Britain today presents the exhilarating spectacle of its two main political parties facing imminent collapse. If there is No Brexit, the Tories will split, says Charles Moore, the doyen of Conservative commentary. Labour has already split, with Monday’s announcement that seven MPs have resigned from the party (and eighth has since done so as well). Even the commentariat, whose numbers match scribes and Pharisees in even proportion, hesitated to attach the words “The Magnificent . . . ” to the initial seven. That is because we have seen it all before. In 1981, the “Gang of Four” broke away from the Labour Party. They had some by-election successes, but at the next General Election the Thatcher liner steered over their cockleshell craft and they were drowned. Two of the Four are still with us—David Owen, Shirley Williams—but their political careers ended “in shallows and in miseries.” So much for those who seek to break the mould. Since the two-party system has survived in pretty much its present form since the seventeenth century, it is asking a great deal of seven undistinguished backbenchers to overturn the arrangements of history.
Those who stay in the Labour Party will command enhanced value. Their key word is “loyalty,” a term that carries echoes of Macbeth-type support for the clan leader, he being the only man who can defend the tribe against the invading Norwegians (who are making a comeback now as “the Norwegian option” for Brexit). So Corbyn will remain for a while. The party will rightly deride the pretensions of the renegades, who are simply Remainers dressed in Sunday best who seek that mythical territory the centre ground. The centre ground does not exist. Winners claim it; losers lament its loss.
The general public has scant interest. There will be no general election before May 2022, since David Cameron brought in fixed-term Parliaments. And there is in the nation’s affairs this abiding truth: the British adore democracy and cannot abide elections. They interfere with the nation’s favourite TV programs, whose space is usurped by political charlatans. There is a surly acceptance that we have to have an election, from time to time, but no more than is absolutely necessary. Meantime the UK thrives, with high employment and low inflation. The global wine glut means that the people can drink at ever more reasonable rates. As Paul advised Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Taking the broad view of today’s scene, I reckon that Paul was on to something.
Ralph Berry writes from England.