"A dramatic shift in constitutional assumptions, political conventions, and the traditional support bases of political parties"

Posted on: 5 September 2019 by Dr Andrew Crines in 2019 posts

The Palace of Westminster at dusk

Dr Andrew Crines, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Liverpool, summarises a tumultuous few days in British politics and suggests how the situation may unfold in the coming weeks and months.

At the time of writing the state of British politics is a very fast moving situation. In a reversal of positions, Boris Johnson is calling for a general election whilst the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn stands in opposition to one. The argument being advanced by Corbyn is that the need to stop No Deal Brexit is more pressing than an electoral test.

However, the counter-argument is that the Commons have voted to bind the hands of the government in negotiating a new deal with the European Union. This comes at a time where the current session of Parliament is due to come to an end to enable the government to outline its policy programme with a Queen’s Speech. This is a normal feature of the constitution. However, opponents point to the length of the closure and the timing to argue that it is unconventional.

In terms of finding solutions it is a huge hostage to fortune to try and predict how this will play out. However, what we can say is that the events will leave a mark on British politics that will be next to impossible to repair. For example, in terms of party politics the expulsions of 21 longstanding Conservative MPs have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Tory MPs. The Liberal Democrats are benefitting from defections, though they are likely to be challenged by their former parties at the next election (assuming they are selected to stand in their constituencies).

Moreover, the unwritten constitution (which functions well under normal conditions) has found to be weak when faced by the significant pressures posed by Brexit and the current political situation. Whether this will increase calls for a written constitution post-Brexit will be interesting to see.

Finally, the parties across the United Kingdom and how these events are playing out will also leave a mark on the debates over devolution. With Ruth Davidson gone in Scotland, it may be harder for the Conservatives to make their case for the Union against Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

As such, from Westminster to Holyrood, from the Welsh Assembly to Stormont, and all across the nations of the UK, we are facing a dramatic shift in constitutional assumptions, political conventions, and the traditional support bases of political parties. And that’s before we add in the dynamic of Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party…

Students starting in September will enter a political climate going through very interesting times.

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