Why “The Others” are coming in UK politics

Readers of the Game of Thrones books will know that the original name of the white walkers was “The Others”.

Examining the most recent polling figures, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn might be able to relate to a Ranger of the Night’s Watch. While the white walkers are probably not about to enter British politics, the Others most certainly are.

Just this week, some polls have shown combined support for Labour and the Conservatives at just 60%. If repeated at an election this would be the lowest combined share for the parties in over a hundred years. The upcoming European elections could be a bonanza for both the new parties like Change UK and the Brexit Party and established parties like the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

There are two obvious reasons for this, and they both sit on the frontbench. Whatever the truth of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s qualities and capabilities, the verdict from the public is a thumbs down. Theresa May’s approval ratings are on a par with Gordon Brown’s when he lost in 2010. Not to be outdone, Jeremy Corbyn is literally the most unpopular opposition leader since surveys have existed –less popular than the likes of Iain Duncan Smith.

There are many reasons both are so unpopular, but the inability to offer a clear message on the pre-eminent political issue of the day is a key one – and is what separates Labour and the Conservatives from all The Others.

So far as Theresa May’s deal goes, it is an attempt at a fudge which can command Conservative parliamentary support. It has failed even in that regard. As a fudge, it has proven very difficult for the Government to communicate why the deal would be a desirable outcome in and of itself.

This is why the Government has tried using mutually contradictory threats to gain support for it, telling the hardline European Research Group that they have to vote for it or risk remaining in the EU, and telling her party’s moderates that they have to back it or risk a no-deal Brexit.

Trying to convince two different audiences with two directly contradictory messages is a challenge at the best of times. When those two different audiences work in the same building it is probably not even worth trying. It is an approach that has left politicians and the public both confused and mistrustful of the Government.

Meanwhile comprehending Labour’s Brexit policy has been almost impossible from the beginning. For as long as possible it promoted the line that it would negotiate a “Labour Brexit”, despite the fact that this isn’t possible in opposition. Meanwhile its position on a second referendum has been through so many iterations that even party spokespeople find it difficult to keep up, and as of this week, could not even say which option they would campaign for if one was held.

As a rule simple messages are more effective than complex ones, and the rise of the Others reflects this. Whether it is parties committed to a second referendum and reversal of Brexit, such as the Lib Dems and Change UK, or committed to an immediate no-deal Brexit, such as the Brexit Party and UKIP, simple messages are finding traction. It may be that in the end, the resolution to this situation will be that a party offering ones of these messages wins a General Election – winter is coming for those that can’t.