Following the British public’s decision to leave the European Union, many politicians attempted to create a sense of calm by asserting the need for the UK to remain united during the challenges that lie ahead. Five months down the line, however, it seems that political divisions have only intensified further, leaving many moderate Labour and Conservative voters with a decreased sense of representation.
In the current state of affairs, both the untimely resignation of David Cameron and the failed coup of Owen Smith could be described as the lid on the coffin for political centrists. The demise of both figures has essentially created a power vacuum, only to be filled by fanatics on the far-left and far-right. Additionally, with the Lib Dems still in disarray after being reduced to eight parliamentary seats, the UK is yet to see a force which can prevent the polarisation from escalating even further.
In the case of Jeremy Corbyn, it was difficult to comprehend that Labour Party members would so willingly re-elect a leader who had received such an overwhelming vote of no confidence from his own MPs (172 to 40). A substantial number of Corbyn’s colleagues, not to mention his opponents, have expressed deep concerns over his aloof stance on defence issues. He sparked outrage earlier this year when he implied that he desired a withdrawal from NATO, a view nothing short of reckless in a world which is becoming increasingly dangerous. No less controversial was his decision to cancel a ‘Labour In’ campaign in order to attend a CND rally instead, in spite of the fact that the Labour manifesto stated that the party remains ‘committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.’
The second incident also makes it difficult to believe that Corbyn ever wholeheartedly endorsed the Remain campaign. An article by Huffington Post claimed that the Labour leader ‘would mark the EU as “7/10″‘ and that he ‘opposed plans for an EU-US free trade deal.’ With regards to the first of the two, it is astounding that a man in his position should express his opinion on the UK’s biggest electoral decision as a percentage. Consequently, nearly half of Labour voters opted to leave the EU and Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, pointed out in an interview with ITV News that ‘the Labour leadership have been utterly spineless’ in the fight against the Eurosceptics.
When looking alternately at the Conservative Party, the EU referendum’s outcome has spelled an end to the moderate administration that had existed under David Cameron. The immediate constitutional crisis that followed the result has instead provided a platform for hard-line reactionaries, such as the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, to pose as the architects of Britain’s future outside the European Union.
Fox recently came up with a particularly unrealistic claim that a closer relationship the World Trade Organisation would allow the UK to pull out of the single market virtually unharmed. He attempted to justify this so-called prophetic vision by stating that the WTO ‘could add £70bn to the global economy annually, of which £1bn could come to the UK’. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, however, estimates that Britain would be £75bn out of pocket by 2030 if it left the single market. If the predictions of both Fox and the IFS prove to be correct, the overall outcome would amount to a 62 billion pound loss over the next thirteen years. It is therefore unsurprising that the notion of a “hard-Brexit” that became apparent in the Conservative Party Conference has caused the Sterling to fall to its lowest point in almost three decades.
So the question remains, why are the demise of the Tory-left and the Labour-right such a disaster for British politics, especially when taking into account that many members of the British public were deeply disillusioned with both the New Labour governments of the naughties and the Con-Lib coalition which succeeded them? The answer is essentially that the new climate marks a radical shift from pragmatism to populism. Whatever governments the UK elect for the years to come, it is likely that Britain will be set on a path of drastic constitutional change which she is not in a stable position to sustain. Almost inevitably, the Eurosceptic wing of the current government will trigger a Thatcherite-fuelled divorce from Europe, whilst a future Corbyn administration carries the equally alarming threat of a NATO and Trident forfeiture – the overriding theme in both cases being that of political isolation.