What a Difference a Day Makes: Politics at Warp Speed

01/07/2016 12:26 | Updated 01 July 2016

Back in the 1960s life moved at a more sedate pace. Arguing that political fortunes could change very quickly Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson pointed out that a week is a long time in politics. Well, move over granddad: these days we move far faster. Events move on in days, hours and sometimes minutes. We have entered an era when politics is at warp speed.

Consider this past week. Only a little more than 7 days ago David Cameron was secure in No10, feeling hopeful that he was about to win the European argument and thinking about the gentle glide path to retirement in 2018. Jeremy Corbyn was much reviled but not under immediate threat in his position as Labour Party leader. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were resigned to the fact they had fought hard and lost, but had made their case and burnished their reputations. Nigel Farage was conceding defeat and doubtless drowning his sorrows. Tim Farron was as irrelevant as ever. All was well with the world.

Since then the pace of change has been dizzying. The explosion from the hand grenade thrown by the British electorate at the end of last week has reverberated throughout this country and around the world. Farage has strutted triumphantly from College Green to the European Parliament. Cameron has resigned, experienced the sorrow and anger of his fellow European leaders, and ended the week relaxed and in good form in the Commons tearoom. Farron has continued to be irrelevant.

Meanwhile the Labour Party has had possibly the most bizarre week in its history. It began with the departure of most of the Shadow Cabinet, many of whom have still not been replaced. Its leader has been under siege all week, after those resignations and after his Parliamentary colleagues passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence. Every day has brought rumours that one opponent or other would stand against Corbyn but they have held back, daunted by the leftwingers they would have to face. Corbyn is clinging on, apparently so that he can pass the crown on to John McDonnell or someone of a similar ideological hue. The sight of Paul Flynn at the dispatch box capped off this very strange week.

All these machinations are good sport, but they are deadly serious for Labour. If Corbyn can't be shifted, or if he is replaced by another leftie, it is hard to see how some of the Party's MPs can stay inside the tent. The atmosphere is poisonous; the risk of splits very real. At the same time the Party has to grapple with the realities starkly revealed by the referendum, particularly that its relationship with many previously core voters is strained at best. An election now might see many seats lost and UKIP and the Tories hoovering up large swathes of the north. The Party is fragile; the next few weeks are crucial.

The Tories are under less existential threat, but are still wobbling. On Friday morning they lost their leader, and all the stresses and strains Cameron has managed for years came tumbling out. At first the leadership election looked like it might be a coronation for Boris, but three things happened. He wrote a newspaper column which revealed he was not as ideologically sound about Brexit, and particularly on immigration, as his supporters might have thought. His clownish superficiality was exposed as he glibly assured the nation that pensions were safe, even as markets plunged up and down. And some Tories began to think that the Brexit-negotiator-in-chief needs to be serious and experienced, at home in the corridors of power not on Have I Got News For You. And so Gove wielded the knife...

So Theresa May looks like a shoo in now, and whilst it would be crazy in these warp speed times to say she is a certainty to be our next PM, she does look nailed on. Gove has propelled himself to centre stage, and seems likely to face May in the election, though watch out for a backlash after he took down Boris. And as for the Clown Prince himself, he went from zero to hero and back to zero, all in the space of six days. The likelihood now of him ever getting a senior political position is remote. So as he wakes up this morning he might well spend the long, empty, hours stretching out in front of him contemplating how rapidly things change these days. What a difference a day makes; twenty-four little hours...