Local election results are never a clear guide to the result of any future general election but they are a serious opinion poll. Last week’s local elections in parts of the UK had mostly a ‘steady as she goes’ outcome. It was bad news for UKIP who held just three of its 126 council seats and whose vote share collapsed from 16% to just over 2%.
Labour failed to make any breakthrough in London where they claimed they would take over Wandsworth and Westminster, and outside our capital city the Conservatives picked up more seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined.
Neither of the two major parties has a massive national lead but the votes of our Conservative Government held up well in this electoral test.
The focus will now shift back to Parliament, where not only is there a narrow majority but there are pressures of a different sort on both the Conservative and Labour side. Labour is being taken over by the hard left from outside, and the Government is constantly subject to pressure from the ideological right on the inside.
As someone put it, we now have “Momentum facing Moggmentum”. The vast majority of Conservative MPs understand the complexity of Brexit and the hard and complicated effort that is required for us to reach an agreement with the EU on the terms of our departure.
The Prime Minister has already, through her steely determination and unflappable sense of duty, achieved clear agreement on the difficult first phase of the exit negotiations. This has covered the very important issue of citizens’ rights for Europeans who are here, which in turn will underpin the future of British citizens who live elsewhere in the EU.
We now need to establish a trading relationship with the EU for both goods and services which offers a firm foundation for our future prosperity and avoids the economic pain which could result from a bad deal.
There are some Conservative MPs who keep on issuing threats and ultimatums to the Prime Minister in language which is increasingly demanding. The only way we are going to get a good deal which serves the long-term interests of the UK is to give the Prime Minister the latitude to seek the best deal she can. Constant letters and demands fed into the newspapers or pushed through the letterbox of Number 10 are not the way to help the Government achieve the best for Britain.
In a Parliament with such tight arithmetic and the massive historic challenge of Brexit, especially when their noise is not reflected in their number, I would urge some of my parliamentary colleagues to cool it and not think they are entitled to try to tell the Prime Minister what to do.
We need unity on Brexit as well as on our broader agenda for the future, otherwise we face a continued period of uncertainty which would undoubtedly hinder Britain’s ability to thrive.