by Frank Schnittger
Tue Apr 30th, 2019 at 07:48:52 PM EST
Many people will no doubt be pleased that Brexit has been removed from the headlines, even if only by a tragedy like the Sri Lanka bombings or the attempted Venezuelan Coup . But as they used to say about the IRA, it hasn't gone away, you know!
In truth, not a lot has been happening, despite Donald Tusk's injunction to the UK not to waste the time it has been granted by the extension of the Brexit deadline to the end of October.
The May government has seemed like the rabbit stuck in the proverbial headlights, unable to decide which way to go as the onrushing car approaches. MP's were glad of the Easter recess, only to find on their return that not much has changed...
But has it?
The Conservative Labour talks continue without much urgency on either side, with both sides seeming to use them mainly as a means to stall for time.
Meanwhile Tory party MPs and members are in a panic about the disaster they expect to see unfold with the local elections on May 2nd., and the prospect of Nigel Farage's new Brexit party winning the European Parliament elections.
But attempts to change the rules of the Conservative party to enable a new vote of no confidence in Theresa May have failed, and an unprecedented meeting of local Conservative Party Chairs to call for her resignation has advisory powers only.
In an admission of how precarious her position has become, Theresa May has decided not to proceed with a Queen's speech to announce her legislative programme as it would precipitate a Commons vote equivalent to a vote of confidence in her government. Lose that, and her game is over.
But what happens if the local elections on May 2nd. and the European elections on May 23rd. turn out to be the disaster widely predicted? My prediction on April 8th. in Off the Reservation that the Tories might only win 15% of the vote in the European elections is beginning to look a bit generous...
What if the Conservatives are faced with the threat of being replaced by Nigel Farage's Brexit party in the Westminster duopoly? There is nothing which concentrates the politician's mind so much as a threat to their self preservation instinct. Not only would many lose their seats, but the prospect of Ministerial office would become a distant memory.
Meanwhile the Labour party is still desperately trying to hang onto both its Remain and Leave supporters, by again issuing a somewhat conditional promise to hold a second referendum under certain circumstance, chiefly, "if we can't get the necessary changes to the government's deal, or a general election".
It will be interesting to see whether this position "evolves", if Labour candidates do not do particularly well in the Local elections. It will be harder to campaign on a slightly more nuanced position than the "No deal Brexit" of the UKIP and Brexit Parties, and the committed Remain stance of the Lib Dems, ChangeUK and Green parties.
However the Brexit and ChangeUK parties aren't fielding candidates in the Local elections, and there are many districts where there are no established alternatives to incumbent Tory Councillors. Local elections are also often fought more on local name recognition and concerns rather than national issues, so a track record of being seen to work for local causes can matter quite a lot.
The Local elections may not, therefore, be quite the disaster for the Tories many are predicting, and Labour may still have some chance of picking up some Leave votes in the absence of Brexit party candidates. However it will be much harder for Labour to maintain an ambiguous or lukewarm stance for the European elections, and public patience with the Tory/Labour talks may have run out.
Overall it is hard to see the European elections being anything other than a disaster for the Tories for their failure to honour their manifesto pledge "to deliver Brexit" and a straight fight between Brexit supporting and Remain supporters parties for a plurality of the votes. Labour are running the risk of being caught between two stools and satisfying no one.
My guess is Corbyn will move to clarify their position just as soon as the local elections are over. Whether he likes it or not,the European Elections are becoming, effectively, a second public vote on the merits of Leave or Remain. There is no middle road in a binary choice.
It is also hard to see how Theresa May can carry on if the Tories do badly in the local and Euro elections, and the Tory Labour talks fail to reach a decisive conclusion. My somewhat tongue in cheek predictions in Off the reservation - accurate to date - still seem at least as likely as any other scenario.