TWENTY FIVE years after the political right-wing started fragmenting over Europe and brought John Major’s government to its knees, how ironic that Theresa May is now able to reunite the Conservative Party on the back of Brexit – the most divisive policy issue of all.
This is the clearcut conclusion which can be drawn from Thursday’s election results which more than vindicated the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap election on June 8 to strengthen her Commons majority.
Though the Conservatives made significant gains from each of its rivals, the collapse of a now chaotic Ukip – the party that orchestrated Britain’s exit from the EU – has the most far-reaching consequences.
With the Eurosceptic vote coalescing around Mrs May as one-time Labour voters now desert Ukip in favour of the Conservatives, the significance of this political realignment should not be under-estimated.
There will be 71 seats in next month’s election where Labour’s majority is smaller than the number of votes polled by Ukip in 2015. If these switch en masse to the Tories because of Mrs May’s wider appeal, and Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived lack of credibility, the Conservatives will enjoy an electoral dominance not witnessed since Margaret Thatcher’s heyday in the 1980s.
Of course the Tories are right to guard against complacency – turnout will still be critical on election day, the party’s performance did not meet full expectations in Labour’s heartlands in South Wales and the Conservatives still need to demonstrate that they can win back long-lost Parliamentary seats across the North’s great cities.
Though the fallibility of each of the opposition parties will help the Prime Minister, she should use the forthcoming Tory manifesto launch to make a far more positive case for compassionate Conservatism to supplement her Brexit strategy which is driving this electoral reconfiguration.
And while Labour will argue that this week’s results could have been worse, it’s little comfort to those who despair about its drift to the left since Ed Miliband – and not his more moderate brother David – became leader in 2010 before Mr Corbyn’s election in 2015 and subsequent re-election last summer.
Traditionally elections are won from the centre ground. Now Theresa May appears to have shored up the right-wing vote while Labour pursues a deeply socialist agenda, her challenge now is to set out a vision for a One Nation government that represents the whole country – and not just the whims of her more vocal Eurosceptic backbenches.
Though the Prime Minister’s tried and tested soundbites continue to serve her well, she now needs to set out her vision for the multitude of policy challenges, including Brexit, which will confront the next Government from day one. Those putting their faith in Mrs May’s assertive leadership deserve this at the very least.
IF Theresa May’s Tories are to make great electoral inroads across the North – and in those inner city communities where there has been little or no Conservative representation for a generation – much will rest on the success, or otherwise, of the much-vaunted Industrial Strategy.
Like George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, its economic and political principles could not be more sound – namely a desire to spread the wealth, and prosperity, of the nation to all regions so the whole country’s financial fortunes are less dependent on London’s fortunes.
Yet, while Labour is simply relying upon the enduring goodwill of working class voters because Jeremy Corbyn’s policy agenda is bereft of economic credibility, it’s perturbing that half of South Yorkshire businesses are uncertain about the Industrial Strategy’s intentions – and how it could help their workforce.
Despite Business Secretary Greg Clark coming from Middlesbrough, and being well-respected because of his previous dealings with local councils, this survey suggests that the next Government will need to build more meaningful relationships with the private sector.
The opportunities are significant as Britain prepares to leave the EU – the IPPR North think-tank notes that the region’s £300bn economy outstrips the whole of Belgium – but Yorkshire will only fulfil its potential if economic growth is viewed as a partnership between the Government and industry.
However it’s not just a matter for 10 Downing Street. With metro-mayors now elected in rival regions, Yorkshire’s politicians need to reconcile their devolution differences. The longer they procrastinate, the harder it will be to forge a meaningful partnership between the public and private sectors that changes lives for the better.