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Cerberus: Conservatives should expect little cheer from next year’s pivotal elections


Three elections will shape British politics in 2016. The first will decide the fate of Jeremy Corbyn’s ham-fisted leadership of the Labour Party; the second whether Britain has the self-confidence to regain its national independence; and the third the leadership of what we used to call the Free World.

To take them in turn, May sees a positive glut of UK local elections. There are the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly; the contest for Mayor of London; and English local council polls. The portents for the Bearded One, the man who enjoys the fanatical support of his agit-prop membership and the loathing of his MPs, do not look good.

According to a new analysis by local government experts for The Sunday Times, Corbyn is on course to lose 200 of the 1200 councils seats he is defending in England. He is also at serious risk of another wipeout in Scotland, falling to third place behind the Tories in the battle for seats at Holyrood, and the loss of Labour control in the Welsh Assembly. His only ray of hope is that Sadiq Khan, who has wisely distanced himself from his party leader, beats Zac Goldsmith in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as London Mayor.

Labour support in London, with its large immigrant population and its legions of young, urban metropolitans, is holding up better than in most parts of the country. Khan could well prove Corbyn’s lifebelt if the rest of the UK turns its back on his timewarp policies and antipathy to national traditions.

But if the earnest and wealthy Goldsmith, who does enjoy Lynton Crosby’s campaign support, overcomes polling deficits to see off Khan, Corbyn’s leadership will be back in the frame. Trouble is no one quite knows how to get rid of him. Nor do his legions of opponents on the Labour benches have a standard-bearer. One option would be for the majority anti-Corbyn faction among Labour MPs to form their own parliamentary caucus and elect their own leader and shadow cabinet. But there are few signs they have the courage and appetite for such blatant insubordination, fearing, as they do that they would be deselected by the Corbynistas who dominate their local party branches.

Labour seems to have lost the will to power, the one thing that Tony Blair and his New Labour henchmen discovered back in the 1980s and 1990s. The Conservatives are lucky in that respect.

Expect a wounded Corbyn to limp on to another crisis and his eventual overthrow.

The EU referendum, expected but not certain to be staged next summer (June/early July or September) has the potential to break the political mould. An out vote and defeat for David Cameron would spell the premature end of his leadership and fatally damage George Osborne’s hopes of succeeding him. With Brexit confirmed, the Tory Party would want a leader comfortable with what has bizarrely become a heretical idea: that Britain, the fifth biggest economy in the world and the country that invented parliamentary democracy, should elect to govern itself without outside interference.

That opens the door to Boris Johnson – or even Theresa May – assuming that they throw in their lot with the Leave camp. Outsiders, assuming that they play prominent roles in throwing off the Brussels yoke, such as Sajid Javid, Owen Paterson, Liam Fox or David Davis, could become serious contenders.

But not William Hague. His article in The Daily Telegraph last week all but ruled out the prospect that the man who based his 2001 election campaign on keeping the pound could ever side with the anti-Europeans.

Hague’s intervention, like that of former prime minister John Major and his one-time deputy Michael Heseltine, was significant in that it reinforced the message that the Conservative establishment will fight to the last directive to remain in the EU irrespective of what so-called concessions Cameron might secure in his renegotiation.

Expect a narrow victory for the status quo and Britain remaining an uneasy part of the crumbling European project. We were wrong to join in the first place and we will be wrong to hang around as the supposed European superstate collapses amid bitter divisions. The Berlin Wall may have come down but right now walls are going up all over Europe as beleaguered nation states fight to preserve their identities amid the chaos of the migrant crisis.

Finally, there is the US presidential election of November. The outcome matters to Britain because without American leadership there can be no resolution of the appalling Syrian civil war and the wider Middle East turmoil and Islamist terrorism. Viewed through the distorting lens of the UK media, Donald Trump is both a buffoon and a menace. But he is well ahead in the polls for the Republican nomination, while being outscored by conservative Ted Cruz in Iowa, scene of the first primary on February 1. Only Cruz or the foreign policy hawk Marco Rubio seem to stand a chance of stopping him.

America does not seem to be in a mood to resume its role as the world’s policeman and Trump’s capacity for self destruction on the long primary trail should not be underestimated.

Expect Cruz to take on Hillary Clinton in the election – and Hillary to win, offering little in the way of answers to the foreign policy quagmire we face.

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Cerberus writes a blog every Monday on the state of modern Britain.

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