There are at least a dozen political parties currently operating (in some sense of that word) on the British political scene.
These include Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP (i.e. United Kingdom Independence Party), Scottish Nationalist and, (in Northern Ireland), the Democratic Unionist Party, plus (in Wales) Plaid Cymru, a Welsh republican party and Cymru Annibynnol (which is pro Welsh independence).
As I write,the one thing the principal members of this group have in common is a palpitating nervousness about their probable performance in the fast approaching general election.
The timetable for this is as follows:
- Parliament will be dissolved on Monday, 30 March, next year
- the General Election will take place on 7 May.
What is the state of the parties as Armageddon looms?
David Cameron’s Tories look vulnerable
The Conservatives are in disarray for reasons which have been apparent for some while but which recent events have rendered more perilously unmanageable.
David Cameron and his far from merry men and women are in power only by courtesy of Clegg and the Liberal Democrats (hereinafter referred to as the LibDems). The arrangement was made necessary by the stalemate in the election of 2010. It is unpopular with the rank and file of both of its constituent parties.
For the LibDems this has had the advantage of giving them a taste of government. But many of the party members, in government and outside it, feel that they and their beliefs have been at best compromised and at worst trashed.
What, then, of the Labour Party?
Labour with the wrong brother in charge?
Before their party conference, which took place last weekend, The Guardian wrote that
‘Labour has a mountain to climb to win the next election outright, and is still failing to chalk up big enough leads on image or leadership to make it likely to secure an overall majority.’
The Conference itself did little to change that sense of the situation.
For one thing, the Party is aware that although large numbers of people retain socialist ideals, they tend to be concentrated in parts of Scotland and some areas in the Midlands and north of England.
Worse still, their Leader, Ed Milliband, who likes to demonstrate his powers of memory by speaking without notes or an autocue, forgot to mention to Labour’s annual party conference whether or not Labour had any plans for cutting the country’s financial deficit and what those plans might be.
Milliband, as Labour leader, has a number of crosses to bear ––crosses both in the sense of a heavy object of torture which cannot be removed and in the sense of black marks in the margin of his endeavours.
First: some wings of the party and many more people in the population at large were outraged when Ed defeated his brother Dave in the election for party leader a few years ago following the resignation of Gordon Brown.
Dave is taller, good looking, more affable, more politically aware and adaptable. He had a very successful beginning of a career behind him. When he was defeated he dusted himself down and went off to earn tons of money across the Atlantic.
Ed has an odd appearance, with protruding upper teeth, is physically small and seems quite often to live on a different planet. He does not seem to be able to communicate convincingly with large numbers of people looking to him for leadership. And, to cap it all, he got into power by very old-fashioned means: he was supported by the large block votes of six trade unions.
Meanwhile, support for the LibDems has shrunk because of the concessionary course they have had to follow during their alliance with the Conservatives.
A thorn in the side for Cameron: the UK Independence Party
Finally, the Conservatives are no better off than anyone else.
Principally, perhaps, this is because of a breakaway movement called the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
This is led by an amiable enough clown called Nigel Farage. (‘Farrago’ jokes are common.) Nigel seems to spend all day doing three things. The first is cracking jokes, which he laughs at uproariously himself. The second and third are drinking and smoking.
His office and campaign headquarters seem, wherever he is, to be the nearest pub.
Farage and his henchpersons seem to be driven by two phenomena that they loathe. This does not seem too strong a word –‘Dislike’, ‘disapproval’, ‘uneasiness’: forget all those moderating words. UKIP hates United Europe, the Eurozone and, above all, the freedom of movement between states which allows large numbers of people from other parts of Europe and to come to Britain and get jobs.
The fact that a good many of these people seem to be competent and hardworking is not held in their favour by UKIP. They are TAKING OUR JOBS, PUTTING US OUT OF WORK… And so on.
And, of course, some immigrants are allowing their fifteen-year-olds to go abroad and work as assassins for various groups of fanatical Muslims.
From David Cameron’s point of view, what makes UKIP a real threat is that his own MPs (including some quite senior persons) are deserting the Conservatives for UKIP in noticeable numbers.
Cameron under pressure
Closer at hand, both his Chancellor, George Osborne, and his would-be fellow MP, Boris Johnson want his job.
So he has much to worry about.
He might also spend a little time putting himself in order.
He has twice in recent weeks, at first inadvertently, then apparently consciously (having promised not to do it again) passed on the contents of conversations with the Queen, which have, of course, been reported in the press.
We are not amused
He said first that Her Majesty had ‘purred’ when he told her on the telephone the result of the Scottish Referendum. He promised never to report private conversations between them. He was reminded that conversations with the Monarch were not supposed to be passed on to anyone.
Then, days later, he let slip that, according to him, the Queen was wrong to think that the original of a painting by Anthony Van Dyke, which hangs in Windsor Castle, is the original, while the version on view at Chequers, the PM’s country residence, is a mere copy.
This is hardly world-shattering stuff. But Prime Ministers, one feels, ought to be able to keep their mouths shut when they specifically promised to do so. And, more importantly, to be quiet when they have nothing convincing to say.
Whatever, no party can look forward to mid-May with any confidence – even if a week is a long time in politics.