A guest slot from Fishing
2019 was obviously a very turbulent year in British politics. Individuals, parties and the political system itself were tested almost to destruction. But sometimes events that appear a disaster at the time can, with a decade or two’s hindsight, seem like a triumph. The Conservatives losing the 1945 election, for example, gave the Labour Party the responsibility for post-war austerity and allowed the Tories to regenerate in opposition. They then dominated the 1950s and early 1960s. Again, for Labour, 1992 was very likely a good one to lose: it regenerated its leadership and escaped responsibility for the ERM debacle, though it had been even more enthusiastic for membership than the Conservatives. After the next election, it was in power for 13 years.
To end a difficult year on an upbeat note, here are a number of silver linings for the following people and institutions:
- The Labour Party. The decisive defeat in December may mean that Labour ditches the unelectable Marxist clique who lead it. And it will mean that it will not have either to deliver Brexit, which could be unpopular if leaving the EU is a disaster, or to frustrate many of its working class supporters by calling a revote. 2019 could be remembered as the year Labour starts to claw itself back to electability (note the COULD …)
- Jeremy Corbyn. Let’s face it, he would have hated being Prime Minister almost as much as the country decided it would have hated having him as such. Unlike John McDonnell or Boris Johnson, he does not have the craving for power or intellectual ability or psychological makeup necessary to take dozens of decisions every day and own the consequences under the pitiless glare of the 24-hour media. As others have pointed out, his metier is as a campaigner, not as the head of government of a major country. Whether or not the country benefited from his losing the 2019 election, I think, ultimately, he will spend his early 70s a much happier man than if he’d won it.
- The British Constitution. The combination of Brexit and an ineffectual, minority government was certainly challenging for our uncodified Constitution. Both sides resorted to questionable practices in the summer and autumn. But the Constitution ultimately did what it was supposed to: it provided a forum for the parties to argue their case, and for the electorate to decide between them. As the cliche goes, it bent, but did not break. As our system of government doesn’t really work with minority or weak coalition governments, the return to an administration with a stable majority should mean that we can ignore this issue for at least a few more years. And the constitutional absurdity of the FTPA seems destined for the scrapheap at last. I think our system of government will be stronger in the 2020s than it was in the 2010s.
- The Liberal Democrats. For the leader of a major party to lose his/her seat is unprecedented for almost a century. The last examples I can find of it happening were Herbert Samuel (Liberal) and Ramsay MacDonald (National Labour) in the massive Conservative landslide of 1935. But the electorate’s targeting of Jo Swinson has meant that the LDs have no choice but to have a leadership election and a conversation about where they are going once we leave the EU and their main policy is no longer relevant.
- President Trump. To be the third President to have been impeached is not good. However, without further revelations, it is very unlikely that the Democrats will get the Senate votes necessary to convict him. And many have speculated that Trump’s popularity, like Clinton’s, could be boosted if the impeachment can be presented as partisan game playing. The jury is still out on this one.
- Euro federalists in Brussels. To lose your second largest member, one of two military powers, the home of its financial centre and the oldest democracy in the club is sub-optimal. But Britain was the most constant opponent of federalism, the interminable Brexit process distracted the EU’s attention from other pressing issues and the popularity of the EU in other member states has risen since Britain decided to leave. Many in Brussels, not just those involved with the Brexit process, could be cracking open the champagne in secret on 31 January, though the loss of our net contribution could mean they have to buy supermarket bubbly rather than vintage Dom Perignon.
So at least a few people can end the year and the decade in good spirits.
Happy New Year!