COMMENT The past few years in Westminster have been bitter, divisive and hugely frustrating. I know because I was there. So what can we expect from the next parliament? Will the current paralysis be replaced by something healthier?
Clearly the winner will dominate the direction of politics. However, there will be two other factors which will set the character of political debate.
First, there will be more than 100 new MPs, and possibly many more. Several of the worst antagonists will have gone. This will change the mood and dynamic of many debates. Second, the change in speaker will remove the accusation of bias, restoring the authority of that office. These two factors will reduce the mistrust between MPs, which has proven so corrosive.
But what of the likely election result? I write this with over three weeks to go. However, most commentators foresee one of three outcomes: a Conservative majority; a hung parliament in which the Conservatives are the largest party; or a minority Labour government under Corbyn. Let’s assess the implications of each.
Sense of drift
A hung parliament in which the Conservatives are the largest party would mean that Boris Johnson would have failed to break the impasse over Brexit. The new Conservative parliamentary party would be more united, but that would be of little comfort.
Outside Westminster, the realisation that nothing has changed would hit consumer confidence. Several major investors would turn away to other markets. The sense of drift would become overwhelming.
Breaking the impasse
The second prospect is that the Conservatives secure a majority. It will be difficult, but a majority of 20-30 seats is within reach.
What would that mean? I think a clear outcome would encourage consumers to feel the impasse has been broken. This could help the markets early in 2020 and unlock some major investments which have been pending for months.
At Westminster, the prime minister would have his own mandate, and this would give him renewed confidence to govern his way. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill would be driven through parliament in time for 31 January 2020. It would also mean a budget, probably in February, to deliver on election promises – but also to set longer-term spending plans for Whitehall.
What else? This is a prime minister who likes bold action and big projects. Look out for more radical ideas, including a desire to build new settlements, as part of the housing mix.
Public sector good, private sector bad
The third possible result would be a minority Labour government. What should we expect? As a minority they would rely on the SNP, so a referendum on Scottish independence would be the price. Beyond that, we need to understand their motivations.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s politics are shaped by their enemies: America abroad, capitalists and wealthy landlords at home. They strongly believe in the nostrum: public sector good, private sector bad.
So, expect emergency exchange controls. Nationalisation would be driven through, with shareholders being left out-of-pocket. Council housing would be the new priority, at the expense of housebuilders, housing associations and the whole of the private rented sector. A lot of public money would be thrown at the problem.
Labour would still need to resolve its own divisions over Brexit, but its priority would be to secure the party’s grip on power. Everything else would come second to that.
As I write this, the most likely prospect is a small majority for the Conservatives. Yet, after 18 years in the Commons, I have learnt that the only certainty in politics is uncertainty.
Mark Prisk is a former MP and housing minister