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George Osborne (pictured in 2016) still teases a return to politics (Richter Frank-Jurgen CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr)

Could British politics realign? Might the UK’s party system be shaken up? In France, Emmanuel Macron managed to sweep aside the existing major parties earlier this year. In the United States, while their two much looser parties are still the only game in town, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have engaged — with varying degrees of success — in hostile takeovers of the old behemoths.

In Austria, the victory of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz in last month’s election may seem like the return to ascendancy of the Austrian People’s Party, one of the two parties dominant in Austria since the war. In fact, the young leader did his very best to downplay the Volkspartei. Kurz made a big thing about people who were not members of the party appearing high up on its electoral list and it appeared on the ballot in the parliamentary elections as Liste Kurz — Österreichische Volkspartei. Such branding may be familiar from start-up, challenger parties around the world — think Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in Australia or Lijst Pim Fortuyn in the Netherland — but is unheard of for major parties such as the Austrian People’s Party, which has been on the scene for more than 70 years or, if you include its predecessor the Christian Socialist Party, 130 years. Could Britain see a similar transformation of its electoral politics?

After Theresa May’s disastrous general election campaign — which did everything to personalise the campaign around her other than changing the party’s ballot paper designation to “Theresa May’s Conservatives” — there is no appetite here for the Austrian option, indeed quite the reverse. Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s more swivel-eyed personality cultists may dream of Labour running as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour”, but if anything were to cause the party to split this surely would.

Yet the Macron example has made various of our former leaders dream of the possibilities and opportunities of new political alignments. No politician ever publicly says that they will defect — until they do. The possible exception to this rule is John Baron, the Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay and acolyte of the isolationist historian John Charmley, who went on the BBC’s Newsnight in the aftermath of Douglas Carswell’s and Mark Reckless’s defection to UKIP in 2014 to say “never say never in politics” when asked if he might follow them. He didn’t. However much they may protest their continued loyalty to their respective parties in public, it is nevertheless very clear that both George Osborne from the Conservatives and Tony Blair from Labour have been dreaming about a political realignment and sharing their thoughts with their trusted confidantes.

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