4 February 2017

The remarkable stability of Brexit Britain


In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election victory, there were many – the new President included – who cited Brexit as a precedent. The theory was that many voters were so fed up with the status quo that they’d embrace anyone who attacked it.

But as Fraser Nelson pointed out in The Spectator, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Trump, he argued, was what you got when the public were pushed beyond endurance. Brexit was what you got when they were allowed a safety valve.

Polls showed, in the US, that Trump’s supporters were perfectly aware of his personal flaws – they just didn’t care. In Britain, however, the Leave campaign was led by the civilised, cosmopolitan figures of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart, with Nigel Farage sulking on the sidelines.

And recent events appear to have provided some interesting support for this thesis. After all, if there is a parallel in Britain to the blend of resentment and incompetence that have been on show within the Trump White House, it is found in Jeremy Corbyn’s kitchen cabinet.

Yet far from being so embittered with their lot that they have turned to such extremes, British voters appear as unlikely to plump for Corbyn’s reheated socialism as they are to switch off the Premier League and embrace the NFL.

This week, new polling was released by Opinium comparing the Labour leader’s image to Theresa May’s. The results were, to put it politely, absolutely brutal.

Perhaps the cruellest blow is the fact that a majority of voters claim not to know what Corbyn stands for, despite the fact that his entire USP is that he stands for what he has always stood for – that he has been fossilised in intellectual amber since the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, a historic debate on the passage of Article 50 was accompanied by the latest histrionic implosion within the Labour Party.

Fundamentally, Labour is being torn apart because it is impossible to reconcile its traditional working-class supporters in the North and its bien-pensant middle-class supporters in London and other affluent cities.

Cracks that were papered over by Wilson, Blair et al now gape open – partly because of the galvanising effects of the EU referendum, and partly because of Corbyn’s own political inadequacies.

The irony is, of course, that it should theoretically be the Tories who are in agonies over Europe. Not only has that been their hobby for many years, but as Lord Ashcroft’s polling shows, the party’s supporters were far more evenly divided at the referendum than Labour’s.

Perhaps it is Tories’s age-old appetite for power, or the lack of alternatives, or May’s own steely persona. But whatever the reason, the civil war has not taken place – or at least is being postponed until the shape of Brexit becomes clearer.

The result is that Brexiteering Britain’s political leadership currently appears as secure as its political future is unknowable.

Yes, it would certainly be useful, as Alex Massie has argued on CapX, to have a functioning Opposition again.

But with Trump busily taking a blowtorch to diplomatic norms, and one of his advisers inventing a terrorist massacre out of the whole cloth? With French presidential candidates taking turns to fall flat on their face – to the point where the fate of the nation may rest on whichever contender has been bunging their family members the least amount of public money? With Vladimir Putin up to his bloody old tricks, and even Angela Merkel facing a genuine struggle to stay in power?

Under such circumstances, the May supremacy feels like a source of welcome relief.

This article is taken from CapX’s Weekly Briefing email. Sign up here.

Robert Colvile is Editor of CapX