The 'Independent Group' - a small splinter of plywood, or the first jolt of tectonic shift? The Brexit Party (Co Ltd) - a single-issue vanity project, or the model for parties of the 2020's? The 'UK Youth Climate Coalition' - an NGO ramp, or a nascent force for change? The only thing we may be sure of is that none of these new developments will go short of cash: that's the easy bit.
Yes, as we all knew, 2019 is going to be a year for the political connoisseur. Which politician, and/or which organisation, will be both sharp and flexible enough to make anything from these swirling pieces of jigsaw? Can bricks be made from the straws-in-the-wind? Let's look at the existing organisations, all of which look leaden-footed right now, but all of which have resources and incentives to attempt to capitalise on the chaos.
1. Celtic Fringe parties (primarily SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein). All essentially single-issue and opportunistic. Probably don't need to change in order to survive in their current state, even if that's a rather passive objective. SNP will need to weather the Salmond storm (and hence will tend to wind their necks in a bit more than they otherwise would); but it's not clear that Labour are in any position to roll them back out of Westminster at the next GE. One comes across suggestions of a 'unilateral inde-referendum', which couldn't be ruled out. Mostly, though, with the Salmond of Damocles over their heads, it'll be watch-and-wait.**
For many months I have puzzled over Sinn Fein's quiescence; and it's nearly two years since I last got a proper political briefing in a Dublin pub. My inclination is to assume that, as an organisation with a clear goal and the ability to play a long game, they are just waiting for the chance to pluck the juicy prize when the bough bends sufficiently for them to reach up and take it. (To this end, BTW, they must surely be willing ultimately to take up those Westminster seats that everyone assumes they'll forswear forever.)
2. Libs. Is it too glib to pass on without further comment? In a world where genuine political novelty is in the air, they don't look like any sort of major beneficiary, even if someone might someday casually enquire as to the price of their rather small block-vote. (We all know that answer: PR.)
3. Greens. Must rather like the look of the 'UK Youth Climate Coalition', in much the same way as a bunch of OAPs like the look of kids playing mixed-sex touch rugby in the park. Everyone hopes to harness da yoof (particularly if they know how to set up a good website) but only Momentum shows any signs of weaponising it so far (see below).
4. Labour. Do any C@W readers have an insider's insight here? My secondhand info is that the split within Labour between Corbyn-worshippers and the rest runs bitter and deep to a degree only lefties really understand. Still, we must assume the Official Labour Party will keep it together enough to take the field at the next GE. We must also assume that, buoyed by the (relative) success of the student-loan bribe in 2017, they will be offering free unicorns to every child; and, most specifcally, a voting age of 16 - perhaps arguing to 18-19-20's that they'll get much more of what they want if they vote for reinforcements from even younger teens next time. (Monbiot shows here how they'll easily dress this up.)
And, as noted before, Momentum (that's Momentum Co Ltd, actually and technically another middle-age corporate vehicle) have already gone a way down this youth road, with moderate success. The key here is whether Disillusioned-with-Jeremy of Bedsit, England can keep the faith for another two whole years. Maybe. Maybe not.
Anyhow, the near term future for Labour looks to me like More Of The Same. Making no headway in Scotland. Worried about northern Brexit towns. Quite deeply exhausted by internal warfare - too much so to mount any kind of genuine revival or metamorphosis. (The summer of antisemitism really did take a toll, as far as I can tell.) Corbyn, and particularly McDonnell, starting to look their age, whilst still kidding themselves they can play a waiting game.** Starmer the only vestige of manifest leadership (or maybe Watson?), even if Cooper is keeping plenty of powder dry. Which brings us to ...
5. The Wicked Tories. I suppose we must reckon that the next few days might bring about a few desertions... [OVERTAKEN BY EVENTS] And it's hard to overlook the sheer number of C@W BTL comments that read "I'll never vote for those bastards ever again, ever". And perhaps the new Farage vanity-vehicle is really attractive enough to adopt the mantle over the next two years. (Though if that's the plan, they might have come up with a better party name.)
That said: the Tories are UK history's great survivors. Loyalty, inertia, lassitude; as you will. But it's not called Conservative for nothing (and has there every been a bogeyman quite like Corbyn?) Of course, it also speaks to More of The Same too, even more resoundingly than with Labour. There can't be an accommodation with Farage, at least until after the next GE. No mighty leaders-in-waiting have set up camp within the party, even if a romantic sort of Boris-camp has subsisted for years and we can all see the other petty displays of unlimited ambition in little side-booths all across Westminster.
So - there are some jigsaw pieces to push mournfully around the table. How many more substantive elements will complete the picture at the time of the next GE?
** Sinn Fein might have some excuse for watch-and-wait; but in the case of both the SNP and Labour, I reckon they are kidding themselves as to the effectiveness of their would-be opportunism. They all dream of being Wellington at Salamanca; but in reality it's more like idleness and inability to make the political weather.