Richard North, 06/05/2017  
 


It was Churchill, as we are recently reminded, who said that democracy was the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Something similar could be said of Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party. She has to be the worst possible person to lead us through the complexities of Brexit, except for all the others.

Corbyn, quite obviously, is a disaster area but, in the nature of things – as we know it – Labour is the only other party which has (or used to have) a credible chance of forming a government. So it is basically May or Corbyn. In other words, it can only be May.

That much comes over from Lord Ashcroft's latest focus groups, from which he offers us this commentary:
The widespread feeling in the groups, even among many former Labour voters, was that Mrs. May was by far the best person to speak for Britain in the Brexit negotiations, not least because the alternative was unthinkable: "I can't imagine Jeremy Corbyn sitting with 27 EU leaders on the other side"; "Labour would kind of pander to what other people want and kind of mess it up in the end".
On the other hand, if we don't entirely trust May (or the Conservatives) then we keep our options open and vote Ukip with the intention of holding their feet to the fire.

The dynamics are such that the activities of Ukip have had a real and measurable effect on the electoral prospects of the Conservatives, effectively by acting as the party's "Jiminy Cricket" conscience. An effective party could continue to perform the same role.

But that was to reckon without Paul Nuttall, the idiot's idiot, who appointed Gerard Batten as his Brexit spokesman – the man who has believes that Article 50 is a "trap" and argues that we should immediately repeal the ECA and walk away from the EU.

A vox pop on the BBC news, speaking with an elderly voter in Boston - formerly a stronghold of the party – said it all. "They don't seem have any idea of how to do Brexit", he declared of Ukip, having admitted to supporting the Conservative Party in Thursday's local government elections.

That, for the moment, seems to be the epitaph of the Party – one which was seeking under the leadership of Nuttall to reinvent itself as the slayer of Labour, yet mistakenly put issues cast as "Islamophobic" at the top of its agenda in a contest that Mrs May was calling the "Brexit election".

Thus, the Party which came into being in the first place to fight for our withdrawal from the European Union has, when it comes to the crunch, no ideas of how to manage the process. It has written itself out of the script.

Yet, we can hardly pretend that we didn't see it coming. In December last, we were making it plain that Nuttall was a waste of oxygen, and so it has turned out to be. As the Guardian gleefully tells us, he has presided over an electoral collapse with every single councillor facing election having suffered defeat.

By no means all the blame, though, can be placed at door of this hapless man who is currently the party leader. Nigel Farage who, since he engineered the removal of Alan Sked as the first leader of the party, has turned it into his own private fiefdom. And, under his control, Farage – and Farage alone – has prevented to party developing intellectually to the point where it could offer a credible exit plan for the situation we now face.

Thus, we have an exit party with nothing to say about our exit, leaving a wreck which is no longer capable of serving any useful purpose.

Perversely, though, there is probably no time in our recent history when we have needed Ukip more – or a party which can fulfil the role it was set up to undertake. As Bruno Waterfield writes in The Times, we have in Mrs May a fantasist almost on the scale of Paul Nuttall himself.

Her allegation of "a sinister Brussels conspiracy against her in the general election could not be more absurd or untrue", he writes, adding: "In the absence of any real opposition, the prime minister has conjured up a bogeyman and, one suspects, a convenient alibi for when things go wrong".

It is never healthy for a democracy (or a nation) to have any one party which is overly strong and, as we head for something which could end up looking like a one party state, we desperately need an effective opposition. In the absence of Labour, Ukip could have filled the vacuum on Brexit, except that it has vacated the field and has no capacity to stage a recovery.

One of its erstwhile supporters, Arron Banks, says he is to launch his own political movement in the autumn, after the general election – one with "radical policies and direct democracy".

When I first met the man, we discussed the chequered history of wealthy businessmen who thought they could apply their skills to politics, only to sink without trace. And that is most likely the fate of Banks. His grip on politics is about as inept as was his handling of the leave campaign and, if he thinks he can rely on Farage to launch his movement (as appears to be the case) then his ambitions are doomed. He needs to stick to insurance.

Meanwhile, we have a dangerous political vacuum, and one that is not going to be filled any time soon by a Ukip substitute. There isn't time to start a new party and build up a support base that will have any effect on the Brexit process.

The one weapon we have at our disposal, however, is the ability to pin the responsibility for any failure of the Brexit process on Mrs May and her Conservatives. She (as Waterfield indicates) will want to pin any blame on the intransigence of the "colleagues", but the success or otherwise will actually depend on her actions and of the conduct of her "Team Brexit".

By shadowing her moves, analysing them and – if and when appropriate – apportioning the blame correctly – we can make sure that there is an electoral penalty attached to failure.

By 2022, we can assume that – after the expected collapse of the Labour Party in this general election – Corbyn will be long gone. The party will have had five years to stage a Blair-like revival. It will therefore, we trust, be in a position to mount a credible electoral challenge.

And while Mrs May and her troops are riding high at the moment, a failure to manage the Brexit process could (and most likely will) have a devastating effect on the country. With the blame laid at Mrs May's door, this could ensure her defeat in the 2022 general election and the Conservatives out of office for a generation.

In terms, a week may be a long time in politics, but five years is the mere blink of an eye. Making it clear to Mrs May that she is on notice and that a terrible revenge awaits any failure should have, at the very least, a tempering effect on the wilder excesses of the Tory "Ultras".

For the moment, we must reconcile ourselves to the prospect of a major Tory victory in June, and a struggle to keep the Brexit process on the rails, with no help from Ukip.

There is sadness in that observation though. There were good people in Ukip and they deserved better leadership than they got. And we as a nation deserve more from our political process then we are getting. If we cannot find a way of making it work better, the consequences don't bear thinking about.






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