The crimson tide is coming in
The Conservatives are in a wretched state. Everything Theresa May has touched recently has turned to ashes. Jeremy Corbyn in his response to the Queen’s Speech stated that the government has no majority, no mandate and no plan. Jeremy Corbyn is right.
Theresa May remains in office for now, a case study in faute de mieux. Everyone, including I suspect Theresa May herself, seems to recognise that the Age of May is concluded. But what comes next?
The Conservatives had a brief moment after the election when they might have worked together for a jointly satisfactory way forward. They chose not to take it. All the possible replacements decided that they were the only conceivable unity candidate. The hardline Leavers and the erstwhile Remainers in their party have each publicly set out their mutually incompatible requirements. It seems that the Conservatives are going to work factionally.
The big beasts are prowling around each other, warily looking for the right time to strike, nervous that by doing so they might be exposing a weak flank. With all of the predators holding each other at bay, the current state of affairs will continue.
For now then, we have reached an island of stability, but where the slightest disturbance in the quantum state could cause the government to decay radioactively with astonishing speed. So the government is reduced to immobility, unwilling to provoke its own collapse but unable to take active steps to shore up its position.
From this state of enervation, the Conservatives can only watch as a newly-invigorated Jeremy Corbyn sinks his teeth into them. This will continue until the Conservatives can regroup, almost certainly under a new leader. Until then, they will remain a confused and leaderless herd.
It is almost certainly the case that Labour’s current euphoria from their unexpectedly strong showing will subside. Jeremy Corbyn has shown no interest since the election in seeking a meaningful reconciliation with his party critics and we can reasonably expect that Labour will have further arguments in the coming years also; there isn’t enough Polyfilla in the world to deal with all the cracks that were on display in the last term.
So both main parties look fractured and flawed in this Parliament. The journalists are going to have plenty of rifts to report on.
How is this likely to pan out in practice? Nothing is certain but when assessing the future we should be working in probabilities. On this occasion, the probabilities look fairly easy to assess. The government faces the most demanding peacetime challenge since the first post-war government and does so against a hard deadline with a divided party, a leader with no authority and with no majority in the House of Commons. Professor Philip Cowley has identified eight factors that help governments get legislation through. He scores the current government at 0/8. The chances of this ending happily for either the country or the Conservative party look slim.
Whatever travails Labour might face, they have the enormous advantage that they will not be in government during this period. Pretty well by default they can expect to take large leads in the polls at times during this Parliament. There is no obvious reason why they should lose them.
It follows that Labour should be a very clear favourite to win the next general election. Yet Ladbrokes rate them no better than an evens shot to get most seats (on present boundaries they now need a uniform swing to them of just 1.63% to achieve this). The 4/6 that William Hill offer looks a much more realistic price, given the challenges the government faces.
With long range bets of this type it’s always worth considering the time value of money – this market might not be settled until 2022. One way of dealing with this is to place your bets on Betfair, so that you can trade out of them at a later date. The prices on Betfair are at present not quite as good as with Ladbrokes (you can back Labour at 1.94 or lay the Conservatives at 2.08 at the time of writing) but this feature, giving the potential for much earlier access to the stake, probably justifies taking the inferior price.
Anyway, however you choose to do it, the bet to me seems marked. I’m on.