All the stupid things people have said today

And I’m looking at you, Malcolm Rifkind, and you, John Redwood.

There's nothing like a political thriller to get the pundits out on College Green selling their wares to the lowest bidder and spouting a fury of nonsense on rolling news. Somebody has to fill those long and languid hours, I suppose, as everyone runs around chasing anyone in a suit who looks like he might be negotiating something.

Rumour has it that a Sky reporter found himself in Caffè Nero filming a negotiation over the price of a blueberry muffin and yelling to the camera, "It's looking good for a deal, people! BREAKING NEWS!!!!!" Well, not quite, but almost.

Anyway, there have been a couple of real hype-whippers today, stirring up as much trouble as they can, scaremongering in that delightfully cool-headed way that slightly redundant right-wing commentators will.

First up, and definitely the prizewinner, is Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

The idea that the two parties that suffered most in this election, that were rejected by the electorate, that in the case of the Labour Party lost a hundred of its seats, should put together an illegitimate government, this is the Robert Mugabe style of politics . . .. It's exactly what Mugabe did, you know -- he lost the election and scrabbled to hold on to power.

You know, he's got a point. Whenever I look closely at Labour and the Lib Dems, all I can really see is Mugabe-style politics. All those violent bullying tactics, murder attempts and house demolitions. I can't believe no one has made the comparison before. That's searing political insight in action, that is.

Next: the Conservative MP John Redwood, who said that the current situation is "a disaster for British democracy".

It's all that some of us feared about hung parliaments. There's complete chaos and confusion.

How is it a disaster for British democracy when what we are experiencing now is precisely its outcome? How could you have prevented this hung parliament that you so "feared"? (Mental image: Redwood sitting up in bed with his duvet round his ears, whimpering and repeatedly counting seats in his model House of Commons.) Well, by getting a clear majority. WHICH YOU DIDN'T.

Of course, it's the news channels' fault, really, isn't it? If you interview someone 43 times about the same subject within half an hour when there is actually nothing new to report apart from a series of wayward and hazy possibilities, you are bound to get some interesting interpretations.

Solution? To pass the time, set up Adam Boulton in a series of wrestling matches with suitable opponents (first: Ann Widdecombe).

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of "Liberty in the Age of Terror" by A C Grayling.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.