Belfast Telegraph

Chris Moncrieff: Conservatives are on course for worst election night since 1997


Election fears: Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis
Election fears: Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis
Jeremy Corbyn
Ann Widdecombe

By Chris Moncrieff

Conservative grandees are bracing the party for what some fear could be the greatest electoral catastrophe in their history - even worse than the General Election whitewash inflicted by Labour in 1997.

Some pundits even fear the Tories could lose as many as 1,000 seats at the local government elections on Thursday.

Tory canvassers are reporting that, on doorsteps, they're encountering anger among would-be voters on a scale they've never come across before.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis is reporting "huge frustration" among people who have regularly voted Tory in the past. That is the understatement of the year.

The stark truth is that the Conservative Party is in a mess. People see the conduct of the Brexit negotiations as shambolic, with the Brussels negotiators treating the UK team almost with contempt.

Added to all this is the ferocious and highly public internal warfare inside the party. Never before have the Conservatives been in such abject disarray.

A particularly unpleasant feature of that is the sometimes quite cruel criticism of the Prime Minister from her so-called "friends".

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It has to be said, however, that Theresa May has borne all these slings and arrows with equanimity.

But, overall, the outlook for the Conservative Party is grim and bleak. Thursday will show them precisely how bad things really are.

Can they ever recover?

Many people consider that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a serious error of judgment in declining to attend the Buckingham Palace banquet in honour of Donald Trump, during his forthcoming state visit to the UK.

I don't suppose the President gives two hoots whether Corbyn is there or not. But that is not the point.

In the not-too-distant future, Corbyn could be in 10 Downing Street and Trump could still be in the White House.

Corbyn's decision was based on his anathema towards Trump, and the British Labour leader acted in line with his conscience - a perfectly understandable thing to do. But Corbyn must learn to occasionally put aside, however reluctantly, his conscientious feelings, in favour of the national interest.

What on earth can a President of the United States think about a British Prime Minister who, before he entered Downing Street, had seriously snubbed him?

It certainly will not do wonders for the "Special Relationship".

Corbyn should think ahead, rather than act hastily.

The formidable Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory Home Office minister, would surely be eligible for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records for high-end defections, if there were such a category. Widdecombe defected from the Church of England, where she was a devout member, to join the Church of Rome some years ago. And last week she quit the Conservative Party to line up with Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party, which, I might add, is already causing some anxiety in Tory and Labour circles, as the local elections and possibly the EU elections approach.

Some eyebrows were raised - including her own - that she was not elevated to the House of Lords after her departure from the Commons.

But I have always suspected that the reason for that omission was her ferocious attack in the House of Commons when the Tories went into opposition in 1997, on Michael Howard - her former boss when he was Home Secretary.

She had the House gasping when she described Howard as someone "with the night about him".

So, she may still be paying the price for what many considered at the time to be a totally unnecessary exhibition of personal criticism.

However, Miss Widdecombe has enjoyed a more varied post-Commons career than most of her colleagues.

She has appeared in pantomime, even though she can neither sing nor dance (as evidenced by her performance on Strictly Come Dancing), and in grand opera, and has also written bestselling novels and is a regular newspaper columnist.

Good luck to her. She certainly adds to the gaiety of the nation.

I do not wish to sound like a Jeremiah, but I fear that Change UK, the new party of defectors from Labour and the Tories, is beginning to sound like "More of the Same UK".

It was hurriedly formed from those of like minds on Brexit (and possibly little else). In short, it is a single-issue party, although I am sure its members would disagree with that.

But single-issue parties, worthy though they may be, do not survive very long under the British political system.

I fear, too, that once (if ever) Brexit is behind us, one way or another, Change UK could degenerate rapidly as a political force at Westminster.

The party's interim leader, Heidi Allen, says she is looking forward to dealing with "more exciting" issues, like health and education.

But its members are a disparate bunch of politicians, who do not share similar views on these issues. So, that would lead inevitably to regular bouts of internal squabbling.

And it has been shown that the British electorate do not care for parties engaged in internal warfare.

I would not be tempted to risk any money on this outfit surviving after the next General Election.

Belfast Telegraph


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