This is a guest post submitted by Will Black
Much is made of divisions within the Labour Party. News bulletins in recent months have frequently and salaciously suggested the party will divide into two, almost as if broadcast journalists are somehow titillated by the asexual reproduction of political bodies.
It cannot be, of course, that our ‘neutral’ national broadcasters are getting themselves so excited over Labour’s supposed split just because there is a media bias in favour of the Conservatives. So we have to be charitable, and assume broadcasters simply like to study the reproduction of political organisms. It must be so, as it’s almost always a broadcaster, not a representative of the party, raising the subject.
In reality, the break-up of Labour as a result of the Parliamentary Labour Party not getting its way and ejecting left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn would be ludicrous, anti-democratic, and a dereliction of duty. It would also be incredibly foolish as, despite the media focus on Labour, the Conservative Party has a very slim majority – and a chasm at its heart.
The chasm within the Conservative Party is related to the UK’s membership of the European Union. This chasm, or festering wound as I’ve previously described it, goes back decades. It encouraged the emergence and growth of UKIP and the far-right English Defence League and Britain First – a bit like an immunological deficit enabling the progress of viruses.
These parasitical and virulent political organisms have not merely harmed the Conservative Party, but the entire country. They have pushed narratives of division and xenophobia, culminating in the wave of hate crime reported since the Brexit vote.
The EU referendum was David Cameron’s attempt to immunise the Tory body from the encroachment of UKIP. Some would say it was an overreaction (akin to an allergic response to an allergen), given that the more fundamental condition of Euroscepticism had been afflicting the Tory ‘heart’ for decades. Nevertheless, the encroachment of UKIP was enabled by inherent Tory vulnerabilities, as well as a rise in anti-immigration sentiment in neglected pockets of Britain.
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In the 2010 general election, UKIP was buzzing around Westminster seats like insects, taking 3.1% of the vote. By the 2012 local elections, the UKIP buzz had got even louder, and the party managed to get 13% of votes in the seats it contested. Just eight months later, David Cameron (then in an uneasy coalition with the Lib Dems) announced that, if the Conservative Party won the 2015 election, the country would be given a referendum on membership of the EU.
Therefore, rather than deal with Euroscepticism within his own party or find clear ways to counter the encroachment of UKIP, Cameron simply cast the problem away, as though flinging a hand grenade from his office window. The grenade of course ultimately bounced back, and Cameron was blown from office after the referendum vote didn’t go his way. Rightly so, in my view, as David Cameron had jeopardised the country for the sake of his thirst for power.
As Cameron left office without invoking Article 50, which is required to start the process of leaving the EU, Tories leading the Brexit campaign appeared reluctant to take office.
Whether favourite Boris Johnson believed that the office was booby-trapped with more explosives, or that his backstabbing ‘friend’ Michael Gove had more weapons up his sleeve, we may never know. But given the relative silence of Gove and Johnson about Article 50, and Theresa May’s hesitation in triggering it, we can assume that there is now a sober recognition that taking the UK out of the EU is as significant as taking the country to war. In fact, Theresa May has expressed at least as much enthusiasm for launching nuclear missiles as she has for triggering Article 50.
So while the right-wing media makes hay over the Labour leadership campaign, it is worth considering some stark truths.
The truth is that the Conservative Party is at least as divided as Labour is. Whether you choose to call it a festering wound or an immunodeficiency, the Conservative Party retains an affliction going back decades. Cameron announcing a referendum hasn’t healed this chronic condition. Nor has the marginal public vote in favour of Brexit. Furthermore, despite a deep sense of entitlement making a few Tories imagine that the UK is so special we can have free access to markets while shutting our borders, more rational heads know this is pie in the sky.
After Tory MPs drift back home, from villas and yachts peppered across continental Europe, and cluster once more in Westminster, the pathology at the heart of the party will become vividly apparent yet again.
Calls to invoke Article 50 will get louder, more bitter and more rabid. But they are unlikely to come from all parts of the Commons chamber. Fundamentally, the Conservatives are the party of big business – and cutting our moorings with the EU and drifting further into the cold North Atlantic is not in the interests of business, jobs or prosperity.
May might try to capitalise on Labour’s divisions by holding a general election next year, which could postpone Article 50 being invoked. But this would mean the core campaign issue would be the UK’s relationship with Europe. We could end up with the three main parties (within which I still include the Lib Dems) going to the polls on Brexit-lite and anti-Brexit manifestos. This could easily produce a Labour / Lib Dem / SNP coalition, especially with a rudderless UKIP in chaos and a number of Brexit voters apparently regretting their choice.
Whatever it does, the Conservative Party seems destined to be wounded by its fundamental chasm over Europe. It can keep kicking decisions into the long grass but, whether the UK ‘Brexits’ or not, the party will continue to face explosions over this chasm. Boris Johnson might have to wait a long time before the Prime Minister’s office is free of explosives and the heart of the Tory Party is any less damaged.
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