| STATE­SIDE To­ries may still lead a merry dance come elec­tion time...

Birmingham Post - - NEWS -

days. There are in­di­vid­ual poli­cies on is­sues such as hous­ing or fair­ness in the work­place – such as planned laws to en­sure wait­ers and wait­resses are al­lowed to keep the tips cus­tomers give to them – but they don’t add up to a pro­gramme to change so­ci­ety for the bet­ter.

Some peo­ple will greet Labour’s ideas with en­thu­si­asm while oth­ers will think they are to­tally bonkers.

But there’s no doubt that a plan ex­ists.

You can’t say that about the To­ries. And while it’s true that the party needs to com­mu­ni­cate its ideas more ef­fec­tively, it first needs to de­cide what those ideas are.

But I wouldn’t cel­e­brate just yet if I was a Labour politi­cian.

The Con­ser­va­tives have been ob­sessed with Brexit to the ex­clu­sion of all else, and while this is a prob­lem for them it was also in­evitable – be­cause they ac­tu­ally need to de­liver Brexit.

Labour is hope­lessly di­vided over Brexit. Shadow Cab­i­net mem­bers such as Emily Thorn­berry and Ian Lav­ery in­sist that Brexit must hap­pen, while Deputy Leader Tom Wat­son has raised the idea of in­clud­ing a com­mit­ment to a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum in Labour’s gen­eral elec­tion man­i­festo.

But Labour can get away with be­ing di­vided. It doesn’t mat­ter if the Shadow Cab­i­net can’t agree be­cause all they can re­ally do, be­ing in op­po­si­tion, is sit and watch while the Gov­ern­ment at­tempts to de­liver some­thing.

For Con­ser­va­tives, how­ever, de­bates about Brexit aren’t just the stuff of party con­fer­ence votes or TV in­ter­views.

They re­ally are de­cid­ing the fate of the coun­try, and their bat­tles are very real.

So per­haps they can be ex­cused for fail­ing to put se­ri­ous thought into what hap­pens next. And, more im­por­tantly, things could change once Brexit takes place on March 29 next year.

Brexit will be a process rather than an event. It won’t sud­denly be over next March, es­pe­cially if we en­ter a tran­si­tion pe­riod where very lit­tle will change for a while.

But (un­less some­thing very dra­matic and un­ex­pected hap­pens in the mean­time) we’ll have left the EU.

And we’ll prob­a­bly know what sort of deal we’ve got. Che­quers, Canadaplus or no-deal?

That de­bate, which has con­sumed the Con­ser­va­tive Party and the me­dia but means lit­tle to many vot­ers, will fi­nally be over.

It will pro­vide space for the To­ries to think hard about how they counter Jeremy Cor­byn’s prom­ise of a fairer so­ci­ety by com­ing up with a vi­sion of their own.

That doesn’t have to mean match­ing all of Labour’s pledges. To­ries can be com­mit­ted to so­cial jus­tice but base their ideas on com­mon sense rather than promis- ing the earth. Con­ser­va­tives are quite ca­pa­ble of re­cov­er­ing from pe­ri­ods of divi­sion and fail­ure and re­unit­ing, par­tic­u­larly if it’s around a new leader.

And there’s plenty of time for a lead­er­ship con­test, and for Theresa May’s re­place­ment to es­tab­lish them­selves, be­fore the next Gen­eral Elec­tion is due in 2022.

They did it once be­fore when Michael Howard took over as Tory leader from Iain Dun­can Smith in 2003.

It fol­lowed a long pe­riod of bit­ter in-fight­ing (largely over Europe) but the party came to­gether and showed dis­ci­pline when it had to.

Of course, it lost the next elec­tion – against Tony Blair’s Labour – but it did so as a cred­i­ble po­lit­i­cal force.

Once Brexit is out of the way, the To­ries are ca­pa­ble of re­unit­ing again.

Whether they will do so is an­other mat­ter, but the only thing stop­ping them is them­selves.

And against Cor­byn’s Labour, with three years (from March 2019) to de­velop a co­her­ent pol­icy pro­gramme, they’re still ca­pa­ble of win­ning.

Con­ser­va­tives are quite ca­pa­ble of re­cov­er­ing from pe­ri­ods of divi­sion and fail­ure and re­unit­ing

> Theresa May had a spring in her step at the Birm­ing­ham con­fer­ence de­spite the shadow of Brexit

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