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Jeremy Corbyn is on his way out of the Labour party and probably parliament. Boris Johnson is facing suspension from the Commons. The last election’s prime ministerial candidates are now embarrassments to their parties, men the current leaders define themselves against. The Sunak government has prioritised financial stability and even compromised over Brexit in Northern Ireland, while in Scotland the separatist cause is losing ground after the departure of Nicola Sturgeon as first minister. Pragmatism is giving populism a run for its money. Could the UK’s years of political turmoil be over?

The discrediting of Corbyn and Johnson — the most dismal choice ever presented to a British electorate — is striking. After a disastrous election for Labour, Corbyn’s leadership was doomed but few would then have foreseen his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, barring him as a candidate next time around. Yet the rapid and ruthless marginalisation of the hard left is the main evidence for the party’s return to electoral viability.

Johnson’s eclipse owes less to his politics than his character flaws. But this too is a victory for stability, standards and readiness to face hard choices over his premiership’s dishonesty, rule-breaking and impossible promises. The next election will be a contest between two recognisably mainstream and serious leaders. More urgent concerns like the cost of living and the state of public services have deepened the national fatigue with political upheaval.

Brexit’s malign effects linger. It polarised politics, destabilised Northern Ireland and revived Scottish nationalism. But while most voters now consider the decision a mistake, there is less appetite for reversing it. Both main parties are committed only to improving the terms.

To the outside world Britain begins to look more dependable. The Ukraine invasion has forced the UK to reappraise the cost of sour relations with EU neighbours. The bloc now even merits positive mentions in the recently revised foreign and defence strategy.

In Scotland, unionists expect the replacement of Sturgeon with the affable but unproven Humza Yousaf to offer a respite from fears of a UK break-up. Even a modest Labour revival will undercut the case for a fresh independence referendum. Sympathisers may find it harsh to lump this “progressive” nationalism with other populisms but it too feeds on anger, a “foreign” enemy and sketchy details of how the rupture might work.

Tory stonewalling of demands for a fresh independence vote has temporarily paid off. Nationalism thrives as a campaigning movement. But after a brutal leadership contest, a long spell in power in Holyrood and still no prospect of another referendum, momentum is faltering and the factional poisons are seeping out. Support for independence has fallen from an occasional majority to the low 40s.

The UK has found a new stability — yet it stands on soft foundations. The country has not fallen back in love with centrist smoothies. Sunak and Starmer are tolerated, rather than embraced by their parties. Defeat might quickly see the Tories revert to their aggressive early-Brexit manifestation. Much of Britain’s media has augmented partisan bias with a new and paranoid hostility to institutions, populist prejudices fortified by business models which reward strong views.

Many of the underlying conditions which fuel populism and separatism remain. Growth is low and productivity poor. Real household incomes are expected to fall by nearly 6 per cent over two years. Income inequality is among the highest for an OECD nation. Austerity has hollowed out public services. Without growth, small-state Tories will struggle to reconcile their desire for significantly lower taxes with the lack of public support for spending cuts, a reality Labour is also reluctant to acknowledge. On top of this are the enormous economic and social challenges of the AI and green industrial revolutions.

Immigration — a canary in the populist coal mine — is again a focus for voters. One can blame self-serving agitators for ramping up anger at the small boats crossing from France, but liberals have seen the cost of ignoring these issues.

Populism thrived in the UK, as it is still thriving elsewhere, where leaders lost sight of or dismissed the concerns of their own citizens. It happened especially where they hollowed out the state, focused on national rather than regional income and on the asset-rich over the asset-poor. It is why a sustained focus on levelling up and regional democracy remains essential.

Nor is ending the turmoil the same as reversing its impact. Brexit will hold for at least a generation. The nation is still working through an immense change which remains a faultline in politics and among the nations of the UK.

As to Scotland, close to half of Scots have shown a past readiness to back independence and support is stronger among under-50s. Continued SNP success is a prerequisite for a new referendum so a slump in party support eases pressure for a break-up. But demographic forces mean unionists would be foolish to assume victory.

For all this the UK looks more stable. While it may be premature to call the end of upheaval, politicians have a chance to show the value of pragmatic over dogmatic government. One worry is that parties are too campaign-focused and reactive in the face of so many societal challenges. But there is a moment, if leaders have the confidence to grasp it.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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