Divisions, splits and civil war

It’s party conference season once again, and this year they could be really bloody as the divisions and in-fighting within the Conservative and Labour parties reach unprecedented levels.

Who will pull the pin? Both main parties face divisions and verbal in-fighting

Theresa May’s hold on the leadership of her party is fading by the day, and it’s surely only a matter of time before she faces a leadership challenge. But as the party remains as badly split as ever on Brexit, it’s by no means certain who of the likely candidates to replace her will win the crown even if Boris Johnson currently looks like the favourite – at least with the wider party membership.

But his popularity among his parliamentary colleagues is not great with some even vowing to leave the party if he became leader. Still, as one Conservative backbench MP recently told me: “The only thing that currently unites the party is our recognition that Theresa must go.”

The logical, and most sensible, sequence for the party is that Theresa May stands down in the early summer after Brexit is delivered – even if that turns out to be a ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome – allowing for an orderly leadership contest in time for the new leader to be in post for next year’s party conference.

But that assumes logic, and that seems to be in pretty short supply within the party right now. Some even think she may be forced out by Christmas.

Labour meanwhile is facing a monumental battle for the soul of the party, although all the signs are that the hard-left is winning this particular civil war.

Two Labour MPs have resigned the whip (Frank Field and John Woodcock) and three have recently lost votes of confidence in their constituency branches (Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and Joan Ryan) courtesy of hard-left party members, and face the threat of de-selection.

There is open, and growing, talk of more MPs following John Woodcock’s and Frank Field’s example, and even of a new centrist party being formed. As an alternative, the leader of the Lib Dems, Vince Cable, is openly talking of the Lib Dems being a new home for the many disaffected moderate Labour MPs.

I can’t recall when both main political parties were in such turmoil at the same time.

While it may be good sport for political commentators, it will make the electorate even more disenchanted with politicians than it already is.

Moderate Labour MPs face a range of choices –fight from within, resign the whip, leave politics altogether, take up Vince Cable’s offer, or form that new party.

I’m not going to make any predictions as to the likely outcome of Labour’s civil war, but for the Conservatives I reckon it’s a near certainty that Theresa May won’t be leader of her party and Prime Minister by this time next year.

This is going to be a party conference season like no other.