The resignation of Nigel Farage as head of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) and the likely end of that party as a political force outwardly only seems to add to the turmoil that has engulfed the British political class since the Brexit referendum on June 23. Mr Farage’s party only had one seat in Parliament. However, it so successfully peddled its platform of opposing the European Union over its free labour mobility policy that it caused an internal rift within the dominant Conservative Party and led Prime Minister David Cameron to seek a disastrous referendum to settle the issue. Yet Mr Farage’s resignation indicates that the UKIP will not be around to take advantage of the leadership struggles that have now engulfed both the Conservative and Labour parties. This is just as well. The British polity is now so fluid it would not be invulnerable to the blandishments of a nativist populist party like UKIP.
The economic and political shock of Brexit could not come at a worse time given the fragility of the global economy. Britain was actually seen as a source of growth and stability in Europe and the West. What is needed is a political leadership in London seen as capable of renegotiating the country’s relationship with the EU in an orderly fashion, handle the divisions that have now been revealed within the British population and even with the two main parties, and carry out the policies needed to ensure the world’s fifth largest economy does not fall into severe recession.
At present, there is little evidence of such a leadership emerging. The Conservative Party is in the process of choosing a new leader. Curiously the party may end up with a pro-EU leader again which does not bode well for party unity. The Labour Party is in no position to benefit as its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has massively lost a vote of no confidence but refuses to step down. With Mr Farage gone, there is only one other third party, the Liberal Democrats — and they have promised to take Britain back into the EU. All this is not a surprise. The Brexit vote was ultimately less about the EU than a vote of confidence in the present British establishment. And the establishment lost. The Conservatives have a comfortable majority in Parliament. But if they continue to remain a party divided, the best option for Britain and the world would be to put the system to a national vote. This would clear the air on a number of things, including the present popular strength of the respective parties and the legitimacy of the government. Elections are what democracies do best and, once each party has sorted out its leadership issues, Britain should consider holding one.