As we enter the summer parliamentary recess, we thought we’d dwell upon what lies ahead for the two main UK political parties. The last two months have been unprecedented: 17.4 million Brits voted to leave the EU, 1 Prime Minister resigned, 172 Labour MPs opposed their leader in a vote of no confidence, the second ever female Prime Minister was elected by Conservative MPs, and possibly the most barmy development of all: Boris Johnson MP was appointed Foreign Secretary. You’d be forgiven for thinking we’d all been watching a prolonged episode of The Thick of It. The reality is we’ve not seen such instability within politics in decades. The establishment is in shock and this means the usual summer hols must be put on hold.
First, to the Conservatives. With David Cameron now on permanent gardening leave, it’s up to newly-elected Prime Minister, Theresa May, to pick up the fallout which Brexit has inevitably brought about. Many commentators observed that they hadn’t witnessed division in the Conservative ranks of the like surrounding the EU referendum since the days of John Major labelling several of his Cabinet members “bastards”. Yet, astonishingly, the election of Theresa May appears to have healed the bulk of Tory wounds over Brexit in a matter of weeks. May has carefully appointed key Brexiteers to government departments which will require considerable negotiation after the triggering of Article 50. This is a clever move: appointing people like Andrea Leadsom to DEFRA and Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade has applied a “you caused it, you deal with the consequences” approach to governance. With a 16 percent lead in the latest ICM poll – the Tories now have a prime opportunity to worry about sorting out their negotiation strategy for Brexit, seeing as there appears to be little sense of an opposition, at present.
Turning to the opposition itself, Labour is in turmoil. Whilst the Tories have managed to appease their leadership anguish with clinical ruthlessness, the Labour Party now faces at least another two months of discontent. It looks likely that Jeremy Corbyn could go on to win the leadership election once again in September, with the challenger Owen Smith MP, trailing behind in most polls. If this is the case, how the Labour Party can fight a general election, with 80% of the Parliamentary Labour Party having no confidence in the leader, remains unclear. If Corbyn does succeed, which could threaten the very long-term existence of the Labour Party, we think it’s likely that the majority of Labour MPs who deposed Corbyn will campaign locally in order to defend their own constituency seats whilst waiting for him to lose the next general election. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if supporters of Jeremy Corbyn defended his right to be leader even if he lost a general election.
Overall, in ordinary circumstances, with a weak opposition and a strong poll lead for the Tories, we would say a snap general election is all but a certainty in the autumn. This may still be the case. We have an inkling however, that if Corbyn does win his second leadership election, Theresa May could prefer to hold out until 2020 so as not to add further investor uncertainty during Brexit negotiations that a general election would inevitably bring. She would be able to do this safe in the knowledge that, even with an additional three years, Corbyn is highly unlikely to be able to achieve the 12% swing in England needed for the Labour Party to achieve even the slimmest of parliamentary majorities. It begs the question, just what is Labour thinking in considering re-electing him?