After three years of disorder and deadlock following its landmark referendum to quit the European Union, Britain is rapidly approaching a turning point, one that is not too far from where the journey began. The first major election since Brexit was rescheduled from March 29 to Oct 31 has shown that parties and voters in Britain are sizing each other up in fresh and unpredictable ways. Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party was braced for reverses at last week's local polls. But it was not prepared to see 1,334 council seats slip from its hands. The Labour Party believed it would reap significant gains, but surrendered 84 seats instead. Each is estimated to have won just 28 per cent of the total vote. The crisis of confidence may carry to the May 23 European parliamentary elections. Both parties, together, may have to be content with just a third of the vote while the openly pro-leave and pro-remain parties walk away with the lion's share.
Should a general election be held, the projections are as sobering. YouGov surveys see the Tories winning 27 per cent of the vote nationally, compared with 30 per cent for Labour, 14 per cent for Mr Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party and 11 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. This throws up the possibility of a weak new government. The polarisation that roils the electorate is mirrored within Mrs May's government. When she sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson last week, she not only lost her 10th minister in less than three years in office, but also bared the inability of the establishment to arrive at a consensus on how to deal with China, its companies and its technology, even as it prepares to step outside the EU umbrella. It is also clear that the man in the street has felt left out in debates. When asked how they felt about the government decision to let Chinese telecoms giant Huawei supply equipment for Britain's 5G data network, only 22 per cent supported the decision while 34 per cent of those polled opposed it. The largest number, 44 per cent, said they did not know, highlighting the familiar leadership deficit that precipitated the Brexit crisis.