BREXIT SHIFTS GROUND AT WEST­MIN­STER

Po­lit­i­cal change post-Brexit ( to shift ground to change one's opin­ions / West­min­ster UK Par­lia­ment)

Vocable (All English) - - Enjeux - HEATHER STE­WART

Since the 1920s, Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has been shared by the two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties, Con­ser­va­tive and Labour, with the Lib­eral-Democrats, more re­cently be­com­ing a third power broking party in some elec­tions. With Brexit, the tra­di­tional two-party sys­tem is un­der threat, with the pos­si­ble emer­gence of a po­lit­i­cally cen­trist party in the fu­ture.

Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape has al­ready been re­shaped ir­re­vo­ca­bly by the Brexit vote. But there is a grow­ing feel­ing at West­min­ster that the deep di­vi­sions over whether, and how, Bri­tain should break from the EU, can­not be con­tained within the ex­ist­ing party sys­tem.

2. Within Labour in par­tic­u­lar, tur­moil from the party’s han­dling of an­tisemitism has also tested the loy­alty of MPs, some of whom were al­ready scep­ti­cal of Jeremy Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship, and want to see him take a more stri­dent anti-Brexit po­si­tion. When Len McCluskey, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of Labour’s big­gest union backer, Unite, un­leashed a strongly worded at­tack against Chuka Umunna [in Au­gust], he was re­flect­ing con­cern that Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship could be desta­bilised by even a rel­a­tively small num­ber of high-profile de­fec­tions.

3. One se­nior party fig­ure sug­gested Cor­byn’s core team, hard­ened by the “chicken coup” that fol­lowed the EU ref­er­en­dum in 2016, were elid­ing sev­eral sep­a­rate but re­lated threats. The fear that the lead­er­ship was un­der at­tack again was lead­ing to con­fla­tion, the source said. Sep­a­rate pos­si­bil­i­ties ex­ist but are not nec­es­sar­ily di­rectly re­lated. 4. Firstly, a num­ber of Jewish MPs se­ri­ously con­sid­ered re­sign­ing the whip over the party’s han­dling of an­tisemitism be­fore the sum­mer, and the resur­gence of the is­sue has made that threat salient once more. Se­condly, but sepa-

rately, a group of cen­trist MPs, in­clud­ing Umunna and fel­low Labour MP Chris Les­lie, are widely be­lieved to be lay­ing the ground­work for the cre­ation of a new party al­though both have de­nied this.

THE NEW EM­MANUEL MACRON?

5. Thirdly, Si­mon Franks, the mil­lion­aire co­founder of the film rental busi­ness Love­Film, is pre­par­ing to launch a cen­trist, anti-politics party, United for Change, per­haps as soon as next month. “Franks wants to be the new Em­manuel Macron,” said one per­son with knowl­edge of the project, be­lieved to have a £50m bud­get. United for Change is not be­lieved to have any big name politi­cians on board yet.

6. De­spite the anx­i­eties of the lead­er­ship, next spring, af­ter the end of March date set for Brexit, is deemed by cen­trist MPs to be the most aus­pi­cious moment for launch­ing a new party. “There’s a very strong feel­ing that it must not be a dis­trac­tion from our goal to stop Brexit, just at the moment” when stop­ping the UK leav­ing the EU may be pos­si­ble, said one MP.

7. One for­mer re­main cam­paign source said: “The in­ten­tion is real and se­ri­ous but it is un­likely be­fore Brexit. The ar­gu­ment will be that the coun­try needs a new po­lit­i­cal force to bring it to­gether post-Brexit. But I would guess the real in­cen­tive for any MP to jump … will be a threat of de­s­e­lec­tion. And that is why a lot of peo­ple are watch­ing care­fully to see if any­thing comes of the lo­cal at­tempts to de­s­e­lect Kate Hoey or Frank Field.”

8. Les­lie, the MP for Not­ting­ham East, is widely viewed as be­ing at risk of de­s­e­lec­tion. He used a brief stint as shadow chan­cel­lor in 2015 to ar­gue that Labour had lost the gen­eral elec­tion partly be­cause its eco­nomic poli­cies were too left­wing, and has since been a tren­chant critic of Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship. In June, he pub­lished a wide-rang­ing pol­icy pa­per, called Cen­tre Ground, un­der the aus­pices of the So­cial Mar­ket Foun­da­tion think­tank. Many saw the doc­u­ment as lay­ing the in­tel­lec­tual ground­work for a fu­ture new party.

IN THE CON­SER­VA­TIVE PARTY

9. But Labour is not the only party be­ing pulled in at least two di­rec­tions by Brexit, with hard­line Tory back­benchers mo­bil­is­ing to force Theresa May to ditch her Che­quers deal. “I don’t see how my party can sur­vive. I re­ally don’t,” said one Con­ser­va­tive MP. Some of the party’s cen­tre-right have be­gun reach­ing out more reg­u­larly. Ge­orge Free­man, the MP for Mid Nor­folk, has in­vited se­nior Tory, Lib­eral Demo­crat and Labour fig­ures to at­tend his Big Tent Ideas fes­ti­val this month, co-hosted by the peer Sally Mor­gan, a for­mer aide to Tony Blair.

10. Free­man has de­nied that the fes­ti­val is in any way linked to plans to form a new cen­tre party, but he set tongues wag­ging af­ter invit­ing Em­manuel Macron to ad­dress the event. The French pres­i­dent won of­fice af­ter cre­at­ing a new cen­trist move­ment, La République En Marche. The fi­nal piece of the puz­zle is the ques­tion of the Lib Dems, the orig­i­nal cen­trist, al­ter­na­tive party that is still strug­gling in the polls. The party is “ripe for en­try­ism, which we’re not to­tally against”, one source said.

(CAI / NYTS)

(Markus Schreiber/AP/SIPA)

Two anti-Brexit ac­tivists’ pup­pets de­pict­ing Theresa May, left, and Jeremy Cor­byn, dur­ing a protest, June 2017.

(Natasha Quarmby/Shut­ter/SIPA)

Dur­ing a 'Keep Cor­byn In' protest in Lon­don.

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