The question is what sort of Labour Party, with which members and what sort of leadership? I suspect we’re about to find out the answer to that question in short order. For now, one thing is certain: things can only get better.