Brexit: Backlash and Bounces in the Local Elections
With nearly half of the votes declared in this year’s local elections, both Labour and Tories failed to persuade voters that the poll was about ‘anything but Brexit’ – the EU referendum result continues to dominate on the doorstep in either disgust or despair. So far, the Conservatives have lost control of 16 councils and more than 400 council seats and Labour have lost 2 councils and more than 70 seats, despite leading in national polls. Both major parties suffered in their traditional heartlands as voters registered their feelings over the failure of Parliament to get its act together and continue to limp… who knows where to anymore? The results do not bode well for the UK’s European Parliament elections scheduled for 23rd May as Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party continues to surge ahead and the Lib Dems attract fed-up Remainers. With trust in politicians fading even further, voters went to the polls determined to send a message that their patience with what might just be the world’s longest pantomime show is finally coming to an end.
That Other Second Referendum
The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has said again that the time is coming for… another referendum, but not just yet. Although YouGov polling suggests that only 42% support a referendum in the next five years, with 48% against, Sturgeon believes that Brexit’s ongoing shambles will help the SNP demonstrate that Scotland’s best interests lie in Holyrood, rather than Westminster. Some of the nationalists’ 125,000-strong membership were disappointed that there was no announcement of an outright demand for a second referendum at the SNP’s 2019 conference, but the First Minister is keen to time the moment carefully. Her strategy appears to be to wait until the fog of Brexit has lifted before striking a final blow to the Union and seeking a new place for an independent Scotland in… the European Union.
After You, Ma’am
The Prime Minister has signalled that the Queen’s Speech will be delayed until Brexit legislation is passed, in what can only be interpreted as the latest display of constitutional acrobatics. A new session of parliament had been due to begin in June, but this could now be pushed back to autumn at the earliest. Theresa May is understood to be afraid that a new Queen’s Speech would give Brexiteer Tories a golden opportunity to vote it down, block her proposed deal with the EU and lead to her own departure from No 10. The Conservatives’ ongoing dependency on the DUP would also undoubtedly be another headache as a new session would require a fresh negotiation with a party that refuses to budge on the backstop issue. Theresa May’s allies have conceded that the next Queen’s Speech is likely to be prepared by a new Conservative leader and that her days in Downing Street are numbered.
Lib Dems Bring in the Big Guns
Fresh from local election victory that saw them emerge as the only major winners of the night, the Liberal Democrats will be joined on their Friday euro canvassing by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s outspoken leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Major differences of opinion on Brexit policy remain, however, as unlike the Lib Dems, Mr Verhofstadt supports the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and opposed the extension of Article 50. Nevertheless, this could well be seen as a political celebrity’s endorsement of a party that is currently fighting off fierce competition from Change UK-The Independent Group and the Green Party for the Remainer votes, in what now seems to be inevitable European elections.
Nothing Has Changed for Change UK
The fundamental realignment and seismic shift in British politics that began with the resignation of eight Labour and three Conservative MPs to form The Independent Group has struggled to build momentum and showcase itself as the champion of political change. Founded in part on a rejection of anti-Semitic racism, the party almost immediately became embroiled in a row over racism/misspeaking by Angela Smith MP and, since then, has been accused of a failure to properly vet candidates who have expressed anti-Romanian views and sexist and derogatory comments about women on Twitter. Trailing behind the Brexit Party even in London polling, it will be difficult to see how the fledgling party can shake off the perception – or reality – that it is talking mainly to itself – as no-one outside the Westminster bubble seems to be listening.