All three main UK party leaders face questions not just of their own survival but also of their parties
As the UK political parties get set for the fun of party conference season, there is one thing that unites them all, other than the prospect of warm wine and vol-au-vents, and that is splits.
With less than 200 days to go before the official exit from the EU, political commentators have described this period in our history as one of the most chaotic and existentially dangerous times since…well, ever.
These are uncharted waters for the political leaders of all three main UK parties who face questions not just of their own survival but also of their parties.
And while Jeremy Corbyn has so far survived a truly torrid time following accusations of anti-Semitism, the full fury of the Jewish community and the subsequent resignation of high-profile politicians like Frank Field, at least he can look forward to his Liverpool jamboree without an actual leadership contest, albeit with one undoubtedly bubbling under.
Indeed, moderate Labour MPs have openly been talking about when and how to split. Chuka Umunna has told Corbyn, in very un-moderate terms, to ‘call the dogs off’ and Tony Blair, who we are reminded won the party three successive general elections, has been linked to the formation of a new ‘centre-ground party’ which would at least give them their party back, just not one called Labour.
And while Blair has yet to add credence to the rumours, he has said he doubts whether the party, as it stands, can be taken back by a mobilisation of the moderates. Which sounds like the unlikely plot for a revolution.
But with further infighting over its opaque position on Brexit and imminent party rule changes coming from a democracy review which has, ironically, turned into more of an argument for autocracy, the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ springs to mind as some Labour MPs fear an escalation in votes of no-confidence by CLPs and the threat of potential deselection.
Meanwhile, the publication of the review of parliamentary boundaries brings further risks with some seats being abolished altogether. Something that, for once, unites both Labour and Tory MPs together, if only in fear for their jobs.
Theresa May, meanwhile, can only hope for the conference stage set in Birmingham to be more stable this time around than her leadership. But the plotting against her has already begun, if indeed it ever went away.
And with a reported 80 Tories willing to vote against the government if May sticks with her Chequers Brexit plan, a leadership election could be triggered at any time.
Potential Tory leadership candidates have already been schmoozing donors and Rees-Mogg has been dining out on his support for Boris Johnson.
“Two years ago, in the Conservative party leadership campaign, I supported Boris Johnson, because I thought he would deliver Brexit extraordinarily well,” Rees-Mogg declared, completely ignoring the fact that Johnson actually had no plan. “I haven’t seen anything that would cause me to change my mind on that.”
No, neither has anyone…
Meanwhile, Johnson himself pretends not to be a stalking horse while clearly polishing his saddle. At least his wife knew when it was time to leave the Johnson rodeo. If only his party could act so decisively over his political infidelity.
Johnson is scheduled to speak on the Tuesday of the Tory conference and is widely expected to announce his leadership plans then although given his track record for going off-piste, anything could happen.
And in these strange times, even Michael Gove is now being tipped again as a leadership contender and little known International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, has dived in with an attack on the current ‘establishment and elite’ in which she warns that voters have lost trust in their leaders. That’ll be her leader!
At least Karen Bradley, apparently the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has the honesty to admit that she doesn’t have a clue what she is doing.
In an interview she gave to Holyrood’s sister magazine, The House, she said: “I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland. I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.”
Which was an interesting observation on many counts, not least because it was in the same week that Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative deputy leader who is about to step into Ruth Davidson’s sensible shoes while she is on maternity leave, bizarrely tweeted: “Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP need to decide whether they will back the PM’s Brexit deal or walk through the division lobbies with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.”
We have truly fallen well down the rabbit hole when a Tory leader is asking the opposition to pick sides from within his own party.
Amid the uncertainty is the certainty that anything could happen over the next few weeks and months as Brexit day approaches; not least, Brexit talks collapsing, a leadership challenge to May, the government falling, a general election and the elevation of Corbyn to Number 10 – presuming he too hasn’t fallen victim to a leadership challenge.
Meanwhile, Vince Cable has taken the initiative and announced his own party’s demise – saying he wouldn’t rule out a renaming of the Lib Dems to attract disaffected Labour and Conservative members and MPs to a new party as he helps to build a mass movement of the moderates.
But given Brexit is argued to have been a consequence of voters dissatisfied with the political mainstream, is the march of the moderates really the rallying call that will set the heart racing?
Deal or no-deal, party conference season is bound to be an explosive one.