We’re all go­ing on a sum­mer hol­i­day

Country Life Every Week - - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

NO Par­lia­ment will have gone on hol­i­day with more re­lief, or left West­min­ster in greater be­wil­der­ment, than this one. Nei­ther Govern­ment nor Op­po­si­tion is con­tem­plat­ing an early elec­tion and, al­though no one is in a hurry to re­place Theresa May, at least three mem­bers of her Cabi­net are watch­ing each other like hawks in case one makes a move.

On the other side, Labour may have given up hope of dis­plac­ing Jeremy Cor­byn, but the Broth­ers are se­ri­ously at war. About a quar­ter share his hard-left agenda; most of the rest think it’s bonkers. Mod­er­ate voices are seek­ing to en­sure that the curse of Brexit doesn’t ex­tend to them and that it’s blamed en­tirely on the Tories, but Mr Cor­byn has an emo­tional in­abil­ity to sup­port EU mem­ber­ship prop­erly. A high pro­por­tion of cen­trist Labour MPS are now back in their con­stituen­cies con­cen­trat­ing on fight­ing en­try­ism and de­s­e­lec­tion by ex­trem­ists.

Par­lia­ment is pro­rogued at a time when nei­ther ma­jor party looks electable. The Lib­eral Democrats are try­ing to un­der­stand why, con­trary to all pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, their elec­toral for­tunes are not sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved by per­ceived ex­trem­ism to the Right and the Left.

All this is in the con­text of a volatile elec­torate and the im­pos­si­bil­ity of cred­i­ble po­lit­i­cal fore­cast­ing. None of us can know where the UK will be this Christ­mas, let alone when we do—or don’t—have a deal on Brexit.

Within the Cabi­net, we’re see­ing the dam­ag­ing ma­noeu­vring of a small fac­tion sim­i­lar to the one that marred the Ma­jor govern­ment. As well as leaks from within, groupies out­side think they’re help­ing their lead­er­ship can­di­date by spread­ing dirt about his ri­vals.

They want to un­der­mine any min­is­ter in Mrs May’s Cabi­net who warns of the cost of Brexit and the po­ten­tial com­plex­ity of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. This ex­plains the in­ten­tion­ally false spin­ning of re­marks made by the Chan­cel­lor, who stands out as the one pow­er­ful voice, re­mind­ing his col­leagues of fi­nan­cial re­al­ity.

Back­benchers, par­tic­u­larly those in mar­ginal seats, are in­creas­ingly an­gry at these self-re­gard­ing an­tics and are de­mand­ing a sac­ri­fi­cial sack­ing or two; un­for­tu­nately, Mrs May is prob­a­bly not se­cure enough to de­liver this.

No won­der the sum­mer re­cess is a great re­lief all round. It ought not, how­ever, to be so much a respite as a re­newal. All three par­ties have to recog­nise that they left large sec­tions of the elec­torate high and dry. Many peo­ple feel en­tirely cut off from the po­lit­i­cal process. Un­less politi­cians can re­cover their rel­e­vance and their courage, they will do ir­repara­ble harm to Bri­tain and to our po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions.

Mrs May needs the sum­mer to de­velop a real po­lit­i­cal pro­gramme out­side Brexit, which, within the con­fines of par­lia­men­tary arith­metic, reaches out to those left be­hind, re­strains the ex­tremes of the free mar­ket, acts firmly on hous­ing and shows a de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

Mr Cor­byn needs to re­mem­ber that he didn’t win the elec­tion. He should re­flect that po­lit­i­cal volatil­ity is such that his cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity could eas­ily dis­ap­pear like a puff of smoke. If he wants Labour to win next time, he must move to be­come a uni­fier: stop­ping de­s­e­lec­tions, think­ing through a log­i­cal Brexit stance and a large dose of fis­cal pro­bity would put him in pole po­si­tion.

The fail­ure of ei­ther leader to use this sum­mer wisely would give the Lib Dems their chance, but they will have to wait for it. In the mean­time, it may be the hol­i­day sea­son, but for the Tories and Labour, that shouldn’t mean any rest.

‘Par­lia­ment is pro­rogued at a time when nei­ther ma­jor party looks electable ’

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