by GK Strategy 25th June, 2018
3 min read

State of Play: One year on from the General Election

“She’s finished” … “she’s lost all her authority” … “a dead woman walking” … were just a few of the damning assessments of Theresa May’s future following her miserable performance in last year’s snap election. Despite this and against all the odds given the efforts required to navigate the uncertainties of leading a minority government, she is still standing.

In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn turned from leader in the wilderness to Prime Minister in waiting within a matter of weeks. But that euphoria feels like a distant memory. Have we reached ‘peak-Corbyn’?

For now, the polls are not pretty reading for Corbyn and Labour, who have failed to capitalise on May’s weaknesses. One thing is certain: both parties are consumed in deep internal battles.

The Conservative Party

Since the election, the Government has struggled, most significantly with the UK’s relationship with the EU.

On Brexit, the PM has maintained her ambition for “a deep and special partnership” with the EU and has overseen the conclusion of the first round of talks and secured an agreement on the terms of a transition period. The Government’s Brexit bill has passed through Parliament by 319 to 303 votes last week, but despite this progress, the party remains split on an array of matters. Remain and leave cabinet ministers continue to pile pressure on a weakened PM on customs arrangements, future regulatory alignment/divergence, and her overall approach to the negotiations.

Backbenchers have been flexing their muscles too, with pro-EU Tories continuing to challenge the PM’s strategy, most notably by calling for Parliament to have a meaningful vote on the final deal. The PM’s greatest headache continues to be holding different factions of the party together as the debate intensifies. If the party descends into full on civil war, it will most likely result in the end of her premiership and another general election.

With the Government and Parliament consumed by Brexit, it has struggled to build a clear domestic agenda on matters such as education, social care, housing and tackling barriers to growth and investment. The PM bucked this trend by securing a long term funding settlement for the NHS – which we covered in a recent blog. Despite this, the PM has lost much of the political capital she once possessed to undertake the radical reforms required to deliver on her government’s declared objectives, to tackle “burning injustices“ and “build a country that works for everyone”.

Ironically, events in the last year have shown that the Prime Minister’s greatest weakness is also her greatest strength. For months the party has squabbled, but it’s clear that there remains no obvious replacement who dares topple the PM and take on the responsibility of delivering Brexit. Furthermore, there is no appetite among Tory MPs for another election – as nothing papers over the cracks more than the fear of offering Jeremy Corbyn another attempt at Number 10.

So, despite a year that will be remembered for coughs, cabinet disloyalty, resignations, Grenfell, Brexit tensions and most recently the fallout of the Windrush scandal, the PM has managed to pull through. For her party, she remains the most secure option.

The Labour Party

“The summer that changed everything” is how many viewed Jeremy Corbyn’s shock general election result. As his name was chanted at Glastonbury that summer, his internal critics were silenced, leading him to predict he would be PM by Christmas.

No such momentum has materialised, and despite the government lurching from crisis to crisis, today Labour sit 3 to 4 points behind the Conservatives in the polls. Why?

In reality, the Labour family remains in a fractious state. MPs continue to clash over the future of the party; the battle between those who wish to see the party return to a centrist, pragmatic platform and that of Corbyn’s hard left roots. Deselection talk continues and muted rumours of a new party persist. Both do the party no favours in its bid to appeal to the masses.

On Brexit, the party has kept its cards very close to its chest. Evidently there are disagreements, which were laid bare by the return of the EU Withdrawal bill to the Commons. Some six Labour frontbenchers resigned their posts to oppose the leadership, taking the number of resignations under Corbyn’s leadership to 103. The party remains caught between those calling for a so-called soft Brexit, offering a clear alternative to the government, and those who support the leadership’s position of negotiating maximum access to the single market, and remaining in a customs union with the EU.

On top of this, questions over Corbyn’s leadership have re-emerged with the party underperforming in the local elections, partly driven by Corbyn and the party’s inability to handle reported instances of anti-Semitism, an issue that has engulfed the party and leader. Such issues have challenged the prior belief that, with the Conservatives in such disarray over Brexit, a Corbyn-led government is just around the corner.

Corbyn must regain the initiative he has lost by focusing his party, Westminster and the country on Labour’s manifesto asks that excited so many at the last election. While Brexit will remain an important test for Labour, it is the domestic policy vacuum created as a result that the party must exploit if it is to succeed.

For more information on how GK can help you stay ahead of relevant political developments, contact kit@gkstrategy.com 

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