Both the main political parties in Britain appear to be close to tearing themselves apart. Will politics ever return to ‘normal’ or is political balance behind us forever?
The Parliamentary Labour Party is at very considerable odds with both the leadership and most of Labour’s members. While Theresa May and most of her loyal MPs are at odds with the majority of the Conservative Party’s members over ‘Chequers’, her preferred route for the UK out of the EU.
And the public are at odds with Parliament as well as each other, since the referendum, where most MPs backed remaining in the EU, whilst the majority of the voting public opted to leave.
This is reflected in the civil service too, with considerable numbers of senior civil servants leaving, especially in those departments most impacted by Brexit. This is because so much of the civil service is passionately committed to keeping the UK in the EU in some form. Tony Blair was clear in his autobiography he spent the first half of his first term fighting the civil service that had been ideologically ‘Thatcherised’ during the long Thatcher-Major period. When I first went to work for the Association of British Insurers in 2000, I was struck by how many City trade associations were run by former officials who had left government in the years following the Labour victory in 1997.
It may of course be that this is the new ‘normal’, that broad church political parties have had their day, or that we really are entering a phase of political extremism on both Left and Right. I’m not convinced of that. The destructive war within both parties between their MPs and members won’t last. MPs are chosen one way or another by local activists. Over time there will be a re-alignment between members and MPs. It seems to me that it will take at least one, possibly two elections for that parliament/public realignment to take place.
The government/civil service alignment will probably take a similar period to heal.
Those departing senior civil servants who would have preferred the UK to stay in the EU, will in time be replaced by those who accept the new plans for Britain to regain its independence – whatever they may be!
Written by Simon Gentry, Managing Partner