Victoria Honeyman: What next for Tories, Labour and Brexit Britain?

What next at Westminster?
What next at Westminster?
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SO where do we go from here? The Conservative Party is now on the hunt for a new leader, a new Prime Minister. But who would want this poisoned chalice?

The next Prime Minister will be forced to trigger Article 50, whether it be on their first day in the job or later, and may well oversee the separation of the United Kingdom.

Who would want that job?

Boris Johnson, who many view as the figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign, will undoubtedly stand but may not win. As the man who destroyed David Cameron (with some considerable help from Cameron himself), Johnson will struggle to present himself as a unity candidate, particularly with Michael Gove as his bagman.

The EU is, and has always been, a contentious issue for the Conservative Party and Johnson may just find himself cast in the role of hatchet man but not leader.

Additionally, his comments post-referendum, where he appears to have backed away from certain promises made or implied during the campaign, and is now proposing a new position for Britain which looks remarkably similar to the old position, only slightly worse, will not aid his leadership bid.

Theresa May, a member of the Remain camp, may find herself at odds with those like Iain Duncan Smith, who argue the next leader should be a ‘Brexiteer’ but she may find that her quiet and limited support for the Remain campaign make her more of a unity candidate, someone who moderates on both sides can back.

While there is no guarantee of who will be the next party leader, what can be guaranteed is that the Conservative party is about to undertake an unedifying and ugly leadership battle, exposing the scars on the party of a battle over Europe which has been raging for over 30 years.

The picture on the opposition benches is no better. Any leader other than Jeremy Corbyn would have resigned before now, the pressure would have been irresistible.

Corbyn is in the eye of a perfect storm, not one he created directly, but one he is battling to survive. The reforms of Kinnock and Smith and the leadership of Blair created a Labour Party which was far more electorally successful than the party had ever been before, but one where the Parliamentary arm of the party was not singing from the same hymn sheet as the Constituency Labour Party.

This became progressively worse during the Blair years and came to something of a head with the election of Ed Miliband. This separation became more obvious with the election of Jeremy Corbyn on the £3 membership vote.

Can Corbyn win? In the longer term, no. His position is completely untenable. The Labour Party, like all political parties, is made up of different parts, some more important than others.

While a leader can largely ignore some parts of the party as, for example, Blair did with the unions while leader, any leader needs to ensure that they are capable of winning elections. Party members can be quite forgiving if a leader can win elections, at least in the short term.

Without that election success, any leader is essentially doomed. Corbyn has not faced a general election, and the successes of the Labour Party in by-elections and in the London Mayoral election can be argued to be in spite of Corbyn not because of him.

It almost doesn’t matter if that is true, what matters is that a case can be made that Corbyn is an electoral liability, not an electoral asset.

The real damage for Corbyn is not simply that his political views do not chime well with the Parliamentary Labour Party, it is that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and perhaps some members of the Constituency Labour Party, don’t believe Corbyn can win.

What of Britain then? The short answer is, we simply don’t know yet. We don’t know when Article 50 will be triggered. We don’t know how amicable the divorce from the EU will be. We don’t know what kind of trade deal Britain will get with the EU nations or whether we will adopt a Norway-style European Economic Associate membership. We don’t know whether the EU will survive.

Until active discussions begin, nothing is certain and even then, it will be some considerable time before the final deal becomes clear. Fifty two per cent of those who voted to leave on Thursday wanted political change. They will have it, but it is often ugly, unsettling, expensive and does not guarantee the outcome desired.

Dr Victoria Honeyman is Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Leeds.