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The last thing Britain needs is another bloody party. Wrong, perhaps…

March 1, 2020

Are the old labels – right, left and centre – still relevant in British politics?

With no-deal looming and the government cutting ties with the EU in many other ways, the consequences of Brexit are so far-reaching that we seem unable to revert to the old political boundaries. We focus instead on what we have lost and what we might gain. We are assailed by mind-boggling figures claimed to be the cost of Brexit. More, some say, than all the money we have contributed since we joined the EU.

The optimists tell us that we’ll be fine without a trade deal with the EU. We’ll be free to develop the country as a tech powerhouse. Oven-ready deal, as the Tories claimed? Frictionless trade? Promises made, promises seemingly about to be broken. No matter – a dream come true. A dream of independence from the control freaks in Brussels. Free to do our thing on immigration, to let our fishermen fish and, in the words of the Prime Minister, fuck business.

Now Brexit is done (which it isn’t by the way) it’s hard to imagine that over the next two years political discourse in the country will not almost exclusively be framed by the consequences of our decision to leave the EU. And even if an issue that has nothing to do with Brexit, such as Covid-19, the increase in non-EU immigrants and the flooding of our hinterland, the chances are that some politicians will find a way to blame the EU for our troubles.

You will deduce from the above (or by reading other stuff I’ve written,) that I’m not a fan of the current government or its threadbare-to-non-existent policies. But whatever I think, you can place a fair bet that the debates to come will not be between enterprise and opportunity on the one hand, and for the many, not the few on the other.

If the debate instead will be between sunlit uplands and lemmings rushing over the cliff, has the time come for a party pledged to rebuild closer ties to Europe: a European Party?

Note that I’m not suggesting that such a party should be committed to re-joining the European Union, though at some stage that could be an option worth testing. I’m also not suggesting that it should become a redoubt of die-hard remainers. That battle is over.

Judging by statements of MPs across the political spectrum before the battle lines were hardened, there is most likely still much sympathy for the idea that leaving the EU should not mean casting off into the Atlantic as a kind of off-shore trading whorehouse is not necessarily in our best interests.

Why we should cut loose from the Erasmus Programme, the European Arrest Warrant scheme, criminal intelligence sharing and other areas of cooperation that in no way run counter to the objective of Brexit can only be explained in terms of a government committed to an ideology that informs its policy across the board. So much for traditional pragmatic conservatism.

The only way to contest that ideology is by a counter-ideology. This is something that the Labour Party has failed to produce. Though the Liberal Democrats came close during the past election, its commitment to repealing Brexit with no recourse to a further vote was a turn-off for many voters.

Now may not be the best time for launching yet another party. But in a year or two, if Boris Johnson’s government is self-evidently leading us down an economic and social blind alley, there may be sufficient discontent – and wide-ranging buyer’s remorse over the Brexit project – for a new party to fill the vacuum that a dysfunctional opposition has created.

New parties are delicate flowers that need intensive cultivation. As the Brexit Party showed, it’s no use showing 15% support in opinion polls if you can’t win seats in Parliament. And Change UK showed that if you are united only by discontent with the status quo, even if you start with the seats of dissident MPs, you will quickly be snuffed out by the party machines.

So would a European Party be dead on arrival? Not necessarily. You will need to plan for the long haul. Perhaps to start as a pressure group. Having gained a public profile, you then start contesting elections. The only way to jump-start would be to have a few wealthy donors invest substantial sums that would help you build that profile. For that you would need a convincing strategy and the talent to execute it.

If things really go as badly as some predict, you might start picking up support from fed-up Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Labour supporters and Conservatives within the next couple of years. But only if you come up with a coherent set of policies across the board that persuade people that you are not a one-issue party.

To do that, you’ll probably need to be aligned somewhere near the centre, while recognising that “centre” should be redefined as a focus on issues that are transforming from ideological hobby horses to the cause of common concern, such as climate change. Most importantly, you’d need to show what you’re for, rather than banging on only about what you’re against.

You should also remember that people elect people, not just policies. So you would need to make sure that those who represent you, especially if they have a political past, are respected and liked by a significant number of voters.

You’d also need to look at some unorthodox campaigning tactics, like telling the truth, or techniques along the lines of Rory Stewart’s videos or Led by Donkeys’ street advertising.

And finally, you’d need to rely on the European Union not making total arses of themselves over the next two or three years.

A tall order, fraught with risks? Maybe. But if Boris Johnson and his government continue to make a pig’s ear of things, and Labour continues with its unequal struggle to be all things to all workers, you might, just might, have a chance.

At a time when we are in so much turmoil, you might never have a better chance of success for the foreseeable future.

And who might “you” be? Well count me in for starters.

From → Politics, UK

  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    In the EU, arses, while for the moment being the same price (lets say in USD…) per kilo/2.2lb as in the UK, are spread more thinly. Market forces will mean that prices may fluctuate in individual markets due to a glut/local scarcity/marmite scales, etc…..

  2. Andrew Robinson permalink

    There will, of course, be an illogical glut AND rise in price for pig’s ears…..

    • Sadly, our dog died last year, so we’re no longer in the market for pig’s ears. S

  3. There is certainly a space for a moderate, pragmatic centre-right party that would appeal to the sort of non-ideological conservative voter who has been left politically homeless by the Tories’ march towards ideological fantasy.

    In many ways, I think the Liberal Democrats have messed up by not trying to overtly appeal to these voters over the past two elections. Whether that opportunity is lost for good or not remains to be seen.

    I also think there is a bit of a contradiction at the heart of British politics in that smaller parties tend to do well when Labour looks sane and the risk of letting Labour into power looks small. As long as Labour looks to be under the control of the hard left, people won’t take the risk and any smaller party will have a hard time gaining any traction.

    Of course, if Labour starts looking more moderate, smaller parties look less like a risk but will have much more of a challenge in convincing anyone there is any point to them.

    • Not sure it’s that complex, though I understand your thinking. Basically we’re in for five years of rampant, self-destructive stupidity. If things continue as they are everyone but the Brexit ultras (of which there are many) will realise the extent to which we’ve been duped. If Labour and the Lib Dems are incapable of coming up with a coherent response, which looks likely at the moment, enough people may be prepared to take the risk. The key is to offer a chance to reverse the death by a thousand cuts that lies ahead. Closer ties rather than reverse Brexit. It must not be seen as Remain Redux. If either (or preferably both) of the two opposition parties go this way, fine.

      If a new party comes along, I’m not necessarily super-optimistic about its chances, but somewhere within British politics we at least need a counter-narrative. S

      • It’s possible that I am being overly pessimistic, although the UK’s electoral system does have a habit of crushing smaller parties. That said, I do agree that an alternative to the insanity of both main parties is desperately needed.

        I also agree that reversing Brexit is a lost cause. The best way forward now is to look to build ever closer ties so that the UK remains close to the EU, if not actually in it.

      • Agreed on all counts!

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