Monday, 27 February 2017

When oppositions fall apart.....


The law of political fragmentation (which I've just invented) states that when oppositions fall apart, government is all powerful. Usually our two party system  prevents this. The opposition maintains a continuous critique of the executive, develops an attractive alternative and stands ready to take over when and if the existing one fails

That hasn't worked when parties have broken up or opposition is divided. In 1884 the Liberals split over home rule and Liberal Unionistssustained a period of Conservative rule which went on, albeit with a brief and powerless Liberal government, until the Tories themselves fell apart over tariff reform twenty years later.

It happened again in the 1920s when another Liberal split gave Britain a three party system which lasted until Churchill brought all the parties together in his grand coalition in 1940. Now as Brexit and the rise of the SNP fragment the opposition once more, its happening again.             These precedents are bad. Previous fragmentations gave Britain stable but bad government as the Conservatives instead of driving to the centre as governments facing an effective opposition do  ignored the social and industrial problems of the long recession as Salisbury did or failed to deal with post World War One decline  and the suffering it produced as the government of the twenties did.

Now, a similar situation brings back the prospect of one party rule in which another Conservative government  isn't kept to the mark and the centre by an effective opposition. This is partly due to the slow death of party allegiance with fewer people voting for the two majors, more voting as consumers not loyalists, partly too to the erosion of Labour's base as Britain became more middle class now because the second party has split (yet) but because the opposition is  divided and it's component parts can't agree on much.

Paddy Ashdown and Peter Mandelson want  a new grouping to bring Labour and Liberals together. This is unlikely because, the Lib-Dems now have so little to offer that it would be like trying to mate an elephant with a flea. The Liberals are no longer the attractive partner they were when Tony Blair turned coalition down in 1997. They're in constant conflict with Labour in the councils, they disagree about the trade unions and equality , their socially liberal policies aren't too attractive to Labour's core support and Labour can never match their vacuous enthusiasm for the EU.

 Labour faces another threat on the other side from from UKIP though that is in its northern heartlands not Parliament  UKIP may win council seats and threaten Labour marginals by taking votes away but  the only possible relationship is frigid distaste. Labour MPs are too priscilly middle class to want anything to do with UKIP's populist upstarts whom they regard as a boil on the bum of the body politics,not potential partners.

The real problem is Labour's loss of its Scottish base. The rise of the SNP not only creates two oppositions but brings back, on a smaller scale, the problem the Liberals faced in 1910 . Labour can only be effective with nationalist support as the Liberals were with the Irish nationalists.Back in Edwardian times,however, the Liberals had something to offer in Home Rule which kept the nationalists in line. Now Labour has nothing .The battle in Scotland is a fight to the death to win back Labour's once and former heartland.

Another dose of devolution won't satisfy the SNP. Labour can't outbid them in their devotion to the EU, and with English financial support, the SNP inScotland has been able  to offer the Scots more than Labour did or can. The SNP's threat to call another referendum is pure bluff .They'd lose it thanks to the decline in oil revenues and the dependence on English subsidies but though Labour can win back seats it is never likely to win all the seats it once held . Without them it can't offer an effective alternative to the Conservatives in either Westminster or Holyrood

The Tories are compounding the opposition's problems by taking steps to entrench themselves. The massive redistribution consequent on the reduction to 600 MPs will hit Labour harder than the Conservatives. They've restricted trade union and Parliamentary funding, purged the electoral rolls by personal registration and are even considering  requiring ID to vote a device the Republicans  use to purge Democratic voters in the US

Taken together all this means that a government with a minuscule minority isn't threatened. It's opponants cant agree. They hate each other more than the government. They're are in direct competition with each other on the ground and all of them fear an election. They can agree on are the Health Service and demonstrating their distaste for President Trump but on no issue neither can they push hostility so far as to defeat a government which can treat any defeat as a question of confidence  and go for an election where the SNP is certain to lose some support in Scotland, Labour more in England.

 The ice is thin on any conventional measure but Theresa May can continue to skate on it and mobilise  all the powers of the elective dictatorship as if she had a majority of 200 and can continue to do that  up to 2020 just s as long as she gets a presentable deal on the EU, drops a few items from the Thatcherite menu of austerity, spending cuts and starvation of housing and local government and lives up to her own rhetoric by tilting things back to the "just managing"(who're probably also just Labour). Given that, it may be May for the foreseeable future. 

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