The past few weeks have seen a tumultuous breaking down of the traditional structures of British party politics. With the defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU27 by the largest margin for a British Government in British parliamentary history and the defection of 8 Labour MPs and 3 Conservative MPs to form the Independent Group, plus a further Labour MP quitting the Party in disgust at the perceived anti-Semitism in Labour, domestic British party politics is in a state of flux like never before. This is due to the political and constitutional crisis of the 2016 EU Referendum and the decision to have the UK leave the EU and the subsequent fallout of implementing that decision over the course of the past three years now which has paralysed and overwhelmed British governance and politics as well as the media coverage of the political and policy agenda at Westminster.
Combined with the fact that the Prime Minister has announced she will not lead the Tory Party into the next General Election, currently scheduled for 2022, a massive power vacuum has opened up at the heart of the British State while its Parliament has been consumed by one subject, and one subject alone over the course of the last three years, namely the UK’s membership of the European Union. As has its Civil Service and the Government’s public policy agenda which outside of Brexit and the UK-EU divorce negotiations has advanced not one iota on relieving deep challenges and pressing burdens of acute economic and social affliction upon the middle class and also the vital services and infrastructure as well as social cohesion of the country beyond its status inside or out of the European Union.
The creation of the Independent Group of MPs has rocked both the Labour Party and Conservative Party while upending the delicate Parliamentary arithmetic inside the House of Commons. Alongside in alliance with the British Liberal Democrat Party, the Independent Group, forms the fourth largest political force in the British House of Commons behind the Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish National Party thus offering perhaps a rival power centre of votes from the Democratic Unionist Party, currently in a confidence and supply agreement with the minority Tory Party. Many political commentators and political affairs strategists have compared the rebel renegade breakaway faction of the gang of 8 Labour MPs to an SDP moment among the Labour Party.
The group of 11 MPs in total including the three Conservative ladies Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen have now all begun to take formal steps with the Electoral Commission to move from an ethereal and loose informal political grouping and bloc of votes to a formalised official new political party that will raise funds through donations and field candidates at the next General Election. Its leader looks set to be the former Labour MP Chuka Umunna. The effect of this rupture within the Labour Party over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn from hard core Blairites and concerns over a row regarding the perceived rise in anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is also felt across the aisle as well in the deep anger and despair as well as unease within the rank and file of the Tory Party regarding Theresa May’s leadership and handling of the Brexit negotiations taking the UK out of the EU after the Leave campaign won the 2016 EU referendum which most of the Tory grass roots supported.
Within the Tory Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons roughly 1/3 of the MPs, and the grassroots out in the constituencies and provinces outside of London, are furious with Theresa May regarding her Withdrawal Agreement and furious with her Tory Government and the Tory Party in general regarding the Brexit fiasco. It seems likely another Tory Party leadership campaign is already underway in preparation for Theresa May perhaps resigning by this summer. How all of this in terms of the breakdown in unity to the Labour Party’s standing under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and another new Tory Prime Minister will play out could create a period of British domestic politics where minority Governments, coalitions and confidence and supply arrangements become more frequent and perhaps the new norm especially if the new Independent Group take off and are able to garner widespread centrist support from pro-European moderate Tories and Labour and unite perhaps in alliance with the Liberal Democrats, or will they prove like a flash in the pan that the SDP/Liberal Alliance of the 1980s proved?
One thing is certain, with the current stalemate at Westminster, the crumbling of the traditional structures of British party politics, the UK bedeviled by the European issue and a Government out of control the UK is headed for the exit of the European Union under the worst possible circumstances. The country will need to rely on quite a lot of goodwill internationally going forward if it is to salvage anything nearing a success for the long term of this Brexit enterprise.