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  • Lawrence Bailey

Watching how the wind blows

‘Volatile’ is a word used a lot these days in association with politics, and with good reason too.

A colleague of mine used to swear over a jovial pint that he could win a handful of seats just by forming the “Panto Party”. Neither of us are laughing now as events overtake flippancy.

There’s a view among pollster anoraks that a single Swallow doesn’t constitute a summer. In other words, you can’t use a by-election result to predict the outcome of an all-out contest.

Nonetheless, a lot of pundits are wondering whether events in Peterborough today – and where the Brexit Party are odds-on with the bookies to win the seat - could rattle that particular theory.

It seems unlikely though. Our current arcane electoral method of putting bums on Westminster seats means that capturing the public mood doesn’t necessarily translate into capturing constituencies.

Populist parties have never managed any kind of breakthrough in moderns times, if only because of a lack of organisation and campaign savvy.

Whilst many would claim that the Brexit Party is basically Ukip 2.0 with an alluring Nigel Farage slipping into something a little more comfortable to attract switching support, there’s no denying its phenomenal growth as a electoral force.

Then again you could rightly argue that such a rapid rate of growth underlines the insubstantial nature of a party that doesn’t have to bother with tiresome stuff like hammering out a manifesto among its membership – mostly because it doesn’t posses either.

What surprises me though is the fuzzy reaction of the ‘mainstream’ parties to this existential threat from the reactionary right.

The Conservative Groundhog Day approach has been to sleep-walk yet again into a lacklustre leadership contest in which decidedly average contenders offer lurid visions of their ideal jumping-off-a-cliff scenario. Labour on the other hand finds itself having to cope with disillusionment among the many, not the few, who think that sitting on the Brexit fence is a rubbish strategy. Shooting a few hostages to engender loyalty may have seemed a good idea among the apparatchiks but it fails to impress erstwhile reliable punters like me who chose not to vote at all.

Meanwhile, Welsh Labour is generating its own perception problems. The twin announcements of adopting the role of resolute pro-European bastion whilst also abandoning the M4 relief road was as good an example of mixed messages as you can get anywhere.

Commentators may debate whether the latter decision is a smart move or yet another backward step. For me, the disappointing aspect wasn’t just the affordability issue but how the culture of prefacing bad news with semi-official leaks has been all too readily adopted by the new(ish) regime. In a week in which the media has tried to assign meaningful nuances to the nonsense coming out of visiting Donald Trump, it’s a healthy sign to see that the biggest trending item on social media throughout has been the return of the Love Island series.

Maybe that’s something the red-faced loudmouths shouting “fascist” and “traitor” into each other’s faces on London streets should take time to recognise.

And on a final note, due recognition should go to new kids on the block, Change UK, who split from tory and Labour ranks to form a new party and who have since proved that not much changes in politics by splitting up themselves.

Watching how the wind blows may not be the best way to get a sense of direction but it’s all we have for the moment.

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